As well as being Vocations Awareness Week, there is also a national conference going on in Sydney at the moment on the New Evangelization, Proclaim 2012.
Strangely, however, religious - monks, nuns, brothers and religious women - didn't even crack a mention in Archbishop Fisichella's (President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization) opening speech for the Conference.
And that's a pity in my view, because few if any past efforts at re-evangelization have succeeded without them, and there is certainly absolutely no evidence that the push to have the laity take a greater role - in the absence of the support of religious - is succeeding, or indeed ever can.
Using the (new) media?!
There are a number of oddities about the New Evangelization push, and the most obvious of them is the continuing disconnect between rhetoric and reality.
Despite the fact that the Archbishop called for the use of the new media to aid the New Evangelization, for example, there is surprisingly little media coverage, new or old, of the event as far as I can see.
The Australian carried a puff piece about the Archbishop Fisichella's, visit a few days back.
The Vatican News site carries the text of Archbishop Fisichella's opening address from yesterday morning, and that has been picked up by one or two of the Catholic News services.
But that is about it - not even the ACBC media blog is covering it! - as far as I could find.
The Vatican bureaucracy problem?
Perhaps that reflects one of those interesting disconnects in the Vatican bureaucracy.
You might recall that when the Archbishop was appointed President of the Vatican Council for the New Evangelization, Fr Z pointed out that he didn't even have a computer in his office. And of course then there is the story of how the Pope's butler could actually have stolen all of those documents, viz the continued reliance in the Vatican, on hand delivery of handwritten documents!
Still, I presume the organization is being done locally, so it is a little surprising, I think, that there is no live blog or site where the papers from the conference are going up as they are given...
A failed paradigm?
I wonder though, if this low profile stuff reflects something more fundamental at work here.
The New Evangelization is one of those terms (like the 'new springtime') that traditionalists tend to disdain as verbiage without any evidence of an actual reality behind it.
With good reason.
Because despite the fact that Pope John Paul II first touted the term in 1979 (indeed Archbishop Fisichella pointed to a continuity in teaching going back even further to Paul VI's 1975 Evangelii Nuntiandi), and the vast industry that has sprung up around the new evangelization, there isn't much evidence of any success at all in re-evangelizing the West.
Quite the contrary, Mass attendance rates (now down to 15.3% of Catholics in Australia) and all other indicators, such as people getting married in Church, identifying as Catholics and so forth, continue to decline in Australia and most other Western countries.
And what is the 'new' part about the new evangelization? Certainly the literature on the subject struggles to articulate it, usually ending up with things like the focus on the role of the laity.
So there are two possibilities. The first is that what the Pope's have been saying on this subject is on the mark, and just hasn't been put into actual practice. The second possibility is that they have been missing the mark.
Personally, I think they've been missing the mark.
The laity and religious orders in the New Evangelization
That we need a new evangelization (just a jargon term for re-evangelization really) is indisputable.
The idea that it can be done primarily by the laity, with a bit of support by priests and bishops, however, seems to me to be flawed.
When Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II first introduced the term the ‘New Evangelization’ in 1979, he was actually visiting the Cistercian monastery at Nowa Huta near Cracow, which has operated continuously since 1222.
From that ancient symbol of the first evangelization of Poland, the Pope pointed to a contemporary church located in the Stalinist industrial enclave two kilometers away (which he had been forbidden to visit by the authorities) as a symbol of the New Evangelization. The new church had come to symbolize for Poles the struggle against the socialist government’s attempts to exclude God and the Church from the socialist paradise it believed it was building.
The Nowa Huta parish church might also be seen as symbolizing the link between the initial evangelization of the West and the new, re-evangelization effort the Pope was calling for, for it was to the monks of the ancient Cistercian abbey that the then-Archbishop Wojtyla had turned in order to find parish priests for the new church.
In practice however religious life is rarely even mentioned in descriptions of or programs for the New Evangelization. Archbishop Fisichella's speech to the Proclaim Conference was certainly no exception: religious did not even get a mention!
Over at Cath Blog today, Stefan Grigacz provides yet another spin on the New Evangelization, linking its origins to liberation theology and the advocacy of a 'new order of [social] justice'.
It is a bit of a stretch, in my view, to see Pope John Paul II's anti-communist agenda as even vaguely an endorsement of liberation theology given his strong condemnations of it in numerous magisterial documents. Indeed, the late Pope repeatedly condemned the idea that social action was any substitute for addressing spiritual poverty.
Still, Mr Gigaz's pitch does provide some clues as to just why the New Evangelization paradigm is failing, for it continues to focus on the ephemeral things of this world, rather than attempting to point us to eternal one that comes next.
The importance of religious life to the health of the Church
The result is a failure, I think, to pay attention to one of the necessary conditions for revival of the Church in the West. And the consequences of this are immense.
We need to remember that the Church has always insisted that religious life has apostolic origins. Augustinian clerks, for example, pointed to the communal life of the apostles themselves as their inspiration, and the Church endorsed this view, and continues to give their order precedence as a result. And the New Testament, as well as numerous early Church documents, contains references to the virgins and widows that developed into women's religious orders.
Laypeople were certainly heavily involved in that very first evangelization, but under the leadership of the clergy, and above all, with the practical and spiritual support of those proto-religious.
Nor did those first missionaries set out to right wrongs in society: they made their own communities caring ones, but they also set about to preach the Gospel first, knowing that social action would eventually follow as a natural consequence.
I've previously posted a series here on just why I think the revival of religious life is crucial to any re-evangelization effort. We need religious, I have previously argued, for the example of total commitment they provide, for the symbolism of their dress and state that points us to heaven, for the holiness of their prayers and sacrifices, and for the practical support they can provide.
For the new evangelization to succeed...
More than that though, re-evangelization requires more than a part-time commitment.
We can certainly all play our part, doing our best to make our parishes more vibrant, more genuine communities, grounded in a beautiful liturgy that attracts us to the sacred rather than repels.
We can certainly provide good examples, witness to the faith in our workplaces, in our families and with friends.
We can certainly all know our faith better so that we can answer questions and deepen our own response to Christ.
In the end though, we actually need people who can devote themselves to the task of evangelization full-time.
The laity, by and large, have other priorities they need to give attention to, not least supporting their families.
We need religious
In short, we need the devoted service of religious in order for re-christianization to succeed.
Some of those giving that service need to be contemplatives, providing the prayer powerhouses that are the necessary foundation for the success of any initiative in the Church.
Some may be lay missionaries.
There is nothing though, that replace the value of the traditional ministry of religious to those in spiritual poverty.
The sooner our dying liberal religious orders get their heads out of the sand the better.
And in the meantime, let's do what we can to support the growing, vibrant newer 'traditional' orders, financially, with our prayers, and above all by considering our own possible vocation...