Driving down the Boston Post Road the other day, I saw a bumper sticker on the trunk lid of a late-model Toyota: REAL MEN LOVE JESUS. I appreciate the sentiment, although whether we’re talking about quiche-eating or gun-owning or Lord-loving, I’m not sure what “real” means in the context of maleness. Tough guys, I guess. In any case, the man in the Toyota was clearly an evangelist – at least his intent was evangelical.
We’ve lately been seeing TV ads in which various folks look into the camera and boldly say: “I am not ashamed . . . of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (From Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek.”) The man behind that campaign is Franklin Graham, son of Billy. This has been the Graham family business ever since Billy “received [his] calling on the 18th green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club” c. 1940. (Interesting to me, since the 18th is usually where my faith is in tatters.)
If anybody preached the Gospel to more people than Billy Graham it must be (and surely was) John Paul II, and there are plenty of Catholics evangelizing the world using new media in a big way. Catholics Come Home also runs TV spots – ads notable for their complexity and elegant production values, although at over two minutes I’m unsure where they’re running. I’ve only seen them online.
Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire website mostly features Fr, Barron, which is a good thing, since he is arguably – as some have called him – the greatest Catholic media presence since Fulton J. Sheen. His is very much a new evangelism, not simply because he uses the Internet so effectively, but because he makes comment on popular culture, challenging the way we see it; the way the secular world understands itself. Word on Fire is also now a TV series on WGN America, which is out of Chicago and may be on your cable system. (It’s not on mine and my ISP doesn’t carry it either.) As many already know, Fr, Barron is the driving force and host of the forthcoming ten-part series called simply, “Catholicism,” the trailer for which begins: “The Church is going through a dark period. The Church is under fire . . .” How we’ll see the series is unclear at this point. Perfect for “documentary” networks (PBS, History Channel), it’s also poison to them. We’re some ways down a cultural decline, gaining speed at an alarming rate, and a far distance from where and when Bishop Sheen could host America’s #1-rated prime-time TV series.
Just this past June, the Holy Father established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization dedicated to combating what the pope called “the process of secularization [that] has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church.” This new dicastery is not meant to do missionary work in places where the Church is not established but to reawaken those “countries with deep Christian roots which are now experiencing . . . the ‘eclipse of God’ . . . .”
The efforts of Catholics Come Home, Fr. Barron and, of course, Mother Angelica’s EWTN are unrelated to this Vatican endeavor in that they all preceded it. Few will doubt the need to put defibrillator paddles to the heart of American Catholicism, but I’m skeptical of the need for Vatican assistance. The jury is out on how effectively another Roman bureaucracy can assist in evangelizing Europe, or how it can do better than, say, The Catholic Thing’s partner publication, France Catholique, although the new discastery may certainly assist with funding. The great thing about the new evangelization in America is that it’s home-grown, spontaneous, and idiomatic, and experience suggests that’s the way Catholic outreach to Europe will most effectively succeed.
One thing is certain: these efforts are desperately needed. Franklin Graham said an interesting thing when he launched the “I am not ashamed” campaign: “I believe that a time is fast approaching – I think it will be in my lifetime – when the preaching of the Gospel is referred to as hate speech.” That was literally one year ago. He was right, and he’s getting righter. Evangelical Protestants who heed his call will recognize the importance of evangelism in the lives of every believer. Catholics who get back to basics with Fr. Barron et alii will recognize, as they must, that proclaiming Jesus Christ is again becoming the kind of risky business it was for hundreds of years after the Resurrection.
Christians only seem to be a majority in the Americas and in Europe. We see the persecuted Church in Asia and the Middle East (especially in Vietnam, China, Pakistan, and Iraq), and we do well to support groups such as Aid to the Church in Need. [Disclaimer: I’m a board member of that fine organization.] But let’s not kid ourselves: not only are we increasingly at risk of “offending” our secular brethren in our “Christian” nation, we may soon be as much at risk as believers in those aforementioned countries that have no Christian heritage – the more so the more boldly we push back against the momentum of secularism.
So I guess it is a time for real men – and real women – to love Jesus.
© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: [email protected]
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.