BY: BRAD BURSA
Indeed, St. John Paul II called for the New Evangelization to be characterized by “new ardor, methods, and expression” capable of reaching modern man and the current culture.
I believe this is precisely where the trouble lies.
We know from experience that human ardor wanes, and that forms of communicating and various expressions are rather mutable. The tendency in the Church seems to be one that fails to see the full reality of our situation; and that we do not merely face a challenge posed to us by the flesh and blood of modernity. We fail to see past materialism, success, strategic planning, programs, and quantifiable results. Yet the full reality reveals that we are up against the “principalities and powers,” the spirit of the age dominated by the Enemy. Merely human means will never prove to be sufficient in carrying out a new evangelization complete with new ardor, methods, and expressions. We need something more. Pope Benedict XVI, during a meditation at the Synod on the New Evangelization, made a similar observation:
The Church does not begin with our “making”, but with the “making” and “speaking” of God. In the same way, the Apostles did not say, after a few meetings: now we want to make a Church, and that by means of a constituent assembly they were going to draft a constitution. No, they prayed and in prayer they waited, because they knew that only God himself can create his Church, that God is the first agent: if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient; only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken. Pentecost is the condition of the birth of the Church: only because God acted first, are the Apostles able to act with him and make what he does present.
Precisely for this reason, the Popes, dating back to St. John XXIII have been asking for a New Pentecost. All of the talk about evangelization and New Evangelization has as its condition a New Pentecost. Indeed, the Holy Spirit must be the source of spiritual ardor. The Holy Spirit must indicate the method and provide the force necessary for the expression of the faith. A New Pentecost means the end of will power Christianity and “business as usual.” It means the end of data collection and human strategies spawned in response. As Venerable Pope Paul VI noted, “It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 75).
Further on he also says:
Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without Him the most highly developed schemas resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless.
Therefore, the first step to accomplishing a New Evangelization is not a clever strategy, a billboard, or a social media platform, but a prayer to the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is “the protagonist, ‘the principal agent of the whole of the Church’s mission.’ It is he who leads the Church on her missionary paths” (CCC 852), and “wherever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history” (John Paul II, Address to Renewal Movements in 1992).
As Mary Healy and Peter Williamson note in The Urgency of the New Evangelization:
We would do well to consider whether the church today has sufficiently taken into account this link between Pentecost and evangelization… It is common to presume that since the first Pentecost the Church enjoys the fullness of the Spirit and can get on with the job of proclaiming the gospel. But a fresh outpouring of power from on high is as necessary today as it was in the early church. To take the New Testament witness seriously is to conclude that there can be no new evangelization without a new Pentecost.