Monday, January 28, 2013

What's new about the new evangelization? UPDATED

I'm preparing the conferences for the First Saturday retreat in St Paul; my topic deals with the "New Evangelization," so that has been the filter for much of my spiritual reading lately. Pope John Paul introduced this expression during his visit to Haiti in 1983 (the year I made final vows!), although Blessed James Alberione had kind of hinted at it back in 1926 or thereabouts when he remarked, "The world is in need of a new, prolonged and profound evangelization."

Pope John Paul listed three attributes of the New Evangelization, that second wave of effective proclamation of Jesus Christ: It is to be new in its ardor, in its methods and in its expression. I think it is age to say that just as Blessed James "incarnated" the qualities of "new, prolonged and profound" evangelization in his long life in the use of media, Pope John Paul showed us what the "new ardor, methods and expression" look like in his.

What I have noticed, though, is that any "new expression" tends to make people nervous in a way that "ardor" and "methods" do not. A new expression takes the treasure of Divine Revelation and puts it in an unexpected framework, perhaps using a different vocabulary than one might find in, say, the words used to formulate the dogma itself centuries ago. Instead of seeing the same Divine Revelation, people can fixate on the novel terminology. Wasn't the old expression good enough? And so you find efforts to tell the Good News that are hampered by technical language instead of "translating" the ever-ancient, ever-new reality into words or images that mean something to the uninitiated, or criticisms by an in-group, based not on the way a message would be perceived by someone with no background in theological language, but on how consistent the expression is with earlier, "approved" expressions. It's a pretty big risk to take on "new expressions" of the Gospel!

But the New Evangelization isn't just about words! New "expressions" in our day can especially mean giving a new visual expression to the message of Jesus. The good news about the New Evangelization is that young, ardent Catholics are naturally taking it up! You'll find it in unexpected forms--a book trailer, a "spoken word" video, a heart that knows how to sing!

The book trailer expression

The spoken word (with witness) expression

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