“Catholic?” An Evangelical friend gasped when I told him, seven years ago, of my conversion. “Catholics evangelized the world and then sat on their hands. They don’t care about evangelization anymore!”
I talked it over with a priest friend who thoughtfully responded, “Well, he’s right, at least in part. He doesn’t have the whole picture.” Indeed. Ever since the fire of Pentecost, the Church has moved in ways “visible and invisible,” in and out of season. Blessed John Paul II’s call for a “reproposing” of the gospel in a New Evangelization was well underway, itself flowing from earlier movements of the Spirit.
My own conversion is evidence of its work. I’m indebted to Catholics who embraced the New Evangelization by applying themselves to apologetics and Scripture study in order to speak the chapter-and-verse faith language hearts like mine understand. If the Church prepares missionaries to evangelize foreign lands by teaching Chinese and Swahili, local parishes ought to prepare their laity to share and defend their faith in cadences that resonate with the neighbors.
The New Evangelization is the Spirit’s breath over embers dimmed by Protestant division and secular chill, igniting fresh love in believers who respond by spreading the flames. “It is the love that Christ has poured into our hearts which makes us evangelizers,” Pope Benedict wrote in his 2012 World Youth Day announcement. “Our love must become more and more like Christ’s own love.” That love is urgent, sacrificial and universal, reaching out to believers and unbelievers alike.
After all, conversion is not a one-time event, as some mistakenly believe. Evangelization calls every heart out of itself in response to God’s merciful love. The New Evangelization is calling Catholics themselves to greater conversion, to join knowledgeable, zealous proclamation with ardent, humble love and simultaneous works of corporal and spiritual mercy.
Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, urges lay Catholics to respond to Christ’s thirst for souls by developing a merciful outlook—a search for occasions that call for mercy. Following John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia, Gaitley sees the merciful outlook as a bilateral reality, “As we give it, we also receive it.”
“The merciful outlook…has to do with evangelization,–not proselytization,” he writes in Consoling the Heart of Jesus. “It is authentic love for the other person.” Derived from Christ the Source, it changes both giver and receiver.
Pope Francis has been demonstrating how it’s done. We all knew the maxim, “Preach all the time. When necessary, use words.” But who knew just how bold a wordless witness could be until the new Holy Father took the great saint’s name and bounded past protocol, embracing the handicapped and kissing prisoners’ feet?
The newly-elected pontiff instructed his cardinals to do the same. He “urged us to come out of ourselves,” Cardinal Filoni said, “not to yield to the temptation of egocentricity, but to go to the needy, to bring a proclamation of joy and hope to all those …marked by material and spiritual poverty.”
Pope Francis exhorted the World Youth Day crowd with a similar message. “I want the Church to go out into the streets,” he charged young Catholics. “I want us to defend ourselves against all worldliness…from all that which means being closed up in ourselves.”
Who can resist such a call? How brightly might Christ’s love blaze if each of us responded, invoking the Holy Spirit’s help in a sanctified Where’s Waldo: a holy search for those around most desperate for the merciful love of Christ? How would our hearts inflame if, convicted of our own self-absorption, we prayed for ever-closer eucharistic identification with the True God whose love bounded toward sinners as True Man?
The New Evangelization beckons us to “come out of ourselves,” to become the face of mercy transforming a culture disfigured by isolation and despair. Christ thirsts for the souls of angry atheists and for the invisible immigrant. He thirsts for well-dressed feminists and the unborn hidden from view. He thirsts for communion with his friends and he thirsts for reconciliation with his enemies.
Let us come out of ourselves, rushing with merciful love wherever the Spirit leads. If our numbers dwindle, let the flames within those who remain blaze brighter than we could ask or think. Let the New Evangelization bring the merciful Christ to the world through us, evangelizing our very own souls with the flames of his unbounded love.
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