Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis
Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis

Pope Francis last week laid out a new mission for the Catholic Church, directing how the institution and its 1.2 billion members worldwide must create a more missionary and merciful church that gets its hands dirty as it ministers to the poor and oppressed.

He directed how to reinvigorate the church’s evangelical zeal in a world marked by indifference, secularization and income inequalities.
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote.

“More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’”

His new evangelistic efforts combine energy, expressions, and methods.

Twenty-five percent of American young adults no longer are affiliated with any religion, a new study shows. Ten percent of the U.S. population of 314 million describe themselves as former Catholics. The situation is worse in Europe. In Catholic Spain, it is said more Spaniards believe in UFOs than Catholicism. These statistics illustrate the need for the Church to evaluate its efforts at evangelization and set a new course.

The New Evangelization is the term that has been given to this initiative. The newness of this course lies in renewed energy, new expressions of the faith, and new methods to communicate the ancient faith.

The Year of Faith, which just ended, was called to recalibrate the trajectory of the Church’s mission, from maintenance to growth, through the work of the New Evangelization. It was intended to usher in a new era in the life of the Church, the era of the New Evangelization.

The first component of the New Evangelization is the audience.

Cultures and individuals have grown up surrounded by Christian imagery and language without fully embracing the saving power of Jesus. This is the audience. It is those who were baptized and who are not involved in a community of faith. It is those who attend Mass, but who have not had the gospel to more deeply penetrate their lives.

The work of re-evangelization is no easy task. The same words delivered in the same way will not illuminate the power contained in the gospel. The new audience requires three more things. We will proclaim the gospel with 1) new ardor, using 2) new expressions and through 3) new methods.

The Vatican says “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”

This is precisely the call to new ardor and it is the first step in the recalibration of our efforts that the Year of Faith asked us to embrace. Does my parish exist to evangelize? Is evangelization my parish’s deepest identity? Our evangelical mandate is not fulfilled until all people who reside within our parish bounds gather with us at the Eucharistic altar. The new ardor challenges us to not allow good enough to actually be good enough. A deep desire to draw all people into the full life of our parish is to burning passion that keeps us awake at night and the mission of fire that wakes us up in the morning.

In the countries of the Americas and Western Europe, in particular, there are hundreds of years of Christian heritage. Yet, these countries are experiencing a precipitous drop in Mass attendance. It is as though people in these parts of the world have said that they know all about Christianity and that it is irrelevant to their lives. 

In light of these modern circumstances new expressions of the ancient, immutable faith are needed, expressions that pierce the heart and show that the human heart was created to be in relationship to the living God and that the human heart is forever restless until it finds its rest in God.

New language, new analogies, and a new dialogue between faith and science are efforts that all committed Catholics must undertake.

There was striking comparison between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis that circulated the Web in the wake of Pope Francis’s election. It did not contrast the styles of the two. Instead, it was a televised image of the crowd that was gathered. More precisely, it was a contrast of devices.

In 2005, very few devices captured any video or pictures of the moment. The picture from 2013 depicted a sea of small, glowing bluish screens from mobile devices as the users took pictures and video of the historic event.

The ability to reach a mass audience with a message has never been easier. While the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all provide new methods at the Church’s disposal, we shouldn’t let a Facebook page be a simple check mark on our list of evangelistic efforts.

Entering into a new era in Church, the Year of Faith was meant to set us on a new trajectory to unleash a new springtime in the Church and world.

The writer is general manager of Spirit & Song at Oregon Catholic Press.