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The New Evangelization: Basic Concepts Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Church is really ramping up the New Evangelization in this Year of Faith. After teaching a course on Vatican II’s Decree on the Lay Apostolate, it’s clear, to me at least, that one of the main tasks of the New Evangelization is going to be reorienting people's sense of how the Church functions.

When many people think about the Church, they seem to think first of the pope and the hierarchy, or the local priest – which is all well and good, because it’s true that clergy are part of the Church. But one concrete result of that approach is the Church starts somehow to appear to be “over there.”  The Church, however, mystery that it is, is a vast spiritual communion, where: “All men are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains.” (Vatican II) “All” does not leave out many people.

This passage is saying that the Church is fundamentally Christological. And that must be the starting point of the New Evangelization: To help people appreciate who Jesus Christ is and what he has done and is doing. But the Council’s formulation deliberately entails the conclusion (borne out by the rest of the document) that as we approach Christ, we enter a spiritual union with others “in Christ.”

This is the direction that Pope Francis is taking us. Christ draws us into being “church.” The New Evangelization will have to do a better job than we have in the past of teaching us to understand the word. Christ draws us into a new relation with God, to be sure, but also to every other human being, including the poor. Most people do not recognize this for a variety of reasons. The New Evangelization is going to have to work in multiple directions to bring home this truth.

First, for each individual, because of what Christ continues to be and do, He is the one “through whom we live” as individuals and a community. (These two dimensions of human existence are not separable in practice.)

Second, He is the one “toward whom our whole life strains,” again both as individuals and groups.

And third, he is the one “from whom we go forth.” These are the basic dynamics of the spiritual and physical union with Christ. Conceiving of earthly existence like this lies far above and beyond belonging to a political party – and having your say or giving your support to some human project.

Political categories don’t even begin to work at the level of the spiritual and historical union of mankind in Christ. They can be generous and idealistic, yet they are sharply limited, and are all that most people bring to the table, unless the New Evangelization shows them what St. Paul calls ‘a more excellent way.”


Materialistic culture tends to “flatten” Christ, even among believers, and makes him a mere historical figure on a par with people who have started movements or “religions.”  Rightly understood, Catholicism is not a religion among religions. (See Benedict XVI)) The New Evangelization should help people let go of such meager notions of Christ and replace them with a love that reciprocates the love that we have already been shown in Him.

Then Saint John’s experience of “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands.” (I John 1:1) becomes our experience, too.   Discovering what this looks and feels like takes time,  and it involves, among other things, reading Scripture. It involves going to Mass differently. (And I mean an orthodox celebration with a homily on the readings.) It means working on relating to others for the good of the other person. And so on. To enter on to this path means that the New Evangelization is not going to be able to rest on what may have once happened in the past.

Finally, to return to the opening point, we can say that the “hearing,” “seeing,” “looking upon,” and “touching” at least partly involves the clergy. Our experience of Jesus Christ is historical so it involves clergy to help us arrive at some of the experiences that Pope Francis recently listed:

With the eyes of faith, we too encounter the risen Lord in the many signs of his presence: the Scriptures, the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and the acts of charity, goodness, forgiveness and mercy, which bring a ray of his Resurrection into our world.

But as you can see, the lion’s share of these experiences simply involves lay people encountering each other, religious or non-Catholics. So while clergy do have a privileged sacramental role and should be leading and teaching so as to nourish this vast swath of human experience most interactions occur without them and yet each one should be filled with Christ’s presence.

Memberships in pious associations do not substitute for this fundamental duty. In fact such memberships can, paradoxically, get in the way – and make Catholicism into a mere “religion.”

The New Evangelization is going to have to reestablish a sense of proportion in our notion of the Church to help make every encounter with another human being into an experience of Jesus Christ – which is what baptized people are called to.

As the Council said: “all Christs faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives – and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world.”

 
Fr. Bevil Bramwell is a member of Oblates of Mary Immaculate and is Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
 
 
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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by Frank, April 21, 2013
Father Bramwell,
Elected Catholic politicians remain in communion with the Church in spite of their staunch support of abortion and gay marriage.
A President, hostile to the church, was allowed to speak at a consecrated Cathedral.
Before we even engage the "new evangelization," how about a good "temple cleansing" first?
Otherwise, count me out. I don't bet on last place horses or engage in losing causes. Candid and blunt for certain, but that is where so many of us Catholics are with respect to the level of frustration and hopelessness we find ourselves in...as we slog on.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 21, 2013
Hi Frank, "last place horses", "losing causes" with Jesus Christ present among us? You are kidding! You are looking too much at the human side of the Church. This is a Church for sinners after all. Don't confuse the sinners with Jesus Christ. You can do something despite the weakness that you see around you. You just have to decide what it is to be.
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written by Nick Palmer, April 21, 2013
Christ has already won. That does not free us from doing what is "right and just." Yes, so-called Catholic politicians are mouthpieces and poster-children for Satan. Yes, the organizational Church has stumbled and failed, and will continue to do so. Yes, I continue to get it wrong. But it's not "my" Church. It's not "our" Church. It's Christ's Church, and we are His people, His flock. Despair comes from below. I am called to hope.

In the words of Tolkien: Frodo: "I wish none of this had happened." Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
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written by william manley, April 21, 2013
How should the new evangelization handle the issue that turns many people away from the Catholic Church: the many priestly sex scandals and their subsequent cover-up by the Bishops???
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 21, 2013
William is that really the question? The crimes have been dealt with by the civil authorities. Some bishops were not efficient in handling the issues, some were reprehensible. When all that has been said, does their sin somehow freeze me into inaction? I am a follower of Christ, I have a job to do because of my Baptism.

So should the New Evangelization "handle" the issue? Yes in the sense of explaining that there is sinfulness in the Church. We are not a Cathar church where the members imagine that they are perfect. This is not a Disneyworld Church where there is no litter on the ground, where everything is freshly painted. If people turn away because of the scandals then they do not get who Jesus Christ is and how he eats and drinks with sinners.
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written by Manfred, April 21, 2013
"Christ draws us into being "church"'. Really? Show me where, Fr. Bramwell. Christ is very clear: "Blessed is he who hears the word of God and keeps it." After the last fifty years, Mass attendance by CATHOLICS has plummeted from 75-80% at Sunday Mass to 15-25%, depending on the particular parish. The Institution has nothing left to say. As Flannery O'Connor stated fifty years ago, If the Catholic Church is not about salvation, then it is just an Elk's Club."Pious associations" "can get in the way- and make Catholicism into a mere '"religion"'. Those pious associations are the small groups which are saving peoples' souls! They are not teaching heresy, heterdoxy, confusion. They are not entertaining Pres.Obama at dinners, they are not giving Holy Communion to Joe Biden, followed by coffee, by the way. They haven't spent two billion dollars settling predator priest cases. I would not walk across the street to join your "church", Fr. Bramwell.
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written by Michael, April 21, 2013
The problem with the New Evangelization is the same problem that has plagued all missionary activity since the Council: why are we evangelizing? Isn't everyone going to heaven anyway? Then there are confusing things, like Archbishop Marini coming out in favor of civil unions for same sex couples. Where is the clarity?
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 21, 2013
Manfred it must be wonderful to be so secure as to stand in judgment on everyone else. Just repeating stats and charges is rather in vain. The rhetoric is well known and well worn. We have charity to do. Jesus ate with sinners and he loved them.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 21, 2013
#1 The New Evangelization is going to have to set a few things straight and one of them is this: evangelization must precede catechesis. We have adopted a model in the Church where someone who is interested in the Catholic Church gets funneled into an RCIA program where he or she is catechized for the better part of a year so they can enter the Church at the Easter Vigil. The implications are VERY serious in that far too many of these people (I have witnessed this firsthand) get catechized, enter the Church and then leave after awhile. Why? Because they were never evangelized in the first place.

#2 We have many cradle Catholics who have fallen away from the Church. And why? Same answer: they were never evangelized to begin with (to say nothing about receiving little or no catechesis)

Time for all the laity to get moving in this mandate to evangelize the world.
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written by Frank, April 22, 2013
Father Bramwell,
Admittedly, a large part of my initial post is kidding, but not all of it. Our faith IS NOT a losing cause. In point of fact, such a connotation is not even in the descriptive lexicon as the eternal victory has been won by Christ for all those who freely accept.
I think the focal point of our discussion is Matthew 16. Something I learned in 22 years in the military as an officer rings true in Matthew 16. Early on I was taught to the point of having it pounded into my head; authority can be delegated, responsibility never. Christ delegated authority of the Church to Peter principally and the rest of the Apostles. Yet I would posit, Christ never delegated responsibility of the Church for a living Christ reigns over His Church.
I'm not under any illusion here, human beings and 2,000 years of Church history is convincing testimony that we won't get it right all the time. It seems to me, however, that when decisions so contrary to a course of action so clear and stark is embraced, it leaves so many of us in a demoralized quandry. The Church has to stand for something or it will fall for anything. We are enabling contrarian adversarial views embraced by a President and Catholic legislators. Our adversaries are not enemies, but neither do they merit the forum to speak on consecrated holy ground. Some things no matter the situation, need to be off limits. Sometimes, exercising the proper authority is unpopular. What I have learned is that unpopular decisions based in what is right are over time, respected in the long term. People are hungry for what is right and what stands firm.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 22, 2013
Michael - the clarity lies in the Church teaching. If this or that bishop contradicts it, does that change my knowledge or my duty? If I may label your perspective the political perspective, I don't think that the political perspective works simply because expecting uniformity among sinners is a lost cause. The lack of uniformity does not absolve me from my duties in any way. I cannot even stand back in outrage for a second.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 22, 2013
Deacon - some leave because they find themselves in a community that RCIA had not prepared them for. The RCIA is devotional and friendly and the church community that they end up in is not. It is cold and distant and self-pre-occupied.
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written by Manfred, April 22, 2013
Yes, Fr. Bramwell, I am quite secure as I was trained in theology, philosophy, moral theology and apologetics in a Catholic college back when the Church was still Catholic. My intstuctors were excellent priest-scholars. You have no right to take umbrage-you made statements in your article and I asked you to support the claims you made. Fifty years ago I sat through the lectures given by Vat. II "experts" and I learned the argot such as "We are church", " we must remove two thousand years of encrustations", "the Church is a circle, not a pyramid." Fifty years later, It is a rotting husk reeking with homosexuality, confusion and corruption. And you really think anyone is going to join/remain in this counterfeit institution? N.B. The archdioceses of Newark, N.J and New York are both conducting their Archbishop's Appeals. Contributions are down and they are both receiving letters from the laity explaining why. It is a general loss of confidence due to:
In Newark, it is a convicted (later overturned) predator-priest is serving on the priest development committee, and New York's Cdl Dolan needs no further explanation. With "customer satisfaction" like this among current members, do you or Ed Peitler think you can attract anyone else?
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 22, 2013
Frank - thanks Frank. You hit on a great point. I just find that writing about authority has no effect. The clergy in the US are too insulated. I have been speaking to a number of religious major superiors who are convinced that their men will not follow them. I try to explain leadership but I may as well be talking to a cat. We are in a very leaderless period right now which is why I am encouraging lay people rather than bothering about "leaders".
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 22, 2013
Manfred where is the love? Where is the loving action? Being righteous and frustrated is all well and good but where is your outreach to these people whom you are complaining about? You should read about Jansenism and the nuns of Pont Royal who were said to be as pure as angels and as proud as devils. It is a period of Church history that we should all be aware of.
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written by Ken, April 22, 2013
Fr. Bramwell:

Great article and what thoughtful and loving responses you have made to commenters. That is an exceptional witness on your part.

Fr. Bramwell, I'm a Catholic who converted from Lutheranism at age 56, so I'm something of an immigrant visiting a new theological land. I love the Vatican II documents and study the Catechism with admiration for the cardinals and bishops who wrote the Catechism. That essential part of Catholicism is wonderful to me.

But there is a separate issue which I believe is very important to the new evangelism which is not well understood by Catholic leadership. To be candid with you, most bishops and priests are terrible managers. From what I see in the parishes with which I am familiar, a lot of joy and love is defeated by what, by Protestant standards (if you will excuse the comparison), is extremely poor management.

To be more specific, the clergy has not done a great job since Vatican II of using the laity in both: (1) the way the Council had hoped and (2) the way dynamic non-Catholic churches do every day.

I await the new evangelization eagerly, but I hope between here and there every US bishop acquires the ability to see himself as many of us see the bishops: great theological minds who love God and who may not know how to get a fire started in people's hearts.

Thanks for considering my thoughts.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 22, 2013
Ken no argument from me.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 23, 2013
Fr. Bramwell:
Point well taken about the different 'cultures' of RCIA and the larger parish community.

When my wife and I were leading our parish RCIA some years back, our attempt was to create a small community around regular meals prior to the catechesis. Everyone prepared or purchased something to share at the meal (most often there was an overabundance of food after everyone ate. Sound familiar?). But the problem arose when these individuals were later fully received into the Church and the supporting structures were no longer there.

In all candor, I must admit that if I had to do it over again, I would spend more time on evangelizing these people and preparing them for the mission of the Church which is to evangelize others. I would emphasis less the academic aspects to catechesis (meaning the acquisition of information) and emphasize more the conversion of heart.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, April 23, 2013
Ed I think that you were discovering practical leads for further work. Some parishes that I know have very little community life. The other is that learning the faith is through a personal interaction and in fact lots of them.

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