by Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A document on the new evangelization from the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis exhorts Catholics to at all levels in the church to step up to invite Catholics who have stopped practicing their faith to do so once again.
“Bishops, eparchs, pastors, catechists and indeed all Catholics reaching out to our missing brothers and sisters must touch the lives of others, interact with them, and show them how the faith answers the deepest questions and enriches modern culture,” said the document, titled “Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization.”
“The new evangelization is a call to each person to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel,” it said.
The document was issued April 16 in an online-only format. It is available on an interactive website – www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/disciples-called-to-witness.
The document examines what the new evangelization is, its focus, its importance for the Catholic Church and how dioceses and parishes can promote it.
Referring to a study of inactive Catholics prepared by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, “Disciples Called to Witness” said: “It is estimated that only 23%t of U.S. Catholics attend Mass each week. Those 77% absent from the eucharistic feast each week are not strangers: They are our parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends.”
“Most Catholics stop attending Mass because they have busy schedules or a lack of time, have family responsibilities, have health problems or disabilities, have conflicts with work, do not believe missing Mass is a sin or believe that they are not very religious people,” the document said.
“Some were never formed in the faith after their childhood. Some have drifted away because of one or another issue. Some feel alienated from the church because of the way they perceive the church or its teaching. Some have left because they were mistreated by church representatives,” it added.
“Cultural factors, including the lack of Masses and sacraments celebrated in languages other than English, also contribute to people slowly slipping away from the church.”
“Disciples Called to Witness” noted: “There are also Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis but who feel unconnected to the parish community.”
It cited secularism, materialism and individualism in contemporary society as contributing factors for lack of Mass attendance by U.S. Catholics.
“The new evangelization is a call to each person to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel,” the document said.
“The new evangelization provides the lens through which people experience the church and world around them,” it added. “The new evangelization invites people to experience God’s love and mercy through the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist and penance and reconciliation.”
The 31-page, 11,000-word document said it is likely inactive Catholics will have questions if they are invited to return to the practice of their faith.
“They may wonder and worry about the following: Will the Mass be the same? Will I be judged because I stayed away so long? Maybe I have sinned so greatly that I cannot come back. What if I cannot remember the words to Mass?”
By the same token, it added, those who must do the inviting are often afraid of asking family members, friends or co-workers to come with them to Mass.
They may “have difficulty saying, ‘I saw the same news story, but this is what the church actually teaches,’” it continued. “We have trouble revealing, ‘Yes, sometimes going to confession is hard, but once I am there, I experience God’s peace and mercy. If you haven’t been in a while, consider giving it another chance.’”
The first time Blessed John Paul II used the term “new evangelization” as the theological concept of proclaiming the Gospel anew to those already evangelized was in a 1983 address in Haiti to Latin American bishops, the document said, but noted he was renewing a call to all of the Christian faithful to evangelize in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI.
In his 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” “Pope Paul VI recognized that the first proclamation of the good news is directed ‘ad gentes’ (to all). However, he also recognized the need for the evangelization of the baptized who no longer practice their faith,” the document said.
“He called upon the church to evangelize these two groups, to invite them to a life of conversion, and to add new meaning to their life through the paschal mystery of Christ,” it said.
“Evangelization must remain rooted in the parish. It is in the parish that one becomes engaged with the church community, learns how to become a disciple of Christ, is nurtured by Scripture, is nourished by the sacraments, and ultimately becomes an evangelizer,” the document said.
It also explored such methodologies as discipleship, a commitment to the Christian life, parish life, the liturgical life of the church, the Christian family, catechists and teachers of the faith, and human experience as ways to draw Catholics back to their faith.
It also suggested the use of such teachable moments as Christmas, Easter, baptism, first Communion, and other special liturgies when Catholics come in contact with the church. “These are important opportunities not only for catechesis but also for evangelization,” it said.
“The new evangelization does not seek to invite people to experience only one moment of conversion but rather to experience the gradual and lifelong process of conversion: to draw all people into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the church, to develop a mature conscience, to sustain one’s faith through ongoing catechesis, and to integrate one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life,” the document said.
“Even though much has already been done to welcome our missing brothers and sisters back to the Lord’s table, there is still so much more that can be done.”