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“Handshakes and Head Nods: The New Evangelization”

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New Evangelization: it’s the buzzword in Catholic circles lately. Go to any professional Catholic conference and I guarantee that one session, if not the whole conference, will be titled “New Evangelization for insert your role here.” A quick Google search reveals a cool 1.1 million hits for “New Evangelization”, with results popping up from the websites of Catholic giants like the USCCB, EWTN, NCRonline, and a whole bunch of other Catholic acronyms. In case you haven’t attended a large Catholic conference lately, the term “New Evangelization” was first coined and used widely by Saint John Paul II. The New Evangelization, according to the USCCB, “calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize.” It reflects Jesus’ last words to his apostles in Matthew, when he says “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)

We are at a prime time for this movement, especially in the United States. 77% of Catholics surveyed by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate are proud to self-identify as Catholics. 23% of U.S. Catholics attend Mass regularly. Think on that for a second. 1 in 4 Catholics attend Mass once a week. 77% of Catholics aren’t regularly receiving the lifeblood of the Church; don’t expose themselves to the source and summit of the Catholic faith. For more depressing statistics, pick up Sherry Wendell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples”, and read the first chapter. Nothing will convince you faster that there is a large portion of adults who hunger for what the Catholic Church provides. There aren’t enough Catholic men and women actively pursuing and creating disciples in our parishes, and that’s where we come in.
Chances are that if you’re reading this blog you have some interest in deepening your Catholic faith. If you’re not part of the 23% that are regularly attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist, I highly recommend that as step one! You can read all the greatest Catholic books until you’re blue in the face, quote Augustine and Jerome word for word, or recite the dates and locations of all Marian apparitions, but until you’re literally gnawing the flesh of Jesus, it doesn’t click. No matter where you may be in your faith life, fresh off a retreat and soaring high or in a tough spiritual tempest, regularly receiving the Eucharist is necessary and life-filling. We can’t pull ourselves out of our spiritual deserts without it and we can’t maintain our spiritual highs without it. The New Evangelization calls more from us, however. It’s our call to take Sunday into Monday-Saturday. It’s the motivational speech in the fourth quarter of all great sports movies, the catchy rally cry of the revolution, the plucky speech of the underdog political candidate. The New Evangelization is our call to revive our Church, and it’s important!

HOW’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JEEEEESUS?!

HOW’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JEEEEESUS?!

Mass is not the merely the fulfillment of our Sunday obligation. We do not attend Mass, hear “it is finished”, and rush home for the football game. Well, we aren’t called to that. At the end of Mass we are sent to love and serve the Lord, and what better way to love and serve the Lord than to be on the frontlines for his Church? At Mass refills our spiritual buckets so we can pour ourselves out for others.This, my friends, is where our call to evangelization kicks in!

How can we reach our potential in this new movement? It’s really simple. The most important thing is that we fill ourselves. Working in ministry I’ve learned a lot, but one of the most important things I’ve learned is you can’t fill cups with an empty pitcher. Even without a career in ministry, evangelization takes a certain pouring of self. To form disciples, to participate in the New Evangelization, we’re called to continually run to the sacraments. Confession, Eucharist, adoration. We cannot bring Jesus to others when we do not fully know him. If someone decked out in Cowboys gear comes up to me and starts spouting their love for the Dallas football team and I respond “Oh yeah, that Jerry Jones! And Tony Romo.”

Cowboys-Fans-Big-Helmet

If that fan stares at me puzzled, their fandom immediately comes into question. If we don’t have a close and personal relationship with Jesus, our own words too often ring hollow.

Not that I have a personal relationship with Jerry Jones.

The Easter season is prime time for fallen away Catholics to return to Church, sometimes forever and sometimes for a few weeks. This is great news! This is a wonderful time for us to reach out to those hungry for Christ, right in our backyards. We often let the concept of the New Evangelization weigh heavy on our hearts. It’s tough to find people in the right position to evangelize without pushing, it’s time consuming, there are a million excuses. But we don’t have to go out and look for people to evangelize, they are in our parishes every Sunday, just waiting for you to reach out to them. The number one reason Catholics leave the Church is surprising – they don’t feel welcome at church. Church becomes an obligation when the community is lacking. All too often people come to Mass hungry for community and leave disappointed. The Eucharist is filling, like a juicy steak. We, as a Catholic community, sometimes fail to provide the side items. Green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, etc. I fall victim to this mindset, forgetting that my hour on Sunday is not a private moment between God and I. It’s the community coming together, just like the early Christians huddled together in their small communities, celebrating the ultimate sacrifice. The New Evangelization calls for brave Catholics willing to share their faith, but we don’t have to take the biggest leaps to start! All it takes is sharing a smile and a hello to someone you don’t recognize at church. Listen to their story. Invite them to a social event. Let them know they belong to a community and that community completely welcomes them!

With the resolution of another Easter season, let’s form our own resolution. We are all called to participate in this New Evangelization. This call goes beyond our families and workplace and extends into the pews on Sundays. Take a few minutes after Mass and introduce yourself to those faces you don’t recognize. Help make Church more of a community, and the community will respond in part!

chrisChris Johnson is a ministry leader at CCFM Collaborative Catholic Formation Ministries in Dallas. He is a proud graduate of Texas A & M and currently lives in Bryan Texas.

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