As I began to write this column for the Catholic Sun I glanced at my calendar. It is October 31, All Hallows’ Eve. By the time you read this article we will have celebrated All Saints Day followed by All Souls Day and will be well into a month marked by memories of those who have completed their journey of faith. But before I turn my thoughts to November, I would like to draw your attention to October and how special the month has been for me, for our diocese and for the universal Church.
On October 11, I celebrated Mass at our Cathedral for the beginning of the Year of Faith. This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the Holy Father’s expectations for this special year and to suggest how we might make good use of this opportunity to know and live our faith. A few days later I was privileged to lead a pilgrimage to Rome, the Eternal City, which is associated with the Apostles Peter and Paul, great saints committed to the spread of the Gospel. This was a week of special graces for me and I hope for all the pilgrims who joined me. As you know we were in Rome to celebrate the canonization of Marianne Cope, one of our own. My recent columns have addressed the Year of Faith and the canonization of Mother Marianne.
October was also the month for a meeting in Rome of about 200 bishops from throughout the world. The topic of their consideration was the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict often refers to the New Evangelization, as did his predecessor Blessed John Paul II. It is fitting that a synod on this topic should occur at the beginning of the Year of Faith. As we rediscover the joy of believing during this year we are called to a renewed enthusiasm in proclaiming our faith to others.
In his closing homily for the synod, our Holy Father reminds us, “The new evangelization applies to the whole of the Church’s life” (Benedict XVI, October 28, 2012). It is the Church’s vocation, our vocation to proclaim the Gospel. This requires first and foremost that we be animated by the fire of the Holy Spirit so as to inflame the hearts of others. The New Evangelization concerns us personally. We must heed the Word before we can evangelize the world. “The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion” (Closing Message of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization). This conversion will not happen primarily through our efforts but through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit who will teach us what to say and what we are to do even in the most challenging situations.
A second aspect of the New Evangelization is essentially linked to the proclamation of the message of salvation to those who do not yet know Christ. Numerous Bishops at the synod noted that there are still many regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania “whose inhabitants await with lively expectation, sometimes without being fully aware of it, the first proclamation of the Gospel. So we must ask the Holy Spirit to arouse in the Church a new missionary dynamism . . . . All people have a right to know Jesus Christ and all Christians — priests, religious and lay faithful — have a corresponding duty to proclaim the Gospel” (Benedict XVI, Homily, October 28, 2012).
A third feature of the New Evangelization concerns the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. Such people are found on all continents, especially in the secularized countries. The Church is particularly concerned about those who have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. Leading men and women of our time to encounter Christ anew, to rediscover the joy of faith and to return to religious practice in the community of the faithful is the task of the New Evangelization.
Jesus encounters us. He comes to us in word and sacrament. He reveals Himself through the lives of the saints. The work of the New Evangelization consists in presenting the beauty and newness of this encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time. I am reminded of Paul VI’s reference to the person-to-person proclamation of the Gospel. “In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the gospel than by transmitting to another person one’s personal experience of faith” (Evangelization in the Modern World, # 46).
Recall Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan Woman and so many others in the Gospel. Christ encountered them personally, engaged them in conversation and offered them the good news of salvation. For many of us our contribution to the New Evangelization will be a personal encounter with another or perhaps the silent witness of a life of faith and charity. Often the New Evangelization will be accomplished one person at a time.
In closing, I share the words of our Holy Father when he addressed the bishops on the first day of the synod, reminding them that God, not we, conduct the work of evangelization. “The first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only by begging this divine initiative, will we too be able to become — with him and in him — evangelizers (Benedict XVI, October 8, 2012).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.