Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Reclaiming the New Evangelization with some of that old time triumphalism (!): Culture and Mission Part I

It seems appropriate in this week of the Pentecost Octave (for those using the 1962 calendar at any rate) to start a little series exploring the links between liturgy and mission, and liturgy and the Church’s social tradition. So this is the first part of a series, drawing on some work I did for my Masters thesis.

Pope Benedict XVI's reconceptualization of the New Evangelization

One of the interesting rumours coming out of Rome of late has been speculation that the Pope may be about to establish a new dicastery to promote the ‘New Evangelization’. The term New Evangelization has a bad odour for many traditionalists, and for good reasons.

But in fact, as Gregorian Rite Catholic has pointed out, the Pope has been quietly working to make the term mean something quite different to the spin that it is often given by the veritable industry that sprung up under its guise under Pope John Paul II.

This series looks at some of the elements that I think are necessary to make the ‘New Evangelization’ something real and effective.

And of course the most important of those starting points is a catholic culture and liturgy.

I hope you find this series interesting, and I'd love to receive any feedback you have on it, on or offline.

What is the New Evangelization?

When traditionalists hear the term New Evangelization they tend to shudder, because of its association things like the often hyped but never much seen ‘New Springtime’ and much more.

What, they wonder, was wrong with the old evangelization (when it was still being carried out), or better still, the term mission?

The first important point to note is that despite the many tomes devoted to the subject, the term New Evangelization, according to a useful doctrinal note by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, means nothing more than re-evangelizing those who have lost the faith.

The 2007 CDF Doctrinal Note on Evangelization distinguishes several different uses of the term evangelization. The first refers to evangelization in the sense of what used to be called “mission”, namely efforts to convert those who do not know Christ. As a side note, before Vatican II, it is worth noting, mission often had a wider sense than this, including things like ‘parish missions’, and was often synomous with what the CDF note calls evangelization in the wider sense of the term, “to describe ordinary pastoral work”.

According to the Doctrinal Note, the term “new evangelization” designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith. It represents a “call to conversion” for all Catholics, especially “men and women whose Christianity is devoid of vitality”.

Evangelization (and re-evangelization) potentially encompasses a wide span of activities: Pope John Paul II noted that it can include “the initial proclamation of the Gospel”, apologetics, preaching, the sacraments, the witness of Christian living and more.  Moreover, since sanctification is an ongoing process, and one that is constantly threatened by the assaults of secularism, it thus requires an ongoing response from the Church, as Pope Paul VI noted in a prescient statement in Evangelii Nuntiandi:
“…. the Church does not feel dispensed from paying unflagging attention also to those who have received the faith and who have been in contact with the Gospel often for generations…This faith is nearly always today exposed to secularism, even to militant atheism. It is a faith exposed to trials and threats, and even more, a faith besieged and actively opposed. It runs the risk of perishing from suffocation or starvation if it is not fed and sustained each day. To evangelize must therefore very often be to give this necessary food and sustenance to the faith of believers…”

As soon as you stop evangelizing, in other words, faith starts dying.

Regrounding the New Evangelization in tradition

The NE industry actively promotes the idea that this re-evangelization push is something with no real connections to the past, something primarily the purview of  'new ecclesial movements' (though I suppose that technically, traditionalism can be viewed as an 'ecclesial movement'!), and constantly hypes Pope John Paul II’s throwaway line that what was required was something ‘new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression’.

Pope John Paul II may well have meant new compared to what had been happening in the previous few decades, but there a good case that he didn’t really mean completely disconnected from the past. Contrary to most of the material that I’ve read, Pope John Paul II actually first introduced the term the ‘New Evangelization’ as pope in 1979, while visiting the Cistercian monastery at Nowa Huta near Cracow, which has operated continuously since 1222.

From that ancient symbol of the 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 represent 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.

Culture and liturgy

It is certainly no accident that Pope Benedict XVI too, has often made the link between Benedictines and the evangelization of Europe, and particularly their role in creating a truly catholic culture in which faith can be sustained through immersion of the faithful in it. And Pope Benedict XVI has been busily making the case that it is the destruction of catholic institutions and culture that has fundamentally undermined the faith in the West.

For centuries the Church provided an environment in which Catholics could absorb their faith, largely protected, even after the Reformation, from an often alien and hostile secular culture. Catholics lived within what Catherine Pitstock calls a liturgical city: a city whose spiritual walls united the incarnational and eschatological through the constant reinforcement of the liturgy.

The sacred city may well have needed some purification: structures alone can never guarantee the good. Rather, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in Spe Salvi, they need to be animated by convictions capable of motivating people correctly.

But tearing those walls down altogether in the iconoclastic 60s and 70s simply led to the secularization of the Church rather than the hoped for sacralization of the world.

The bigger problem in other words, was not ‘triumphalism’, but the overreaction to it.

And reviving the faith means building those walls afresh, and treasuring the patrimony of the Church that lies within.

New walls, albeit laid on old foundations never look or function quite as the old did of course, and that's no bad thing.  There were certainly liturgical and other types of abuses before Vatican II, albeit on a different scale to those that came after. Still, the process of purification, of renewal and reform, does need to occur from time to time.

But it's never a good idea to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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