In recent weeks, I have read three books that are related in some way to the New Evangelization: Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus; George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church; and Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish. All three books had been recommended to me by other people working in ministry, and all address what has become perhaps the number one priority for the world-wide Catholic Church: Evangelization, or more specifically, the New Evangelization. In general terms, evangelization is the proclamation of the gospel message, the good news of Jesus Christ, while the new evangelization is the re-proclamation of this same message to people or societies that have heard it before but for whom it does not make a significant daily impact.
I highly recommend all three books to anyone interested in the Catholic Church today, its future, and the role of the Church in the world. The three books are quite different – and make some radically different recommendations – but read together provide much food for thought, discussion, and action on any level of Christian life – personal, parish, diocesan, universal. I don’t personally recommend implementing all of the advice given in the books – in particular I have significant concerns about some of the approaches suggested in Rebuilt – but at the same time, there is much that can be learned from the ideas and experiences that are shared.
Even with significant differences among these three books, though, there are some remarkable points of convergence on how to live out Evangelization and the New Evangelization in general. It’s all really about getting back to basics. As individual Christians and as a Church in 2013, we need to recover the most basic aspects of what it means to believe in and follow Jesus Christ, and these characteristics come to us directly from the example of the earliest Christians in the New Testament. Here are some of the basics that are found in each of these three books:
- Discipleship – we need to recover the importance of friendship with Jesus, in the spirit of the first disciples, as the foundational experience for individual Christians. As Church leaders, we would do well to find ways to help others develop this friendship with Jesus, of course once we have developed it ourselves.
- Word and Sacrament – As a Church, the best way to form disciples is through Word and Sacrament: encouraging daily reading of Scripture, both communally and individually, and regular reception of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
- Preaching – Especially for us as Catholics, the Sunday preaching of our priests and deacons has not been given the attention or preparation it deserves. Forming strong preachers will go a long way in forming disciples.
- Witness – People are drawn to God and the Church because of the witness of Christians; it’s been that way since the very beginning. Living our faith away from church buildings, events, and people is perhaps the most important form of evangelization we can do.
There’s much more in these three books, and Evangelization and the New Evangelization in general, so I plan to reflect on other aspects in future blog posts. Up next will be some thoughts on how to make Sunday Mass the true center of parish life and evangelization. In the meantime, check out these books, and join the conversation!