After John Paul II proclaimed that the new millennium brought with it a new springtime in the Church, a new evangelization, it was unclear just how that new mission would be fulfilled. A short article and a homily brought this to my mind recently. Although Benedict XVI has created the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the New Evangelization still seems to be something that we all are called to do. And we do not need to wait for a letter from a congregation to give us a blueprint for our work.

The New Evangelization, I think, is not so much about a new type of teaching, but a new manner. We need to bear witness in the world, in our daily lives, to those whom we see every day. Society is in need of God’s truth and we can be the instruments to preach that truth to the world.

A recent article by Russell Shaw points out how waiting until we get our marching orders from priests and bishops is a cloaked clericalism that can stifle our efforts. Rather than give the Church the energy it needs to penetrate society, hesitation by the laity actually creates a Church with “its back to the wall.” It makes a hesitant Church, a defensive Church, an impotent Church. Instead, when the laity takes on Christ’s Great Commission, we are taking our part in this wonderful moment of grace.

Russell Shaw gives a few suggestions as to how we can fulfill the new evangelization as laity:

First, be exemplary in the practice of your religion. That doesn’t mean being a pious pain in the neck; it means living out the faith with conviction and commitment, and doing so not just at church on Sunday but in weekday secular life in the world — in the home, school, neighborhood, and workplace. People of faith who do that will attract attention, and although the attention won’t always be favorable, sometimes it will be. That’s evangelization.

Second, study the faith so that you can explain it intelligently and, when necessary, defend it. Slowly and carefully read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or, if that’s too much, the Compendium of the Catechism) along with the American bishops’ adult catechism. Read other solid, orthodox religious literature (a man named Joseph Ratzinger has published a lot). Bone up on the history of the Church. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for your hope” (1 Pet 3:15). That also is evangelization. If you’re not up to doing it now, the remedy rests with you.

Two other steps are worth mentioning, though they may not be available to everyone. One is to join a faithful apostolic group that provides formation for evangelization (if you can find one, that is). The other, for those with some special skill or aptitude — writing or music, for example — is to think of creative ways to put it to use in this great cause.

These suggestions are worth a little discernment on our part–to find whether we may be called to give more of ourselves to this project. We each have gifts to give. We would do well to think about it, because there is work to be done.

Fr. Newman points out how much work there is to be done, and how we need to start now. Christ gives us a call to action in recent weeks, at the Ascension, sending His Spirit at Pentecost, and continuing His outpouring of grace throughout “ordinary” time. We need to start now.

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