If there is any such thing as divine justice, the epitaph carved into my tombstone will read “Copywriter for the New Evangelization.”
I’m only half-joking.
Over the past decade, I’ve written more about the Church’s call to reignite the Catholic Faith in the West than I can even begin to recall. I’ve ghostwritten not one…not two…but three books focused on the New Evangelization. Then, there are the articles and essays I’ve written under my own name, as well as untold numbers of fundraising letters, institutional brochures, Q&A’s with leading figures in the New Evangelization, and only the Good Lord knows what else.
Given all that, if you’d asked me a year ago how I felt about the New Evangelization, I would have turned on my heels faster than you could say “new in ardor, new in methods, and new in expression” and run screaming in the opposite direction.
You might say I had a bad case of “New Evangelization Fatigue.”
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t tired of the New Evangelization. I’m all about trying to wake the West from its present incoherent spiritual stupor. But I was tired of writing about it. Saying the same exact thing, in an entirely new way, 5,486 times is no mean feat. Frankly, the well of words within me was running dry.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one with New Evangelization Fatigue. Have a chat with the boots on the ground in the New Evangelization—the diocesan and parish staff tasked with implementing New Evangelization-oriented programs and policies—and you’ll often hear the same weary note in their voices.
Part of the reason for that, I think, is that all too often we make the same mistake in Church circles that people make in business circles. We turn otherwise important ideas into institutional buzzwords by tacking the phrase onto everything we do.
A priest wants to give a talk about stewardship? It’s Stewardship for the New Evangelization! A parish needs a new parking lot? It’s a Parking Lot for the New Evangelization! The women’s group is hosting a card party? It’s a Card Party for the New Evangelization!
Again. Only half-joking.
Thanks to the well-intentioned, if somewhat misguided overuse of the term, in some places, “New Evangelization” has become the Catholic equivalent of “synergy,” “core competencies,” and “face time.” Just speak the words, and inwardly—if not outwardly—eyes start to roll.
So, why am I saying all this?
Because this is the first in a six-part installment on the New Evangelization.
I know. I know. I want those of you whose eyes are now rolling back into your head to understand that I feel your pain. And I promise, I am not about to inflict more on you.
Rather, for the next six weeks, we’re going to talk about the New Evangelization like nobody has talked about it before (at least as far as I know). Instead of looking forward, we’re going to look backward. Instead of talking about programs and policies, we’re going to talk about people. And instead of acting like we have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to evangelization—with new iPhones, fancy websites, and snazzy Prezi presentations—we’re going to focus on the unchanging basics of evangelization: leadership, attentiveness, love, patience, and sweat-equity.
These basics are lessons I learned this past year while working with CatholicVote.org President Brian Burch on The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed America. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.
Anyhoo, when Brian first approached me about the project, the idea was to tell stories about our American Catholic past so that we could help people better understand the American Catholic present.
Brian believed—and rightly so—that as a people, American Catholics had forgotten our story. We’d forgotten that Bishop John Carroll, Bishop John England, or Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton weren’t just names on our high schools. They were real people who made unimaginable sacrifices so that Catholics could practice their faith in America. If we didn’t know about their sacrifices, Brian reasoned, if we didn’t know what battles they fought for us, how could we know the treasures we as American Catholics had, let alone appreciate those treasures and fight to preserve them?
So, that was the original vision for the book. But along the way, another vision took shape. It didn’t replace the original vision. It stood alongside it.
And that was a vision for the New Evangelization.
Every day that I worked on The American Catholic Almanac was a gift—a gift that stressed me out to the point of developing a heart arrhythmia, yes—but a gift nonetheless. And that’s because not a day went by where I didn’t meet some remarkable person who had lived their faith with a love, boldness, and creativity that I found unfathomable. Day after day, I encountered heroic witnesses to Christ—witnesses who I never even knew existed and yet without whom, I wouldn’t have the freedom to worship as I do.
These people—these bishops, priests, religious, and ordinary lay folks—deserve to be known in their own right, for their own accomplishments. But they also need to be known for what they can teach us about evangelization. In the midst of a culture that thought Catholics the scum of the earth and the Church the Whore of Babylon, they helped Catholicism grow and thrive. They won heart and minds; they made converts; and they called Catholics to Christ.
The Church in America did not spring fully formed from our native soil like Athena from the head of Zeus. It exists because men and women, not all that different from you and me, lived the Gospel with radical, passionate fidelity.
To ignore their passion and ignore our past as we attempt to rescue our culture from the throes of post-modern secularism is the height of folly. I learned that lesson in spades this past year. It stripped me of my New Evangelization Fatigue and filled me with an energy I thought long since lost.
When it comes to being an American Catholic—not an Irish Catholic or a German Catholic or a French Catholic—I know who I am now. I know where I come from. I know what it took for me to freely hang crucifixes on my wall, cross myself in prayer, and receive God himself on my tongue.
That has made all the difference in how I understand the New Evangelization. Hopefully, the stories I tell over the next six weeks will do the same for you.
Until next time…