Sherry Weddell on the New Evangelization

Sherry Weddell on the New Evangelization June 27, 2017

Sez she:

In December of 1990, Pope John Paul II issued these words of prophetic power in Redemptoris Missio:

God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.

Since then, I’ve read hundreds of very critical, even sneering internet comments because the “springtime of the New Evangelization” didn’t just happen magically through bishops issuing a document or lay Catholics writing books. (Obviously, the sneerers aren’t gardeners or they would be able to recognize the “signs of the times”. The actual work of springtime is the most intense of all and that it begins in late winter and extends into early summer. Mid and late summer are the times when a gardener can relax in the midst of an abundant garden.)
In many ways, it was missional late winter when JPII published those words and late winter merges into early spring here in the Rockies. We had snow in mid May and the last frost here was on May 19. You spend late winter/early spring clearing the debris of winter and preparing soil for spring when it does come. You plan and order your plants and supplies and sharpen your tools. But you don’t *plant* until after the last frost.

You know that when “full” spring arrives, things begin to move really fast. You have been prepping for months and then suddenly, massive change occurs seemingly overnight. Full spring and summer also merge.

Note that JPII talked about committing our energies to TWO things, one of which we never talk about: “a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes.” In 1990, it wasn’t as clear as it is today that the “new evangelization” has merged with the “mission ad gentes” which refers to the first evangelization of people who have never been baptized or heard the proclamation of the Gospel. With the emergence of “baptized unbelievers” (Vatican term) or “baptized pagans” (Pope Benedict), the rapid cultural change in the west has blurred realities that in a Christendom setting were distinct.

Millions of “Marginal” and “non-practicing” Catholics dropping the religious identity altogether and spinning off into a vague spirituality that rapidly morphs into functional or self-declared agnosticism or atheism. Increasingly, “Catholics” in the west are already functional agnostics before they bother to drop the religious identity.

More and more, we can’t start with a simple proclamation of Jesus and a warm invitation to come back home. We are going to have to get very serious about a new kind of mission ad gentes to the already baptized who are spiritually, imaginatively, intellectually, culturally untouched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ in any meaningful way. The categories of Christian and non-Christian are blurring in ways we never anticipated.

Now is the time to get really serious about “near” pre-evangelization” and “far pre-evangelization” for the millions who have experienced almost nothing of the faith but baptism as an infant or small child and were and are being raised by non-believing, non-practicing parents. Many who still have some extremely tenuous historic or familial connection to the name “Catholic” are a million miles away from the faith in every conscious and living way.

The work of late winter: building bridges of trust and rousing genuine spiritual curiosity about Jesus is the work urgently needed now in the post Christendom, post modern west. And it is something for which we have few structures, little vision, and little leadership – especially at the parish and diocesan levels.

This involves really leaving the ecclesial building. This involves a true “ad gentes” approach to the nations, going out to the far, far places of heart and mind and imagination for the sake of those for whom God become incarnate, lived, suffered, died, and rose again.

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