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Exploring the Meanings of the New Evangelization

October 23, 2014

In recent years there has been constant chatter in the Catholic Church about the New Evangelization. Every now and then, amidst the chatter, someone asks, "What exactly is it?"

I recently heard a brief description: Spreading the Gospel with new ardor, expression and methods. Since there is so much emphasis on the millennial generation's use of social media and the latest widgets, it's important to note that this description is not just implying more use of technology in evangelization. In fact, since our generation has been raised in the digital revolution we actually have a heightened awareness of the need for something more than new technologies. It's ironic how technology allows us to connect more and encounter less. 

Let us remember that the Internet is an information tool; it's really nothing more than an evolution of the classic library. The fact that we can type what we're looking for in a search engine and find it more quickly is just an extra convenience. The information was always there. The Internet just gives us an easier way to access it.

So what if I can reach more people with my message? Truth remains truth. All good messages are sincere attempts to refute the confusions set forth by the world, and bring us back to what we all already intrinsically know. That should put social media innovations into perspective. They're just a better way to share what's always been there. Yet, church communities around the developed world are desperately trying to jump on the bandwagon of social media platforms.

What if we stopped playing catch-up? Whenever we talk about using technology in the New Evangelization, we Catholics are usually at least a step behind in that department. Why? Because we're not taking a proactive approach to communication. We just look at what everyone else is using to communicate and just follow suit.  There's hardly anything innovative about that. To reach the millennial generation we have to be creative, original and cutting edge. Throughout the ages, both Catholic and American culture have been known for their ingenuity, inventing and discovering things that caused people to rethink the possibilities in this world. Let's reawaken that spirit of ingenuity. 

Maybe the answer is right in front of us more than we know. When you look at true Catholic culture --  the beautiful stained glass windows, murals and frescoes in an old church, or the lives of saints and works of Catholic writers who captured the attention of their nation, and so on -- more often than not it's something you can't fully understand, yet can still relate to. People criticize the pre-Vatican II Church for being too archaic, the prayers in a language no one understood, the rituals full of reverence that has lost relevance; but isn't that kind of the point of religion? When you've spent most of your day in a world that bores us with its temporality, and concern for finite things, don't you kind of want to experience something that's  beyond you? 

I recently attended Mass in a Polish parish, and I was swept away by how much I didn't understand. I enjoyed how mysterious the Polish prayers were to me, because even though I couldn't tell you what the priest was saying exactly, I knew he was speaking truth -- that same truth we all intrinsically know without understanding why or how. What happened to the love of mystery? Since when did understanding everything become the preferred way of living? A life of faith is defined by taking leaps every day even though we don't know what we're jumping into. Being dumbfounded by the mysteries of life -- and being humble enough to admit that I am dumbfounded -- is what gets me up in the morning. I still have a great deal to figure out and always will, and that's what makes life exciting.

So what does all this have to do with the New Evangelization? It seems like social media and cutting edge widgets offer new methods for evangelizing the masses, but we still haven't really come up with new expressions of faith. When it comes to using smartphones, apps and social media to evangelize, it often seems like we're trying to pour old wine into new wine skins. What we need is a new expression to go with the new methods. Then a new, blazing ardor will follow. What do we mean by new expression? That's what gets me up in the morning with excitement as I try to figure it out. It's a journey of discovery. It really is.

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