New Evangelization in the Context of Priestly Formation


The new evangelization is the pastoral mission of the Church that Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI has asked all believers to embrace. The new evangelization has both internal (ad intra) and external (ad extra) implications – the way in which each believer pursues conversion and how believers bring their faith into the public square.

John Paul II states that the new evangelization needs new evangelizers and these are priests who are serious about their formation (cf. PDV 82). The formational mission here at Notre Dame Seminary has been described by me in the following way: Disciples of the Lord: Forming Missionary Priests for the New Evangelization. You can refer back to the conferences I gave in August prior to the start of classes.

For the purpose of this conference, I would like to review how the Church has developed the concept of the new evangelization. This is important for your discernment because the Lord is calling you from particular situations and will send you into the particular cultures of your dioceses and religious congregations. The pastoral landscape the Church finds herself is varied but the mission is the same.

Pope Paul VI wrote that “evangelization is the special grace and vocation of the Church. It is her essential function. The Church exists to preach the Gospel” (EN 14). Many do not want the Church in the public square – many believe faith is a personal affair, not something that should shape public policy or form the very institutions that support the promotion of culture. Hence, even Catholics will be reticent to allow their faith to make a difference in society. Therefore, without the Gospel and the moral compass of our faith, society is left to its own devices.

“The Church appreciates that evangelization means the carrying forth of the good news to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and renew the human race” (EN 18). Indeed, priests need to understand that their ministry is to touch every sector of society. This is the goal of the new evangelization. “Evangelization will not be complete unless it constantly relates the gospel to men’s actual lives, personal and social” (EN 29).

The premise of this rector’s conference is that “evangelization” and the “new evangelization” are theological concepts rather than simply pastoral initiatives. Recent publications by so-called theologians and films such as the Da Vinci Code demonstrate how so many faithful are confused about basic catechetical and theological points regarding our Catholic Faith and even the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The effort of the American bishops to implement the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Adult Catechism has been an initial response.

The document Dominus Iesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith introduces nine theological/philosophical deficiencies prevalent today in our conceptual thinking that undermine our evangelizing efforts. Since theology uses concepts to convey our belief in the Gospel, the very tenets of our faith are threatened if people struggle with conceptual thinking. Secularism and rationalism have created once again an ideology which subjugates faith to reason therefore, without scientific proof, religion is a personal matter, doctrine and matters of faith are personal beliefs without any possibility of ever claiming universal truth.

Concepts such as “resurrection”, “glorification”, “sacrament”, and “grace”, core themes of theology used to explain our belief in Jesus Christ, will have no meaning for the Catholic in the pew or certainly the fallen-away Catholic when rationalism prevails.

The temptation for the evangelizer is to not confront these conceptual obstacles rather than place our focus and energies on more sociological priorities or pastoral initiatives, or even use a different vocabulary apart from theology. Consequently, evangelization ceases to be what it is and loses its very meaning becoming more of a reductive process of sharing information rather than the means by which people encounter the living God. How can the Gospel of Christ be handed-on when we avoid preaching the central themes of theology.

The description of this situation demonstrates that the crisis of evangelization in today’s world can in no way be overcome simply by adapting the Church’s activity to sociological, psychological and other postulates” (1974 Synod of Bishops Working Paper). These words reflect once again what the Church should not be doing in response to secularism.

Evangelization must confront the obstacle of secularism head-on otherwise our preaching is devoid of meaning and falls on deaf ears. Therefore, “evangelization” must be understood as a theological concept because what is being handed-on is the total Gospel of Christ which is the object and subject of theology.

Sequela Christi

The fruit of evangelization is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The evangelizer is a follower of Christ, constantly being evangelized and constantly evangelizing others. The first moment of evangelization, only made possible by the grace of God, is the ability to witness Christ. The preface to Disciples Called to Witness, the document on evangelization by the USCCB that was released in Spring 2012, opens with a reflection on “witness.” The preface asks if Catholics understand what it means to be a witness of Christ and then to proclaim to others what and who they are witnesses of.

Evangelization begins with the premise of a three-fold dynamism. First, the apostles were chosen to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. To be a witness of Christ is to hear his Gospel, see his miracles, encounter the Paschal Mystery, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the apostles had to freely cooperate with the grace to be a witness. One chose not to. Conversion to what they witnessed required the gift of the Holy Spirit, grace from God, and the freedom to cooperate with this grace. The act of faith resulted from conversion which is a total gift from God.

Thirdly, Christ commands the apostles to proclaim the Gospel. The apostles were given a mission.

Hence, a follower of Christ is a witness, embraces conversion, and is on a mission. This three-fold dynamic is never exhausted in the believer. The believer is always witnessing the saving mysteries of our faith, one is always deepening their conversion, and one always is on a mission. This is evangelization.

By the very nature of our baptism, every Christian is being evangelized and is an evangelizer. The three moments of evangelization is never accomplished in a person until they are completely in the presence of the triune God. Hence, evangelization always has a dynamic of restlessness.

When we speak of evangelization today, these three moments need to be highlighted and emphasized. The bishops begin Disciples Called to Witness with questions about Catholics understanding of these moments of evangelization. Do American Catholics possess a sense of urgency: an urgency to be a witness, an urgency to embrace conversion, and urgency to share with other what they have witnessed?

Evangelization cannot force people to get excited. Yet, the title of the Lineamenta for the October 2012 Synod of Bishops infers a chief obstacle for evangelization – transmission of the faith. How do we transmit our Catholic faith in a convincing, joyful, enthusiastic manner?

The act of faith is how faith is transmitted. Witness, conversion, and mission are intrinsic moments of this act of faith. Evangelization is the means by which this act of faith is manifested by the believer and the means by which others witness the Gospel in action. Evangelization is a theological concept because the act of faith by the believer is a theological action.

The Development of Evangelization

The second point is around the historical development of evangelization in regards to mission and the real cultural contexts of the human person.

In Disciples Called to Witness in Part Two, under the Pope Paul VI section, the document indicates that “to evangelize” one bears witness to God’s Revelation. Witness to the events of Divine Revelation is realized in the present moment. The event of Divine Revelation itself is an unchanging reality, an unchanging truth. However, the context of witness occurs in a very organic setting – both from an ecclesial context and a cultural context. Hence, there can be some tension integrating the unchanging truth of Christ (who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) with the constantly changing realities that man confronts each day.

The 1974 Synod of Bishops and Pope Paul VI’s document that follows is the normative document for understanding the concept of evangelization. Those familiar with the interventions and proceedings of the 1974 Synod of Bishops understand the great frustration of the bishops and the Holy Father who were grappling with how to define evangelization considering the significant social conditions that believers find themselves in – conditions contrary to the Gospel and conditions that enslave man in such a way that he is often unable to hear, live and believe in the Gospel

How do we reconcile “witness,” “conversion,” and “mission” with an organic landscape of culture and the need for the Church to minister within this landscape?

A significant contribution of Pope Paul VI was a greater understanding of what it means “to evangelize.” Evangelization is not an aspect of the Church’s mission; it is not reserved to the ordained and specialists; and it is not just something we do for non-Christians. Evangelization must address every condition of the human experience for it is “the” mission of the Church.

From the pre-conciliar notion, through conciliar developments, to the Magisterium of Pope Paul VI, witness, conversion, and mission are intrinsically linked and are inseparable from the concept of “evangelization.”

Evangelization continues to be mission ad gentes; it is a mission directed to practicing Catholics; it is a mission directed to inter-religious dialogue; it is a mission of ecumenism; and it is a mission involving Catholics who do not practice their faith. This is a significant development for evangelization for it no longer is one aspect of mission rather constitutes the mission of the Church.

Evangelization Promotes Authentic Humanism

A question for evangelization – what does mission respond to? To be a witness of Jesus and his saving events presumes witnessing in a particular context. This becomes a central theme of Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate. Disciples Called to Witness in Part II under the section “Blessed John Paul II and the New Evangelization” reviews the development of the concept “new evangelization” but also confirms that Pope John Paul II did not provide a full theological scheme of what we mean by the new evangelization.

New times demand that the Christian message reach people today through new methods of apostolate and that it be expressed in language and forms that are accessible” (Santo Domingo, 1992). These words summarize the inspiration of the new evangelization but do not define the concept.

In the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II the concept “new evangelization” was indeed a neologism being used differently because of differing situations. For example, three aspects of mission are discerned by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio:

1)     Mission involves those people, groups and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and the Gospel are not known;

2)     Mission involves Christians with adequate and solid ecclesial structure. They are fervent in their faith and in Christian living;

3)     Mission involves those who have lost a living sense of faith or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live a life far removed from the Gospel.

Here, the Holy Father used the new evangelization as an aspect of “mission” and one dimension of evangelization. The new evangelization was a missionary response to Catholics who no longer practice their faith and to cultures that were once distinctively Christian now rapidly losing their Christian identity. The new evangelization was a particular response to this missionary need.

Then, John Paul II used the concept “new evangelization” as a way to promote authentic humanism, a way for people to understand the Gospel of Christ and the practical impact of faith on man himself and upon culture. The new evangelization is the Church’s missionary effort to shape culture with Gospel faith which benefits all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. The Gospel is not antagonistic towards culture rather its true promoter. The Magisterium of John Paul II leading up the Great Jubilee illustrates this promotion of an authentic Christian humanism within culture.

In Disciples Called to Witness, Part One, under the section “new evangelization” the bishops write that the “new evangelization provides the lens through which people experience the world and the Church around them.” This lens of the new evangelization can be understood as “authentic humanism.”

Finally, Blessed John Paul II concludes that the new evangelization is not something restricted to one aspect of “mission.” As the Church moved into the 21st century, the Holy Father equates the new evangelization with the mission of the Church rather than a missionary response to one pastoral need. Hence, the new evangelization is directed all aspects of “mission” – a mission promoting authentic humanism. “The program of a new evangelization […] cannot be restricted to revitalizing the faith of regular believers but must strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known” (EAm 74)

The new evangelization is the Church’s ability to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in every human/cultural situation that man finds himself. Pope Benedict took this theme up with the American Bishops during their ad limina visit this past year. “I spoke of the need for the Church in America to cultivate a mindset, an intellectual culture which is genuinely Catholic. Taking up this task […] must be aimed at proclaiming the liberating truth of Christ and stimulating greater dialogue and cooperation in building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America’s civic and cultural heritage” (Ad Limina Address, May 2012).

The new evangelization, a concept inseparable from “mission,” is therefore also understood as a theological concept. There is nothing new in regards to the content of our preaching and the Gospel being handed-on. What is new is the method by which this Gospel will be preached and the conditions that man finds himself. The content of the new evangelization in none other than that of the Gospel of Christ.


“It shows the necessity of giving deeper consideration to the basic concepts involved in the ministry of evangelization, namely, salvation, faith, conversion, the person of Christ, the Church, etc. and the further necessity of rethinking the theological principles of evangelization in light of these concepts” (Lineamenta, 1973).

When we consider Disciples Called to Witness, the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as well as the Lineamenta and Instrumentum Laboris for the 2012 Synod of Bishops, there are four primary theological principles of the new evangelization that can be discerned from these sources.

The evangelizing mission of the Church is threatened by syncretic and pluralistic themes that bring great distraction and confusion to Catholics. Without a theological framework – evangelization will be reduced to pastoral initiatives that really do not have any specific goals. Without a theological framework – man stands at the center of the Church rather than Christ and his saving mysteries. This was the same challenge for the bishops preparing for the 1974 Synod of Bishops. “In the examination of various experiences certain themes emerge that need theological clarification since the various practical options depend in the last analysis on different theological perspectives in which the work of evangelization is considered” (Instrumentum Laboris, 1974).

There are four theological foundations to evangelization that protects evangelization from syncretism and pluralism.


The new evangelization promotes the fact that the mission of the Church is concerned with the salvation of all peoples. In Disciples Called to Witness, Part One under “Ministry of Jesus” the bishops write that Christ calls all people to himself. Since the new evangelization involves the preaching of the Gospel no matter where man finds himself, the Church addresses all people. The salvation of every person brings urgency to the Church’s mission of evangelization.

First, we can speak about God’s universal salvific will. “God our savior desires all men to be saved and come to the full knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:2-4).“Father […] this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). New evangelization seeks to bring each person into communion with God. The missionary life of the Church is not sectarian; it seeks to meet each person where they are at in life. Hence, the evangelizer needs to understand that the salvation of every soul is the concern of the Church.

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and fully entrusts himself to his creator” (GS 19).

Secondly, with atheistic tendencies of secularism, the new evangelization shows how God can be known with certainty and how knowledge of God is related to our salvation. “It pleased God in his goodness and wisdom to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will” (DV 2). With rationalistic tendencies that convince people that God cannot be known or that faith is such a personal affair, salvation itself is only an idea. The new evangelization points all people to the Gospel and how this Gospel gives meaning to life and prepares life for eternal salvation.

God […] can be known with certainty from the created world, by the natural light of human reason. It is to his revelation that we must attribute the fact that those things which in themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason can in the present condition of the human race, be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty, and without the contamination of error” (DV 6).

Thirdly, not only does God want all to be saved and reach the full knowledge of truth, the new evangelization shows how the Christian life, living a fully human life according to the Gospel, prepares us for the reason why God created us – to share the divine nature of God. “God put us into the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise. Beatitude makes us partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. With beatitude, man enters into the glory of Christ and into the joy of the Trinitarian life” (CCC 1721).

Pope Paul VI opened the 1974 Synod of Bishops reminding the syndal fathers to who evangelization points. “We must ascend right to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in order to trace the first origin of the mandate which urges us on, and to discover, within the infinite riches of the divine life the design of love which permeates, qualifies and sustains our apostolic mission” (Pope Paul VI, Opening Homily, 1974 Synod of Bishops).

These evangelical principles avoid a theological pluralism that would tell us that salvation comes from many sources or that man can save himself – you do not need God to be saved. The new evangelization brings a clear theological explanation about the salvific will of God.

Naturally, when we speak about God we also speak about the human person. The new evangelization asks the question: what does it mean to be human.


“What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting you eternal Good” (Saint Catherine of Siena).

The Church provides culture a clear, correct understanding about man’s nature. Modernism and secularism deny absolute moral truths therefore man today is often confused about his own nature.

The new evangelization points to the true nature of where our dignity, self-knowledge, and self-possession originate. If secularism, with its atheistic tendencies, removes God from the picture, the very understanding of what it means to be human is questioned. The fact that each person is created in the image of God forms the basis in declaring the universality of human rights. “Of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his creator. He is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity” (CCC 356).

Secondly, the new evangelization makes known how Christ reveals man to himself, man’s true identity in Christ, the New Adam. This aspect of the new evangelization has a very practical meaning to the individual. God is not remote or distantly far off – our baptism into the life of Christ unites man to God in a most profound, existential way. The product of secularism leaves man alone to his own devices. “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear […] Christ the new Adam […] fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (GS 22).

Thirdly, the new evangelization is responding to the natural desire that all have for God; faith is not imposed rather enlightens all to the source of this natural desire for truth, for God. No matter the impact of secularism on culture, man still has this desire for truth. “From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each of us” (Acts 17:26-28).

The new evangelization also gives meaning and understanding to the reason of why evil exists; but also how the Christian faith transforms us from a life of sin to a life of holiness. Evil and sin are indeed obstacles to the Gospel which often leave people bewildered and even angry with God. The Gospel makes sense of this and brings explanation. Worse yet, certain ideologies purport no belief in evil or sin which has catastrophic consequences both on the individual and on culture.

Man therefore is divided in himself. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness […] Both the high calling and the deep misery which men experience find their final explanation in the light of Revelation” (GS 13).

Finally, the new evangelization awakes in all people that we are called to be saints, to be holy. Conversion to be a saint is a way of life and makes present God’s Kingdom among us. The Kingdom of God is not a metaphor but a reality manifested by living the Gospel of Christ. When the Kingdom is present – culture itself is transformed.

A man may assent to the truth which a merciful God has revealed, but he will give a much deeper and fuller assent to the Spirit and a way of life – that is a life now transformed – which these truths propose to him. In a word, a man gives his allegiance to the Kingdom that is to a new world, a new state of things, a new manner of existence, a new way of life, of communal life, which the Gospel inaugurates” (EN 23).

The anthropological foundation of the new evangelization responds to the concerns of man but not in a random, political way. Jesus made a promise to us: Blessed are we when we live a certain way – these blessings open for us the horizons of truth and the horizon of why God created us.

The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and love from it in faith” (CCC 1719).

The new evangelization helps man to understand in the light of Jesus Christ what it means to be human. Freedom is a gift of God that shows its real force when the Christian faith is lived. “It is only in freedom that man can turn himself towards what is good […] Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward towards his goal by freely choosing what is good […] Since human freedom has been weakened by sin it is only by the help of God’s grace that man can give his actions their full and proper relationship to God” (GS 17).

The new evangelization avoids a theological pluralism where each person can define who they are or pursue freedom apart from God, apart from the natural law. It assures us that man does not become enslaved to his passions.


Divine Revelation is not vague; the mystery of the human person is not so fluid – which leads us to the person of Jesus Christ. Evangelization always has Christ at the center since He is the Way, Truth and Life. Christ reveals the true humanity of each person and has redeemed human nature from original sin.

Evangelization keeps Christ at the center of the message for He is the message. How many pastoral efforts have not placed Christ at the center but rather man? “Evangelization will always contain, as the foundation, the centre and the apex of its whole dynamic power, this explicit declaration: in Jesus Christ who became man, died and rose again from the dead, salvation is offered to every man as the gift of grace and mercy of God himself” (EN 27).

But who is this Christ?  With Christians confused about who Christ is and certain denominations making up their own so-called doctrine of Jesus even Catholics are uncertain about the true nature of Jesus. The heresies of the early Church are back in full force. “All the elements of the mystery of Christ: the Incarnation itself, his miracles, his teaching, his calling of the disciples, the sending forth of the apostles, the Cross and Resurrection, his enduring presence among his own, all were determined in view of the activity of preaching the gospel” (EN 6)

The new evangelization provides a clear theological explanation of who Christ is and what this means for each person. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document Dominus Iesus again explains how people find it hard to comprehend the total emptying of God’s Word into Christ.

Next, the new evangelization also promotes how faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism into his life is about our citizenship in the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not a metaphor or a poetic image – it is how to understand our relationship with God and with one another. “’I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God’ is of the utmost importance because it sums up in a word the whole mission and mandate of Jesus: ‘I was sent for this purpose’” (EN 6).

The new evangelization makes aware of how this Kingdom of God is forever sealed and consecrated by the saving of events of Christ. “This kingdom and this salvation – these words may be regarded as the key to a full understanding of the evangelization of Jesus Christ” (EN 10).There is no Kingdom of God without Jesus Christ. “The Kingdom of God is to be considered therefore as the absolute good so that everything else is subordinate to it” (EN 8). A basic theological understanding about the events of the Paschal Mystery along with the Christological titles of “Lord” and “Savior” have woefully been underemphasized in our preaching and catechetical efforts.

The new evangelization promotes these theological principles in order to teach people who Christ is and therefore allows believers to encounter the same Christ that the people of the New Testament encountered.

The new evangelization allows us to avoid a theological pluralism – often promoted by so-called theologians: the thought that there is one Christ but many Jesus’; or that salvation comes from many saviors, Christ is one of them.

Sadly, there are many who call themselves Christian but really are not Christian because of their misconceptions about who Jesus is.

This now leads us to the final theological principle of evangelization. Where and how do we have a true, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ?


Because syncretism has been an acceptable hermeneutic to explain why there are many Christian communities, the role of the Church in evangelization has become a secondary principle for many. The new evangelization provides a clear theological explanation of the necessity of the Church for salvation. This is a sensitive aspect of our preaching that has been neglected in our catechesis.

The sacred Council begins by professing that God himself has made known to the human race how men by serving him can be saved and reach happiness in Christ. We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all men” (DH 1).

There can be the sentiment that people want to be saved and are believers who love Christ but seek salvation and form a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church. An obstacle for many is the understanding that no relationship with Christ is complete without the Church. The Second Vatican Council writes: “He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness” (LG 9).

The bishops address this concern as “individualism” in their document Disciples Called to Witness, Part One, under the section “Current Situation.” With an emphasis on personal freedom in the United States and the personal nature of faith so often promoted by certain denominations, the ecclesial dimension of faith is seriously being threatened. Again, the Church is not extraneous to evangelization. “The Church takes its origin from the work of evangelization by Christ and the twelve apostles. Of this work she is the natural fruition. She is the end to which this work was directed, its immediate and most striking achievement” (EN 15).

Basic theological/catechetical points are to be promoted by the new evangelization. What needs to be emphasized and demonstrated is that Christ meets man wherever he is at through the life of the Church.


The three moments of evangelization (sequela Christi) of witness, conversion, and mission are supported by these four theological themes of evangelization (ad intra). With this, we can now speak of two external theological principles (ad extra).

In Disciples Called to Witness, Part One, under the section “Areas of Growth” the bishops write about the cultural diversity of our nation and how the Church meets the needs of ethnic diversity. This is not simply a pastoral response rather the very nature of what evangelization seeks to accomplish.

Furthermore, the bishops identify in Part II, under the section of Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of New Evangelization two cultural priorities of the new evangelization:

–       To re-propose the Gospel where the 1st evangelization has not occurred

–       To evangelize regions which have deep Christian roots but where there now exists a crisis of faith due to secularism

Moreover, the bishops also acknowledge in Part One, under the section “Areas of Growth” that Catholics want to evangelize but often feel ill-equipped because of their own lack of formation.

These reflections confirm that one can identify interculturation and catechesis as what I call the two hinges of the new evangelization.


In Disciples Called to Witness, Part II, “Pope Benedict and the Future of the New Evangelization” the bishops acknowledge that the new evangelization requires a dialogue with modern culture while confronting the cultural crisis around us.

Culture is not an enemy of the Gospel rather the required venue where people are to encounter the Gospel. Often our preaching seems to indicate the Church is counter-cultural when, in fact, she is not. There indeed is a cultural crisis when culture ceases to be culture.

Hence, the new evangelization requires a clearer theology of “culture.” Culture is not an accident of human behavior rather it is intended by God. But our human freedom requires us to shape and form culture according to the natural law.

The Christian brings to culture a lived-experience of the Gospel which contributes to a just society. In this sense, we understand faith as a culture. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger wrote often about both the culture of man and the culture of faith – both need each other.

The relationship between faith and culture is understood in terms of the dynamism of interculturation.

The bishops write in the preface of Disciples Called to Witness that “the new evangelization seeks to invite modern man and culture into a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church.” Hence, the new evangelization requires the Church to study and engage culture.

If culture is poisoned then how can faith be fully lived? The evangelization of culture is a central goal of the new evangelization. But this is the challenge for the Church in the United States when forces openly prevent the Church from having a voice in the public square.

In Part One of Disciples Called to Witness under the section of “Current Situation of Culture” the bishops quote from Pope Benedict who noted that we must resist religion from being treated as a private matter. A particular opportunity for the new evangelization is to show how the Gospel and the Church are protagonists in the formation of culture, something Pope Benedict explained to the bishops this past January. “The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat of our freedom but rather a ‘language’ which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future” (Ad Limina Address, January 2012).

One particular contribution the new evangelization brings to culture is recognizing within that culture is the natural law that, when man appropriates it, freedom is promoted. The new evangelization has a specific aim of dialoguing with the natural law.


Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote that catechesis is a necessary dimension of the new evangelization. This is something the American bishops have spent much time on for the last 20 years.

American Catholics have much to offer to American culture. However, if they do not understand their faith, Catholics usually remain silent in the face of sin or they misrepresent what they believe the Church teaches and bring an erroneous contribution to society. Worse yet are Catholics in political positions who deny their faith in public for a secular approach to culture.

Pope Benedict also raised this matter in January with the American bishops. “Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate […] As essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs” (Ad Limina Address, January 2012).

Interculturation, with the evangelization of culture, along with catechesis are the two hinges of the new evangelization. Catholics who know quite well their faith and bring this faith into the public square.


The four theological foundations and the two hinges give expression to what the new evangelization seeks to achieve. One can identify three goals which summarize what the new evangelization seeks to accomplish. The bishops state however in Part II, under the section “Pope Benedict and the future of the new evangelization” that there is no single formula of the new evangelization rather sees it as a personal, profound experience of God.

The Call to Holiness

Immersion into the Life of the Church (Communio)

Manifesting the Kingdom of God

These three goals are implicitly addressed in Part IV of Disciples Called to Witness which treat the themes of:

Conversion           Parish Life   Religious Experience

Discipleship          Liturgical Life

Christian Life        Christian Family

First, the call to holiness is about a complete conversion to Christ – ongoing evangelization. The evangelizer is always engaged themselves in their own evangelization. When Catholics are totally engaged in their spiritual life we become the saints God created us to be.

Pope Benedict XVI stated to the American Bishops that “Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises […] we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel” (Ad Limina Address, November 2011).

Secondly, the experience of authentic communio energizes our sense of mission. Without the Church, we create our own Jesus, interpret the scriptures according to opinion, and become disconnected from the vine and the flock. The Christian identity of a believer is linked to the Body of Christ.

Again, Pope Benedict XVI explains: “The renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches” (Ad Limina Address, November 2011).

Finally, manifesting the Kingdom of God involves the role of the Church in society. The liberation that all seek from evil, the true experience of freedom, and the promotion of an authentic humanism are all experiences of God’s Kingdom. This requires the Church to be an active voice in culture. There are movements and ideologies that seek to silence the Church or any person of faith from bringing their voices into the public square. Hence, how can culture be evangelized? Culture then is lacking the very truth it requires.

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged this to our bishops. “When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society” (Ad Limina Address, January 2012).

These three goals make evident the practical, tangible contribution of the new evangelization to American culture and individual believers.


“We want a laity who know their religion, enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much history they can defend it” (John Henry Cardinal Newman). When the new evangelization is embraced, Catholics will be inspired to share their faith.

In this Year of Faith, may you find time to discern how you will be a new evangelizer once ordained to the diaconate and priesthood. How can you be a new evangelizer in this apostolic community? The experience of the Church in the present moment here at the seminary is your immediate vocation: to discern and to be formed in the heart of the Church.

Blessings for a fruitful Year of Faith.

Rector’s Conference
Very Reverend James A. Wehner, S.T.D.
October 19, 2012