The Rise of Evangelical Catholicism

sunrise 2For more than 30 years it’s been my privilege to explore the Catholic Church in all its extraordinary variety and diversity. I’ve traveled from inner-city parishes to the corridors of the Vatican; from the barrios of Bogota to the streets of Dublin; across the United States and throughout Europe, Latin America, Oceania and the Holy Land. I’ve spoken to Catholics of all states of life and stations in life, from popes and heads of state to cloistered nuns and campus ministers and literally thousands of clergy; with political activists of all stripes and the wonderful people of the parish in which I’ve lived for almost three decades; with modern Catholic confessors and martyrs and with men and women who are troubled in their faith.

The experience has been exhilarating, sometimes exasperating, occasionally depressing; I’ve been immeasurably enriched by all of it, in ways I can never adequately repay. But I’ve tried to make a small down-payment on a large debt with the publication of “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church” (Basic Books). In the book, I’ve tried to focus what I’ve learned in more than 30 years of Catholic thinking, writing and activism through two prisms: a new interpretation of modern Catholic history linked to a fresh proposal for how we should understand the Catholic possibility in the third millennium, and a detailed program of Gospel-centered reform that will equip the Church for its evangelical responsibilities in a time of great challenge.

The challenge can be defined simply: throughout the western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will, somehow, convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.

No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed, and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps 90 minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the 21st century.

The Evangelical Catholicism of the future is a Catholicism of radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship and courageous evangelism. Evangelical Catholics put friendship with the Lord Jesus at the center of everything: personal identity, relationships, activity. Evangelical Catholics strive for fidelity despite the wounds of sin, and do so through a daily encounter with the Word of God in the Bible and a regular embrace of Christ through a frequent reception of the sacraments. Evangelical Catholics experience dry seasons and dark nights, like everyone else; but they live through those experiences by finding their meaning in a deeper conformity to the Cross of Christ—on the far side of which is the unmatchable joy of Easter, the experience of which gives the people of the Church the courage to be Catholic. And evangelical Catholics measure the quality of their discipleship by whether, and to what extent, they give to others what they have been given: by the degree to which they deepen others’ friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, or bring others to meet the unique savior of the world.

Evangelical Catholics enter mission territory every day, leading lives of integrity and charity that invite from others the question, “How can you live this way?” That question, in turn, allows the evangelical Catholic to fulfill the Great Commission by offering others the Gospel and the possibility of friendship with Jesus Christ. Having responded to the Risen Lord’s call to meet him in Galilee, evangelical Catholics go into the world in witness to the Christ who reveals both the face of the Merciful Father and the truth about our humanity.

Strong truths generously lived: that’s Evangelical Catholicism.


This article was originally published in the Denver Catholic Register.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • chaco

    The World’s plan for peace is Relativism (no truth except that which is RELATIVE to one’s own appetites and experiences). It promotes that if everyone is permitted to choose their own “Truth”, there will be no fighting about who’s right or wrong. It looks good on paper but in practise, any reverence for the common good deteriorates into selfish passions. Jesus plan for world peace is “The Truth shall set you free.” I think the world is like the centurion soldier who helped to crucify our Lord but then realized his goodness; “Surely, this was a righteous man !” (Lk. 23: 47). When Relativists finally realize how their grasping at “Nothingness” fails to satisfy, grace will nudge them to observe how Truth has set us free.

  • Exactly!

  • Jordisohn

    “the truly radical intention of the Second Vatican Council and its program of deep Catholic reform …was to put the Gospel at the center of Catholic life”
    Page 25 of Weigel’s new book.
    So Weigel is saying that before the Council, the Gospel was not at the centre of Catholic life? If that were true, then Luther would have been right all along and the Second Vatican Council would have been the reformation for slow learners. And Weigel calls himself a Catholic!

  • Hughuenot

    This article has a silly title. “Evangelical” refers to the gospel, the evangel, the good news. This Rome anathematized @ Trent.
    The term “Evangelical Catholicism” (at least, the traditional, Roman variety) is oxymoronic.

  • ‘[T]he culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith’? Baloney! Observing the local elections, just completed, every candidate claimed a strong religious affiliation. An aspirant admitting she embraced no superstitious ideology would have had a difficult ‘credibility’ hurdle to jump. Mr. Weigel admires impassioned Catholics for ‘leading lives of integrity.’ They could better do so by admitting that many people have left the faith for entirely wholesome, rational reasons–having nothing to do with any petty ‘hostility.’ That no evidence supports the Resurrection of Jesus will constitute an ever greater barrier to successful proselytization. The social prestige accruing to those who embrace obvious falsehoods may well continue to decline, I fear.

  • @Chaco – Can you provide several examples of the kind of relativist you’re maligning–with quotations from them to ensure fairness? I myself am not aware of any public thinker who is advancing the claims that you attribute to ‘Relativism.’

  • Guest

    I’ve never met a relativist yet who didn’t subscribe to a dogma that forces everyone else to live to their standards.

    Sounds hypocritical, doesn’t it?

  • Guest

    “It’s all relative”

    Surely you’ve herd that more than a few hundred times in recent years? That’s what it means.

  • When people say, ‘It’s all relative,’ I in fact don’t believe they are asserting that going fishing and shooting their neighbors are morally equivalent acts. In other words, I think you’re deliberately twisting the meaning of a popular phrase. If we’re going to have a discussion about the merits of being an absolutist or a relativist, it would be great if we could get the absolutists to be more honest.