Talk of the New Evangelization is sweeping parishes and dioceses around the globe. We know it is necessary, but we can be confused about what it actually is, what it is not, and how to do it. There is often some confusion between evangelization and catechesis. Most people seem to respond to the “how” of evangelization by providing information about the faith and/or increasing opportunities to teach the faith. These are good practices, but they are not what is meant by evangelization.
Where catechesis involves primarily the teaching of the why’s and how’s of the faith, evangelization is primarily about introducing people to Jesus Christ. This is the difference between reading a biography about someone and actually going out for coffee with that person, where you can get to know him face-to-face.
This exhortation to engage in a New Evangelization highlights the fact that families need to have the opportunity to meet Jesus, to hear the Good News, to spend time with Jesus, and be inspired to orient their daily lives toward him. The most basic meaning of the New Evangelization is to foster situations where the individuals, couples, parents, teens, and children of our parishes can meet Jesus and fall in love with him.
But there’s a catch. Try as we might, there isn’t a lot we can do to make two people fall in love with each other. We all know this from our personal experience, but we often do not connect it with evangelization. Love just doesn’t work that way; neither does evangelization. What we can do is provide as many opportunities as we can for the parents and children of our parishes to meet Jesus face-to-face. The rest is up to them.
This might take the form of family-friendly adoration nights. While an entire hour of adoration may be a challenge for young children, there are many great ways to introduce parents and their children to spending sacred time with Jesus. For example, offer shorter times or a “break-out room” where younger kids can wander in for adoration-themed activities or hear Gospel stories.
You might also consider starting your sessions by leading your families through a simple Examen, encouraging them to ask Jesus “Where were you today?” and sharing with each other these grace-filled moments. This is a simple practice that families can be encouraged to do at home daily.
Finally, you might try leading your families through a simple, group form of lectio divina where, in small family groups, the Sunday Gospel is read slowly three times and everyone is invited to share a single word, phrase, or image from the Gospel. They can also share how the Gospel relates to an event from their day, or they can share something that they think God may be calling them to do.
The call to the New Evangelization is an exciting invitation to move beyond conveying just the nuts and bolts of the faith and to foster a deep, life-changing relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. How many different opportunities to encounter Christ might you be able to offer the families of your parish over the coming year?
Eric, I love your comparison between reading a biography about someone and actually having a cup of coffee with someone to get to know them. That’s a great way for us to approach our evangelization efforts: to ask ourselves how we are helping folks to encounter Christ, not just to learn about him.
Creating encounters with Christ has been our focus this past year. We’ve started to ask more often, “How can we be more intentional about facilitating encounters with Christ at the parish, in the home, at school and in the workplace(because moms and dads need help in this too!). It’s made a big difference in post-sacrament attendance in families from baptism prep parents to Confirmation families.
I was just listening to a talk by Dr. Petroc Willey about the New Evangelization and Families. He talks about the word evangelization meaning Gospel – the good news of the birth of Christ, the coming of Christ. Also, he mentions how Pope John Paul II said the most basic task of the family is communion – with God and with each other. The New Evangelization is about bringing a freshness to our awareness of what is already in front of us – Jesus and his invitation to abundant life. It is essential to bring this out in the life of the family where the heart of the New Evangelization should be taking place par excellence!!!! God Bless you Eric!
Well said, William: “The New Evangelization is about bringing a freshness to our awareness of what is already in front of us.” I read a similar thought yesterday in a book by Ken Wytsma called The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith: “Christianity isn’t exciting because it’s new or novel or because there’s some new secret we’re going to uncover. It is exciting because it leads us continually back into the heart of what it means to be human and made in the image of God.”
William you are so correct when you say that the family should be the heart of the New Evangelization! I truly believe that the family, including the moms and dads who often get left off to the side in sacramental formation and catechetics, is one of the most important mission fields we have today. Thank you so much for the blessing too…we catechists can use all the blessing we can get! God bless you too!!