Sunday, March 10, 2013

99 cents well spent

The New Evangelization: What It Is and 
How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic.
Martin, Ralph (2012-10-01).
Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.

Although little more than an essay, I'm very glad I bought and read this little book of Ralph Martin. For many Catholics (perhaps even for some priests) it would be safe to say that they might be a bit surprised by this quote from Lumen Gentium 14, which Ralph just sort of "pulls out of the hat". They are words filled with the constant teaching of the Church, with that very real Catholic "fear and trembling" which has received short shrift for too long. 

This is what Vatican II teaches about the situation of many Catholics:

“Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but “in body” not “in heart.” All children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged.” (LG, 14)

We are now in a position to give the most fundamental answer to the question we asked at the beginning of this chapter. Why bother to evangelize? Because the eternal destinies — heaven or hell — of many millions of our fellow Catholics, not to mention many millions of countless others, are hanging in the balance. Christianity is not just an optional enrichment possibility for human life, but is a message that truly is a matter of life or death, heaven or hell. If we truly love our family members, our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, and those who used to be our fellow parishioners, we’re not only going to pray for them to find good jobs and get healed of physical illnesses, but we’re going to pray, suffer, love, and witness to the One who can save, for the sake of their salvation. We’re going to say “yes” to the popes’ and the Spirit’s call to participate in the “new evangelization.” (Martin, Ralph (2012-10-01). The New Evangelization: What It Is and How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic (Kindle Locations 264-271). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.)

Ralph Martin would have us believe, and so would I, that today's urgency to lead all to Christ in His Holy Catholic Church can freely borrow words from the great Catholic missionary saints of all times. Our faith has not taken on irenic overtones at the expense of past teaching; we will never disavow the patron of the missions, St. Francis Xavier, nor anyone else eager to bring our world to baptism and to Christ and to the fullness of Catholic Faith. Why should that sound earth shaking or surprising?

The only point on which I would wish to haggle a bit with Ralph is his promotion of lay evangelizing, as if it were something not done in the past, as if it were not part of our tradition. What Ralph calls "lay evangelizing" is a constant in the tradition as well. It hardly ever involved lay preaching (media apostolates of various kinds today), but the witness of every baptized Catholic has always been fundamental to the propagation of the faith. From Apostolic times, lay martyrs and saints like St. Monica have always and constantly been key to the program of what sounds like novelty when you tag it "lay evangelization". It is the constant witness of a life of faith. It's faithful parents who give their children a sense of the presence of God at home. It's radical people like St. Catherine of Genoa who drew their spouses, through good example, prayer and sacrifice, to embrace a holy life. Time and again over the centuries we all Catholics have had to stir the flame of faith into a fire enlightening dark corners and challenging the mundane (read: "secular", "secularizing", Godless).

For a good fifty years now the popes have been teaching the urgency of witnessing to the self-evident, at home, abroad, in all that we say and do, and namely that we can take courage and rejoice in the truth that our God is King. 



  1. I find myself frustrated by the idea that lay evangelisation is a new idea. 20 years ago the parish to which I was appointed assistant priest was viewing a diocesan-wide programme for lay evangelisation which began with the very premise that this was so novel we needed to find a new courage. Having spent several years doing door-to-door and Street contact with the Legion of Mary; several years of charitable work with the SVP, and knowing people who had been active in the Catholic evidence Guild, I was stimulated to the challenge those at the parish meeting. Unfortunately, the idea that the laity were discovered by Vatican Council II was -and I think remains- hard to correct. We do these folk and the folk you mention who affected spouse etc, a great injustice by presenting that the apostolate of the of the laity is a new discovery.

    1. My sentiments exactly, Father! I suppose it is a discovery for them just like personal conversion in the life of a saint opens new vistas and casts out fear. We can only hope that they realize that the "new" referent refers not to the glories of Catholicity over the centuries up until our day, but rather to their personal discover. We can also pray that a healthy abhorrence of the dizzying heights of the soapbox will keep us all living the faith first at home and then by our good example in the workplace.

  2. I am reminded of a remark by Blessed Cardinal Newman:

    “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.” (1851)

    A laity like that is well equipped to evangelise; a laity that does not know the Faith so well will be much hampered in evangelizing. I daresay that in the days of old before the Council, the laity knew the Faith much better than we know it now (which is not to say the laity knew it well enough then).

    I admit to finding myself frustrated by many initiatives for lay evangelization not only for the reasons Fr. Dickson has given but also because they are not prefaced by the education of the faithful who are supposed to do the evangelizing. I do not say that evangelization is wholly a matter of the intellect - hardly! - but without a firm catechetical basis it is difficult to become a Saint.

    1. Thanks, Hidden One! I ask myself lots of times just why it is or was that the older generation knew their faith better than folks, let's say, under 50. Certainly, catechesis went bankrupt and content went out the window. That is not the whole story, however. I think also that besides the loss of motivation to "know your faith", people stopped learning prayers and praying at home. As a child, I learned a whole treasury of prayers, which had an intellectual content. What child receives that today? No, we have work to do... for the sake of the children.

    2. As a Protestant child, I had, of course, few prayers to learn, but I did learn about many parts of Scripture (even via memorization!); the other real catechetical source was the lyrics of the songs we sang on Sunday. If the average Catholic child at the average Catholic parish has, for the last several decades, drawn large parts of his/her theology from the music at Mass, well, that would explain a lot.


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