I read Evangelii Nuntiandi for the first time back in 2002. I was working at a small parish in a small town as a religious education coordinator for grades 5 through Confirmation. At our parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota we hauled our 16 year old Confirmandi, their parents and sponsors to the Cathedral in a couple charter buses. Of course most of these teenagers treat Confirmation as graduation and we don’t see much of them at church after that.
I and my wife had gone through RCIA and entered the Church in 1992 after spending 13 married years together attending non-Catholic evangelical churches. We had learned how to evangelize by attending “Share Your Faith” seminars and “Evangelism Explosion” training. When we became Catholic we knew Catholics were supposed to evangelize but we were disappointed to discover how few were interested in evangelization. I was encouraged when I read Evangelii Nuntiandi and found Pope Paul VI and all the Popes since were more eager than I was to get Catholics evangelizing.
Way back in the 1970s Pope Paul VI, in his Address for the closing of the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, used the phrase “NEW period of EVANGELIZATION.” The New Evangelization has been around for a while.
While I find this focus on evangelization encouraging, I also am a bit frustrated. As I have written elsewhere (Eleven Reasons Catholics Do Not Evangelize) I am frustrated because there seems to be no sense of urgency among most of the laity. In the work-a-day world during a performance appraisal we hear, "You do not exhibit a sense of urgency." This comment is usually referring to some earth shattering, life or death thing like making sure there's enough toilet paper in the restrooms. We think, "Why should I be urgent about something that isn't life or death or involving somebody's eternal destiny?" So, to please the supervisor, we race around all day acting like emptying the pencil sharpener will forestall World War III. Leading lost people to Jesus does involve somebody's eternal destiny but when it comes to evangelization the average people in the Church move at glacial speed (using Sherry Weddell’s phrase).
When I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ in college (now called CRU) the call to action was to reach the world for Christ in our generation. There was a great sense of urgency.
At least all the Popes since I graduated from high school back in 1975 and probably Popes prior have stressed evangelization but most average Catholics seem to be afraid of the word and even sometimes believe “We Catholics don’t do that.”
Throughout these paragraphs I find the word “proclaim”. I’ve heard Catholics often like to repeat a quote they think came from St. Francis (he never really said it) “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” They think this gets them off the hook and they don’t really ever need to say anything about Jesus to anyone who might need to learn about Him. These Catholics figure if they live a good life people will be drawn to Jesus, but how will those people know anything about Jesus if these Catholics don’t explain Him to them? Jesus needs to be proclaimed. There is power in the message, but the message needs to be proclaimed.
Pope Paul VI wrote Jesus is the greatest evangelizer. We are to imitate Jesus. Jesus proclaims a Kingdom. So must we. As Evangelii Nuntiandi says we have the power of Pentecost but we still may need to answer the first of the three burning questions, “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?”