Ten Insights from Pope Francis on the New Evangelization Nick Alexander

Ten Insights from Pope Francis on the New Evangelization

After listening to the free Evangelization Conference talks, I was inspired to read the papal encyclicals for myself, in regards to the New Evangelization.

My first document was to be Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel“). I read the whole document and took many notes.

The document is very rich. It jumps around a lot, going into many different aspects as to what Francis’ vision for evangelization should be, for the whole church. It’s so rich in fact, that when I had planned this post, I had hoped to limit what I had learned into only ten seminal lessons. But there’s so many nuggets of pure value here. I decided to make this a two-part blog, sharing the first ten major lessons from the document.

Important Notice

Before I go into this, note that I am currently in the planning stages for a product about the New Evangelization. So many of you shared with me your desire to reach your co-workers, the youth in your parish, your own children with the faith. You see the enormity of the challenge to evangelize, and you don’t know how to do it.

I invite you to help me zero in on your needs, by filling out a brand new survey. And if you complete it by Monday, August 10, five lucky winners will receive my complete parody and worship CD collection.

Without further ado, here are the biggest “value bombs” I have discovered from Pope Francis:

1. The Invitation to Encounter Christ

Pope Francis dares to evangelize even in the opening paragraphs of this document, calling us to rediscover Christ in a personal encounter.

3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.

No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”

With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.

Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

2. Goodness Always Tends to Spread

As we experience God’s goodness, His grace in our lives, we will naturally be unable to keep it to ourselves. We will want to pass it on.

9. Goodness always tends to spread.

Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others.

As it expands, goodness takes root and develops.

If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good.

In this regard, several sayings of Saint Paul will not surprise us: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14); “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

3. The Danger of Complacency

Simply put, we need to get outside our own comfort zone. We are being challenged this day to be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and go to reach others, both as a community, and by ourselves.

20. The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”…

In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”.

Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all … in need of the light of the Gospel.

4. The Centrality of the Local Church

We need to go out and share the faith, but do this in the context of community, and in particular, in the context of our parishes, whose center of life is the Eucharist.

24. The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.

An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.

Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy…

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.

Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.

An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be.

It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.
Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time.

Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds.

The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear.

Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization.

Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness.

The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

5. The Centrality of the Gospel vs. Secondary Issues

We have to keep focused on the centrality of the Gospel message, and not have its message hijacked by lesser (but important) issues. Oftentimes these issues are misunderstood, because they are debated outside of the context of the full Christian faith. We shouldn’t expect others to understand why the Church holds the positions it does without them knowing how they relate to Christ.

34. … In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.

In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning.

The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.

We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

6. Evangelists: Expect to Get Dirty

We need to understand how to communicate the Gospel in a way that others can understand it. In this process, expect that you will get soiled.

45. We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible.

A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak… everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22).

It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness.

It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.

Do you want help for fulfilling your role in the New Evangelization? Answer a few questions on my latest survey.

7. The World Discourages Christian Joy

We have to be aware that our society is prone to discourage Christians from being open and fruitful. We need to resist this temptation!

79. At times our media culture and some intellectual circles convey a marked skepticism with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism.

As a consequence, many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions.

This produces a vicious circle.

They end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens their commitment.

They end up stifling the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses.

Their work of evangelization thus becomes forced, and they devote little energy and very limited time to it.

8. The Importance of Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry gets a specific mention, sharing the necessity to speak to youth on issues that most concern them. We need to see their growth as a move of the Holy Spirit, and to find avenues for them to serve in leadership.

105. Youth ministry, as traditionally organized, has also suffered the impact of social changes.

Young people often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems and hurts in the usual structures.

As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns and demands, and to speak to them in a language they can understand.

For the same reason, our efforts in the field of education do not produce the results expected.

The rise and growth of associations and movements mostly made up of young people can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, who blazes new trails to meet their expectations and their search for a deep spirituality and a more real sense of belonging.

There remains a need, however, to ensure that these associations actively participate in the Church’s overall pastoral efforts.

9. The Gospel Is Trans-Cultural

The Pope steps into the traditional/contemporary worship divide, reminding us to not be tethered to a particular style or artistic form–no matter how beautiful it may be–but rather, to strive to inject the culture with the Gospel.

117. When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. …

Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church.

We would not do justice to the logic of the Incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous.

While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural.

Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel.

The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.

10. Have You Been Baptized? Here’s Your Marching Orders…

If you’ve been baptized, you’ve been called. You are not exempt.

120. In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19).

All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.

The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.

Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.

Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41).

The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39).

So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21).

So what are we waiting for?

Final Thoughts

These key paragraphs represent less than half of this extraordinary document. I hope to complete my analysis next week. I know that this document has challenged and motivated me.

In the meantime, please take a few minutes and answer a few questions in regards to this new product I’m creating, so to help us all with living a New Evangelization. Thank you!

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