New Evangelization Nuts and Bolts: An Interview with Archbishop Joseph Naumann — Part One

I had the privilege of sitting down with His Excellency Joseph F. Naumann, D.D., Archbishop of Kansas City on November 10, 2008, at the Fall General Assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore. In this interview, the Archbishop shared some candid thoughts on the “New Evangelization,” the Catholic vote, and how each might be positively impacted through our faith formation efforts going forward.

LV: Thank you for meeting with me, Excellency. I’ll try not to cut into your lunchtime too much.

+JN: That’s OK. We can certainly afford it! [Laughter]

LV: How would you define the “New Evangelization,” and can you tell our readers what exactly makes it new ?

+JN: What makes the New Evangelization new is the cultural context in which we are trying present the truths of the gospel and the age old truths of our Catholic faith. It’s also new because we are presenting our faith to the world using new technologies that weren’t necessarily available until recently.

As I understand it, Pope John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization was really a call to re-evangelize the culture, in some cases traditionally Christian cultures, and in many cases to restore the principals and values of the Gospel in every segment of society; public policy, the sciences, the arts, etc., and to use all of the various tools that are available to us to accomplish that task.

LV: One might notice that the USCCB Committee charged with oversight of Evangelization activities bears the title “Evangelization and Catechesis,” as do similar offices that exist on the diocesan and parish levels. Why is evangelization always necessarily coupled with catechesis ?

+JN: Evangelization and catechesis are two components of the same basic initiative, which is to proclaim the Gospel, but to different constituencies. Catechesis is aimed at faithfully handing on the deposit of faith to a new generation, and to form Catholics in a way that will equip them to be strong in their convictions even in a culture that often challenges their values and beliefs. I think that Catholic lay men and women need to be steeped in their understanding of the faith more so now than at any other time.

Evangelization, on the other hand, is the Church’s essential mission — which is not just to maintain the Church or to preserve the local community, but to engage in an outward thrust; taking the gospel to those who have not yet heard it, or perhaps to those who have heard it yet have lost it and to reconnect them.

In our own Archdiocese, evangelization is one of our major pastoral priorities. I find that many of our parishes can become so consumed with taking care of the Church as it is currently constituted, that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we aren’t really doing what Jesus commissioned us to do if we’re not actively seeking to bring the Gospel to others. We’re trying in our own small way to elevate that awareness at every level of the Archdiocese. I’m very hopeful that will help us to be more faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us.

LV: So you would say that catechesis is the fuel for evangelization? In other words, it can’t be an end unto itself; but rather it should move us to engage in that “outward thrust” as you call it?

+JN: Exactly, and if we’re not well-catechized we’re not going to have much to share when we go out to share the faith, or we’re going to be confused in what we’re saying and doing. So having people who are well-formed in knowing their faith is essential for them to embrace the missionary component of the Gospel.

LV: When we read in the USCCB document, “Our Hearts were Burning Within Us” that the success of evangelization efforts requires “adult believers who are eager and articulate in sharing a faith they understand, embrace, and live,” (28) would we be correct to hear the bishops saying that understanding is primary in order to embrace and then to live our faith?

+JN: I think that’s absolutely correct. There has to be a knowledge base first for those other important things to take place. Without understanding the faith, one won’t be able to live it much less share it.

LV: You knew we couldn’t avoid the election topic entirely.

+JN: [Laughter]

LV: From comments made by Catholic politicians in the recent campaign season, to polling data suggesting that 54% of the Catholic vote went to what is arguably the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate we’ve ever seen, it appears that the state of catechesis in the US is “challenged” for lack of a better word. What is your assessment of the state of catechesis here in the US, and how does it factor in to this situation?

+JN: A good deal of my priesthood has been devoted to the pro-life apostolate, so I was very saddened in many ways by the election results. It’s a wake up call that we need to better form and better educate our people.

When you dig into the statistics and look at Catholics who regularly attend Mass, their pattern of voting was significantly different than those who may identify themselves as Catholic but are not faithful in their practice of the faith. This tells me that we need to reach out to those Catholics who are not fully living the faith and find ways to better form them.

When you look at the marriage amendment in California — a state that was considered noncompetitive in the presidential election — the majority of people voted for the traditional understanding of marriage. That tells me there are a lot of other currents going on here. In some ways I think we can over-interpret the election results to say that people just don’t believe. They may believe, but what they may not understand is the priority of the moral issues.

As bishops, we have a responsibility to be the primary teachers of the faith. There are some wonderful Catholic politicians, but others have been misleading people in terms of what it means to be Catholic. In this last election there were actually some who came out publicly to assume the role of teaching the faith and interpreting the Tradition. I think that issued a challenge to us as bishops, and that’s why we saw so many bishops responding.

We can’t have Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden acting as the teachers of what it means to be Catholic. I think all of us as bishops have to take our role seriously; how we have a responsibility — not in a punitive way — to correct the misinterpretations that are being offered, sometimes very overtly in what people say, but oftentimes in less overt but very powerful ways in how they’re living inconsistently with their faith.

LV: What do you see as the greatest challenges faced on the local levels — diocesan and parish — as it applies to catechesis?

+JN: Catechizing our people well on the meaning of the sacramental life will strengthen them and empower them. A huge issue is the understanding of the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus, and the centrality of the Mass. The whole laxity that has grown up in some quarters about people coming to Mass and seeing what we call “the Sunday obligation” as just an obligation when it is actually an obligation of love and a privilege if we really understand it. So I think we need a whole renewal of catechesis in that area.

A renewed catechesis of Confession needs to happen as well. I see some hopeful signs along those lines, particularly among young adults. We see it in campus ministry in some colleges; young adults seem to be grasping the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation for their ongoing conversion.

I also think that when it comes to many of the issues where we’re at odds with the prevailing culture — in terms of our understanding of the meaning of marriage, the sanctity of human life, the meaning of human sexuality -– we have to ramp up our efforts to catechize our people, not just to help them know our teachings, but to see the reason, the meaning, and the beauty of our teachings.

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  • REDEMPTORIS CUSTOS (Guardian Of The Redeemer) Pope John Paul II

    Apostolic Exhortation of the Supreme Pontiff On 15 August 1989.

    28. At a difficult time in the Church’s history, Pope Pius IX, wishing to place her under the powerful patronage of the holy patriarch Joseph, declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church.”[42] For Pius IX this was no idle gesture, since by virtue of the sublime dignity which God has granted to his most faithful servant Joseph, “the Church, after the Blessed Virgin, his spouse, has always held him in great honor and showered him with praise, having recourse to him amid tribulations.”[43]
    What are the reasons for such great confidence? Leo XIII explained it in this way: “The reasons why St. Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus…, Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family…. It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.”[44]
    29. This patronage must be invoked as ever necessary for the Church, not only as a defense against all dangers, but also, and indeed primarily, as an impetus for her renewed commitment to evangelization in the world and to re-evangelization in those lands and nations where—as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici—”religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and…are now put to a hard test.”[45] In order to bring the first proclamation of Christ, or to bring it anew wherever it has been neglected or forgotten, the Church has need of special “power from on high” (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8): a gift of the Spirit of the Lord, a gift which is not unrelated to the intercession and example of his saints.
    30. Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.
    As the Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council has said, the basic attitude of the entire Church must be that of “hearing the word of God with reverence,”[46] an absolute readiness to serve faithfully God’s salvific will revealed in Jesus. Already at the beginning of human redemption, after Mary, we find the model of obedience made incarnate in St. Joseph, the man known for having faithfully carried out God’s commands.
    Pope Paul VI invited us to invoke Joseph’s patronage “as the Church has been wont to do in these recent times, for herself in the first place, with a spontaneous theological reflection on the marriage of divine and human action in the great economy of the Redemption, in which economy the first—the divine one—is wholly sufficient unto itself, while the second—the human action which is ours—though capable of nothing (cf. Jn 15:5), is never dispensed from a humble but conditional and ennobling collaboration. The Church also calls upon Joseph as her protector because of a profound and ever present desire to reinvigorate her ancient life with true evangelical virtues, such as shine forth in St. Joseph.”[47]
    31. The Church transforms these needs into prayer. Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of St. Joseph, she asks God to grant that she may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate Word; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph’s example and through his intercession.[48]
    One hundred years ago, Pope Leo XIII had already exhorted the Catholic world to pray for the protection of St. Joseph, Patron of the whole Church. The Encyclical Epistle Quamquam Pluries appealed to Joseph’s “fatherly love…for the child Jesus” and commended to him, as “the provident guardian of the divine Family,” “the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood.” Since that time—as I recalled at the beginning of this Exhortation—the Church has implored the protection of St. Joseph on the basis of “that sacred bond of charity which united him to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God,” and the Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family.
    Even today we have many reasons to pray in a similar way: “Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin…graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness…and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.”[49] Today we still have good reason to commend everyone to St. Joseph.
    32. It is my heartfelt wish that these reflections on the person of St. Joseph will renew in us the prayerful devotion which my Predecessor called for a century ago. Our prayers and the very person of Joseph have renewed significance for the Church in our day in light of the Third Christian Millennium.
    The Second Vatican Council made all of us sensitive once again to the “great things which God has done,” and to that “economy of salvation” of which St. Joseph was a special minister. Commending ourselves, then, to the protection of him to whose custody God “entrusted his greatest and most precious treasures,”[50] let us at the same time learn from him how to be servants of the “economy of salvation.” May St. Joseph become for all of us an exceptional teacher in the service of Christ’s saving mission, a mission which is the responsibility of each and every member of the Church: husbands and wives, parents, those who live by the work of their hands or by any other kind of work, those called to the contemplative life and those called to the apostolate.
    This just man, who bore within himself the entire heritage of the Old Covenant, was also brought into the “beginning” of the New and Eternal Covenant in Jesus Christ. May he show us the paths of this saving Covenant as we stand at the threshold of the next millennium, in which there must be a continuation and further development of the “fullness of time” that belongs to the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.

  • laurak

    This is an excellent article. Thank you so very much for this article and I can’t wait to read part 2.

    I agree whole heartedly with Archbishop Naumann. Parishes seem to be very involved in building up the parish community and supporting, educating and encouraging the laity, which is a good thing. But, there comes a time that we should be able to move on from “spiritual milk” to more substantial “food” by putting our faith into action in the community. Most of what Jesus taught was directed outward, for others, not “inward” or for our own “personal spiritual development”. How much do we really do outside of our own circle of family, friends and parish communities?

    I also agree with Archbishop Naumann that education is absolutely necessary for evangelization. Without education and formation in our Catholic faith, we run the danger of teaching our beliefs incorrectly, which causes a lot of confusion for others later in life. I think catechists should also refrain from voicing their opinions which are contrary to Catholic teaching, to their students. That also causes people to not trust the truths of our faith and gives people the impression they can pick and choose what to believe about our Catholic faith, because their teachers did. If catechists go through a formation process and become better educated themselves, they often come to understand the truth and the beauty of our Catholic beliefs, then they can explain it with feeling and conviction. People seem to listen more to what we personally feel and believe, rather than the words we read from a book. We witness to our faith by personal experience, not just by education.

    And I also agree that we need to live our faith and not just talk about it. It’s easy to discuss things but when it comes down to giving of our time, talent and treasure, there aren’t a lot of people who actually participate in these activities. Everyone thinks it is a good idea, until it comes time to give of themselves and put their faith in action.

    At election time, my friends and I were not shy about voicing our objections about the most pro-choice presidential candidate America has ever known. It is hard to speak up to other Catholics, but it is harder yet to hear them say that abortion was only one of the issues and the economy was a more pressing concern. These Catholics asked us to respect their point of view, even if we differed from it. The CEO’s secretary where I work at said that “it is a terrible thing that some women have abortions and she couldn’t understand why they could possibly do this, but it wasn’t her concern. That was between them and God.” I walked away sad because I felt that her faith must just be a “Sunday obligation” to her.

    The sacraments are such a beautiful, living thing in our spiritual life. Jesus breathes new life into our souls through these outward signs of His love. The spiritual life is truly never boring, because Jesus is never boring. He lives anew in each generation and His words will never pass away. His words come alive, fresh and new each and every day, within the hearts of those who love Him.

    Laura K.