The New Evangelization: A Relational Revolution

"To this end, it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ," said St. John Paul II, in a message to the bishops of the Americas in 1999. I often struggle with making my faith a personal one. The beauty of Church traditions can easily become rote and mundane when I lose focus on the meaning contained within these rich practices. Praying the rosary often becomes saying repeated words while my mind wanders in a daydream. Or, sitting in mass, I easily become distracted by the people sitting in front of me, or I entertain thoughts about whatever I have going on after mass. These prayers and Sacraments become more just like signs, instead of the actual active bestowals of blessing that they are. In these cases, we miss out on fully appreciating the grace that Christ gives us through these prayers and Sacraments.

The reality is that Christ came to the earth 2000 years ago to encounter his creation personally. He took on flesh and blood to experience his creation, and ultimately, to take on our sinfulness, to bring about our redemption. When we fail to realize this, it is much easier for our faith to become a habit, reduced to a social construct to bring emotional and spiritual pleasantries. But, that is not for what Christ came. God became man to encounter each and every one of us where we are at, and to call us out of our sinfulness, into new life in him. The Christian life is a personal encounter with Christ and a sharing of that encounter with others by joining them in their suffering, and showing them the one whose “yoke is easy,” and “burden light” (Matthew 11:30). So, if our faith is not based on that fact, we cannot truly call ourselves Christian.

And, this call is not just for priests and nuns, but for all who have found Christ and call themselves Christian (literally mean “belonging to, or originating from, Christ”). Lumen Gentium 40 tells us, “thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.” Like the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles, we are all called to go out into the world to share Christ; we are modern day apostles, “messengers” of the Good News. Pope St. Pius X, told a group of cardinals, “ “the most necessary thing of all, at this time, is for every parish to possess a group of laymen who will be at the same time virtuous, enlightened, resolute, and truly apostolic.” It would take much longer to reach the whole world with the Gospel of Christ, if the work of evangelization was just for priests and religious. Christ calls each one of us in a unique way to share the Gospel with those around us, our family, friends, coworkers, and strangers.

The most genuine way to accomplish such a fulfilling feat is to live out an authentic relationship with Christ daily. He came to us to show us who we were truly made to be, and to redeem mankind to our pre-fallen state. By daily being reminded of who we are, we can then help others to realize the same. As St. Catherine of Sienna said, “be who you were made to be, and you will set the world on fire.” By turning to Christ, and mirroring toward others the love he has for us, we will show the world for what we were truly made.

Daily prayer is the soil in which is planted our relationship with Christ, and evangelization is the fruit born from such a lifestyle of daily divine encounter. The late-19th century Trappist priest Jean-Baptiste Chautard, in his book The Soul of the Apostolate, wrote, “only the interior life can sustain us in the hidden, backbreaking labor of planting the seed that seems to go so long without fruit.” Without a daily relationship with Christ, we will not be sustained to sew the seeds of evangelization. It is very difficult in the busy, modern world to form such a habit. But, we must only look to the countless number of saints who have struggled with, and succeeded in, encountering Christ every day in this way.

From daily prayer will grow a spirit of relational evangelization. St. Paul, addressing the Thessalonians said, “with such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). By sharing with others your daily struggles and victories, and sharing in their’s, we can direct people to realize that it is Christ who sustains us through both the consolations and the desolations. Our relationships must not plateau at the superficial level, they must go deeper into helping each other discover the root of who we are. Jean-Baptiste Chautard said, “as long as we have not made the mystery of the Cross sink deeply into the souls of men, we have, as yet, barely touched their surface.” We must be not afraid to cast out into the vulnerable deepness of relationships, to encounter others where they are at and show them that Christ waits, knocking at the door or their soul.

It is baffling to me sometimes to think about how contrary to our true identity our modern culture is. What it professes is the polar opposite of what Christ reveals to us as our true essence - children of God destined for the kingdom of heaven. But, St. Paul writes, “for creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The world, although blind to the answer, is searching for an solution to the eternal search for meaning. It is our duty, as Christians, to encounter those who are “groaning in labor pains,” and show them the one who alleviates their existential aches unlike anything or anyone else on the earth can (Romans 8:22).

Pope Francis calls us to be revolutionaries against this modern culture. He says, “I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love." He shows how contrary the modern culture is - based on temporality, irresponsibility, and superficial gratification. His words are clearly reminiscent of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s adage: “the world offers you comfort; but, you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Both church leaders remind us that our home is not here. Our revolution is not a temporal one; it is eternal. Jesus tells us, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” and, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 15:7). We are the laborers, the instruments in his hands, that bring about his work by empathetically and genuinely encountering our brothers and sisters in their chaos, and walking with them, as Christ does with us.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, a 20th-century Spanish priest, and founder of Opus Dei, gave many practical recommendations for the modern apostolate. In his book, The Way, he reflects,

“Those well-timed words, whispered into the ear of your wavering friend; the helpful conversation that you managed to start at the right moment; the ready professional advice that improves his university work; the discreet indiscretion by which you open up unexpected horizons for his zeal. This all forms part of the ‘apostolate of friendship’” (The Way 973).

All these examples of daily virtue are ways in which we can stir within our neighbor a desire to accept the call of Christ to follow him. St Josemaría Escrivá shows how simple evangelization can be; and, how similar it can be to the accounts in the Gospel. He says, “‘the dinner-table apostolate’: it is the old hospitality of the Patriarchs, together with the fraternal warmth of Bethany. When we practise it, we seem to glimpse Jesus there, presiding, as in the house of Lazarus” (The Way 974). This “dinner-table apostolate” can be any form of encountering and getting to know others in the day-to-day, for example at meals. In the same way that Christ encountered his family, friends, and neighbor, so too can we form genuine relationships with those around us. These relationships must not be focused on us, or solely on trying to convert the other, they must be relations of compassion (meaning “to suffer with”), walking with the other, as Christ walks with us.


The Damning Deficit of Catchphrase Catholicism

This op-ed, as evidenced by its title, is obviously of crucial importance. You can be certain of my strong (and correct) opinion because of the seriousness of the words I used in the title. And also alliteration—alliteration always makes something intrinsically more important. The only thing that could make my title (and consequently my argument) stronger would be to use a rhyme. Perhaps I should have gone with the title, "The Crass Malaise of the Catholic Catchphrase" to make it really roll off the tongue as seemingly substantial, while in truth only carrying a vague illusion of importance.

What have I just said? To be fair, I am not even sure what to make of my own first paragraph, but it sounds good, does it not? Furthermore I am a writer, and therefore you should trust my conclusions. I promise I do have a point, please read on.

I am not mocking the need to create intriguing and provocative titles for articles, news stories, or blog posts. As a writer I know the importance of a strong title. I also know well the self-satisfaction of leaning back in my chair and patting myself on the back for my impressive wit and creativity upon crafting an excellent title and pithy introduction.

I am beginning my fourth paragraph and I have yet to really say anything. What I have written sounds good, and may have even made you chuckle (Okay, I'm very witty and you have definitely LOL'ed, or at least laughed out loud in your mind to yourself [LOLIYMTY], if that's possible, but I digress). The lack of substance I have heretofore provided is precisely the point I want to make.

Using a catchy title, relying on pithy statements, and assuring you (dear reader) of my authority to speak on the subject, has provided you the appearance of an argument and a conclusion. However, I have not yet made an actual argument to defend my title (which is also conveniently my conclusion). My whole argument is summed up in the introduction and conclusion that there is a "Damning Deficit of Catchphrase Catholicism." But without actually making an argument, how convincing is the statement. It sounds nice, but means nothing. Too often we end our arguments in this way. We encounter people on the street, in a bar, at a party, or anywhere else, and we engage them with pithy, but ultimately empty statements.

If we try to evangelize by saying the Church is beautiful and beauty will save the world, but we do not elaborate on what beauty is and why it is necessary, then we really haven't said anything. When we talk about people's wounds, but we don't actually talk about what has wounded people, we do the same. When we praise or dismiss something as the "Francis Effect" we are not really talking about the movement of the Church during Pope Francis’ papacy in any substantial way. And please don't get me started on "modest is hottest." Evangelization through catch phrases doesn't convince anyone. Plus, preaching to the choir in pithy statements only understood by the choir is like joining a birthday party and eating only the frosting off the cake: We enjoy it in the moment, but it leaves our stomachs lacking and aching for more substance.

The catchphrases we use as Catholics are not inherently good or bad. I find them to have a hierarchy from better to worse; from poignant and effective to convoluted and confusing. While they may not be bad per se, I will claim that to rely on them alone to try to spread the Gospel or to use them to medicate our own doubts, fears, or uncertainties is not a good practice.

My argument can be summed up in this way:


1) Our God is indescribable, yet he has revealed himself to us.

2) His Church, mysteriously the Body of Christ, is equally mysterious and revealed through revelation.

3) While we can speak to the truths of God and his Church, anything we say will inevitably fall short.

4) Because our words will fall short, we should strive to be as accurate and descriptive as possible when we speak.

5) Because our words will fall short, we should strive to make our lives a living witness.

6) Catchy phrases and pithy statements can help aid memory and point to precise arguments.

7) Used alone, the catchphrase begins to lose the weight of the argument that backs it.

8) Prayer, and pondering the mysteries of our faith and life, fills our souls to the point of speaking with weight behind our words. The Dominicans are called the Order of Preachers; they prioritize prayer and meditation so that their prayer and meditation can overflow into and inform their preaching.

9) Often our actions and our presence when we encounter someone speak much deeper and more profoundly than our words could. 


There is a deficit in our evangelization and in our own faith ponderings when we rely on catchphrases. The catchphrases themselves are often true, but if we do not carry a deeper pondering and understanding with them, they are of little substantive value to us or to whoever hears them. We need time to ponder ideas of mystery and we need time to encounter people. If we are in too great a hurry, our message lacking any more than a surface level will fall into the vast bin of the world’s ideas. There, the message of the Gospel, demoted to merely an unsubstantive "perspective" or “idea,” will stew with the two minute videos from Buzzfeed, Vox, NowThis, ViralThread, et al. Our message will be consumed easily, and dismissed and forgotten just as easily. This is the damning deficit of catchphrase Catholicism.


So my challenge to all of us is to read, pray, ponder, and sit in silence. Then we can go out, and like the Dominicans, let our prayer and meditation inform our preaching and our living. Having spent time in prayer encountering truth eternal, we will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within is. The reason for our hope is not a convenient catchphrase. Instead, our hope is in the Lord, the eternal word, God who became man and payed our debt to sin, our savior, and our love!