Missioning Disciples Locally[i]
The New Evangelization seeks to transform the hearts of individuals and the life of the parish, but not for the sake of the individual or the parish. The New Evangelization is about igniting the faithful for the mission of gathering in the lost and forsaken[ii], welcoming home the prodigal children, embracing the seeker, engaging the skeptic, and dialoguing with the atheist.[iii] In other words, to be salt, light, and leaven![iv] Stage Four seeks to enable those transformed by the personal love of Christ and apprenticed in missionary discipleship to be just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After they had encountered the Risen Lord, they scurried back to the shaken, the doubtful, the skeptical and hurting community left behind after Jesus’ crucifixion. They encountered the Risen Lord, were transformed, and their hearts were burning so that they could not contain their excitement! They rushed back to Jerusalem to assure others of the magnificent truth: He is living, here and now, and we have seen Him!
Even a cursory read of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles makes it very clear that Jesus did not intend faith in Him to be a private affair. He said He came to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is at hand[v] and that His followers are to share that good news with all people. In other words, genuine faith in Jesus Christ compels an outward focus. It is not possible to be a genuine follower of Jesus and refuse to engage His work of bringing others into this wondrous relationship of eternal life with God.
An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #23
To engage this work of being salt, light, and leaven to all the world[vi], the New Evangelization focuses on two specific audiences. The first are those the faithful encounter daily in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and social venues who are no longer engaged with Christ and the Church AND those of other Christian denominations. Stated simply, the external focus of this fourth year has two audiences. It turns first toward Catholics who no longer affiliate with the Church. The second audience is Christians of other denominations. To begin, it is essential to capture Jesus’ vision for those who have wandered away, the ones He called lost sheep.[vii]
The New Evangelization seeks to create parishes full of people whose hearts break, as Jesus’ did, for those who are lost. Jesus proclaimed that He will not lose any of those God has given to Him[viii] and so one of the primary thrusts of the New Evangelization is to nurture this very desire not to lose any of God’s beloved people. However, yearning hearts must yield parishioners equipped to find those who are lost, to engage them in reconciling relationships, and to have the courage and the skill to invite them home to the heart of Christ which is the parish, where His people are preparing a banquet of welcome for them. Most parishes do not have to go far to find some of the lost or wandering, for they may well be within parishioner’s families. Young adult children, spouses or parents, and siblings may have wandered far from the heartbeat of Christ. Stage Four is about forming parishioners who are eager, courageous, and prepared with word and spirit to welcome them back where God’s people are preparing a homecoming celebration! The work of Stage Three, focusing on the parish, will help put into place the attitudes and activities that can provide the atmosphere necessary to welcome home the lost sheep, Christ’s beloved baptized who have wandered.
Within this fourth stage is also a tie to the domestic church and ecumenism. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported in 2008 that 43% of Catholics are married to someone who is not Catholic.[ix] These people are living the challenges of ecumenism if their spouse is a Christian of another denomination. They are living the challenges of inter-faith relationships and/or of relationships with agnostics or atheists if their spouse is not a Christian. The New Evangelization imagines equipping Catholics within these relationships with strong personal encounters with Jesus Christ, with nourishing welcoming parish homes, and with the tools to engage in shared prayer, work for charity and justice and intellectual growth to both sustain and share faith. This is the work of the fourth stage. The fruit of Stage Four: loving, animated, and accurate dialogues, open invitations to learn, grow, and serve, and the spiritual strength to maintain a relationship with Christ and His Church in these circumstances. This work will continue and be the fertile ground from which will sprout disciples sent to the world. The second thrust of this fourth year of the New Evangelization is ecumenical. It is here that many people become reluctant to be seen as proselytizers trying to snatch people from their religion and “give” them ours. The New Evangelization imagines something far different from that kind of encounter. It imagines Catholic Christians well enough versed in Scripture and Tradition to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue with other Christians, to be able to build bridges, learn from one another, identify real differences, and live in community. It imagines Catholics afire with their faith, a fire warm and welcoming enough to invite others to “come and see” if they are curious, and to be able to help other Christians understand more fully Catholic beliefs and practices.
[i] Dovetails with the USCCB’s diocesan/parish roadmap, year three which calls for a focus on outreach and human dignity.
[ii] “Gather Us In” Marty Haugen © 1882 GIA Publications
[iii] “Understanding what Pope Francis said about the atheists.” Our Sunday Visitor
[iv] Matthew 28:19-20
[v] Matthew 10:7
[vi] Matthew 5:13-16
[vii] Luke 15:1-7
[viii] John 6:39
[ix] Our Sunday Visitor Marriage Story. Statistic as of 2008.