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The New Evangelization:The Fields are Ripe, ready for Harvest

3/8/2004 - 6:06 AM PST

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By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

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"Be Not Afraid! Open up, no; swing wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the State, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development…. Be not afraid!" Pope John Paul II

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In October of 1978, Pope John Paul II stepped out on to the balcony in St. Peters Square and signaled his missionary vocation. One of the chief architects of the Second Vatican Council (a missionary Council) and the one whom many observers claim was primarily responsible for writing the document on the missionary call of the Church in the Modern World entitled, "Joy and Hope" (Gaudium et Spes)), this Missionary Pope has unceasingly proclaimed and embodied its message.

In and through his pontificate, a new missionary moment is now underway.

From the beginning of his service to the Church and the world into which she is sent to carry forward in time the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, Pope John Paul has emphasized the missionary nature of the Church and the missionary calling of every baptized Christian. His entire pontificate has become associated with a phrase that he first introduced on March 9, 1983. While speaking to Latin American bishops gathered in Haiti, he called for "a new evangelization: new in its ardor, its methods, and expressions.”

His work is about this “New Evangelization”, which has both an internal and an external dynamic. It must become our work as well.

In calling for a “New Evangelization”, John Paul revealed his profound spiritual discernment and prophetic insight. The Church that he leads is in serious need of this “New Evangelization” within. From the desperate need for clergy reform to the dire need for an authentic catechesis of the faithful, she is in a weakened state. That is why he has penned more letters than any Pope in history and presided over the promulgation of a Catechism. We need to be honest, many Catholics do not understand what the faith they profess every week at the Liturgy truly means for their daily, real lives. They have little grasp of the demands that it rightly makes upon how they live - as they say, “24/7”. There is instead a radical separation between faith and life - the very danger that the Council-and this Pope-has repeatedly warned about.

Many of the faithful are in need of a personal, life changing conversion to the God who called them at Baptism and still invites them to be made new in Jesus Christ. This Pope regularly expounds upon and laments this separation between faith and life. In his “Letter to Families” he puts it simply: “There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular life', that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” Yet, there is.

Only a “New Evangelization” can bring about the conversion that is needed.

Yet, even in this weakened state, this Church is called “to the world”. She is called to a unique transforming role that only the Body of Christ can serve in every age. In the Third Millennium, the mission is into many cultures that have become de-Christianized. The “Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful” (the title of another extraordinary letter this Pope authored) are to be the primary agents of changing these cultures. This call is the external dynamic of the “New Evangelization”. Yet, these new missionaries will be ineffective in the task without what the pope calls "a totally integrated formation."

The whole Church is first in need of conversion - of encountering the Lord - and then of spiritual and doctrinal formation, including formation in the Church’s social teaching, which provides the path to authentic human liberation for all men and women and every culture. Any of the faithful (lay or clergy) who engage in the mission of this “New Evangelization” to the broader culture, must lead “holy” lives. This holiness does not involve a separation from the secular world but rather a call to be so given over to God in order that one can actually be sent into this world to carry on the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. We must, in a sense, become what we profess.

Pope John Paul has written more than any Pope in history. I had the privilege of studying this body of teaching under those who are dedicated to him and this “new evangelization.” I believe that if we asked him what is most important about them he would say, “That they be lived!”. His ardent desire is that what is contained in these encyclical and apostolic letters come alive in our lives so that we can be the kind of Christians who ...

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