I. Introduction: “Neither Fish Nor Fowl”
A. I am happy to have the opportunity to spend some time with all of you discussing the various aspects of formation for evangelization. And let me begin with a story. Some 39 years ago, in mid-November 1977, I was a newly ordained priest serving at St. Joseph Parish in Landover, Maryland in Prince George’s County. The rectory was an old farmhouse infested with snakes and rodents and the pastor – who is today a saint in heaven – was from New England and thus did not believe in turning on the heat until December 8th.
B. Cardinal Baum (then the Archbishop of Washington) and Bishop Marino (then the Auxiliary Bishop of Washington) came for dinner prior to a conference on evangelization taking place at St. Joseph’s. It was easy to see that Cardinal Baum as freezing and was off-put by tales of snakes and rodents… and even more by the utterly poor quality of the wine we served. But he was a gracious man and only suggested to the pastor that he take good care of me as he was hoping to get many years of service out of me. Next thing I know we’re in the parish hall to talk about evangelization. Pope Paul VI’s document, Evangelii Nuntiandi was relatively new and Cardinal Baum was trying to introduce the very idea of evangelization to a decidedly skeptical audience. One crusty pastor (or so he seemed to me at the time) got up and said: “That sounds like a Protestant word. And besides,” he said, “it’s neither fish nor fowl. It’s not apologetics and it’s not catechesis – so what the heck is it?” Cardinal Baum and Bishop Marino were more than up to the task of answering but even as a young and naïve priest I could tell they didn’t make a sale. Forty years later, I find myself in the same boat. “It’s not fish and it’s not fowl. What the heck is it?”
C. You’d think that 50 years after Vatican II, a council devoted to evangelization, and after four popes who made it the centerpiece of their papacy, and after innumerable pastoral letters on the subject from bishops and the growth of a veritable cottage industry of evangelization programs – you’d think that evangelization would be a concept everyone is familiar with. In my travels, at least, that is not the case. For many it’s still neither fish nor fowl, neither apologetics nor catechesis.
II. What Is the New Evangelization?
A. I don’t need to tell you what evangelization is, through it might be helpful for you to hear it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth”. It is a noun that houses both an active and a passive verb. First it means the proclamation of the Gospel. The new evangelization does not mean the proclamation of a new Gospel. What St. Paul wrote to the Galatians applies to us: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed” (1:8). The “content” of the new evangelization is the kerygma – the incarnation, life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
B. What, then, is “new” about the “new” evangelization? The new evangelization is basically a re-evangelization. This is the point Pope Benedict XVI made in 2010 when he called for a “re-proposing of the Gospel” to those in need of evangelization, both those who are already baptized but have left the practice of the faith, and those wo have yet to hear the message of the Gospel. The new evangelization is new “in its ardor, methods, and expression” as Pope St. John Paul II said in a 1983 address to CELAM. Evangelization, then, is not new in content, then, but in its “inner thrust” – in the inward conviction of those who proclaim the Gospel afresh – not the mere conveying of information but rather, in the Spirit, bearing witness to the power of the Gospel. Evangelization is new in its methods, methods that correspond with the times, such as the use of social media, storytelling, and the like.
C. Pope Francis affirms that all the baptized are called to evangelize – meaning that they are themselves to be transformed by the proclamation of the Gospel, by encountering Christ sacramentally, and in their lives of prayer and penance – such that they can bear witness to Christ. Evangelizing is not an exclusively clerical activity – in fact, the laity is the prime agent of evangelization in the life of the Church. Pope Francis then makes an important connection. He links the “inner thrust” of the evangelized Catholic with the “outward movement” of a missionary disciple and tells us that Jesus command to go and make disciples must be acted upon in the changing scenarios and new challenges the Church experiences in her mission. He calls for ‘a new chapter of evangelization, full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love, and attraction!” (EG, no. 262). When we who evangelize give evidence that we truly believe that we have been infinitely loved by a merciful Savior who is as real to us as the Risen Lord was to the Apostles in the Upper Room – I do think we have chance of winning a hearing for the Gospel.
D. To evangelize one must already have been evangelized, at least at some level. What is the fruit of evangelizing activity in the lives of others? First, we are seeking to facilitate in the lives of other a living encounter with Christ. Pope Benedict said, “Being a Christian isn’t the result of an ethic choice or lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person which gives life an new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est ). Evangelization is finally meeting Christ as someone very real who loves us more than we love ourselves – someone with whom we fall in love. It is an encounter that overturns our existence – how we think, what we value, how we relate to other people, how we spend our time. And in the joy of that encounter we embrace our faith anew. We see it in a new light, we see its power to transform us and we become not only its recipients but its protagonists. So, there is conversion and inner renewal that leads the evangelized person to become also a missionary disciple called forth to bear witness.
E. Often the missionary disciple evangelizes in the course of his or her daily life – in the context of the family, the workplace, the social circles and along the way encounters cultural opportunities and obstacles. Sometimes another person will open up to us or we’ll be in a setting when we have an opportunity to bear witness. At other times we find ourselves bringing a message of love to a divided culture or softening hearts rendered hard by secularism, relativism, and materialism. Along with our baptism is also gifts given us by the Holy Spirit (charisms) which often must be recognized and validated and used for the sake of evangelization. All this requires, however, requires not merely the will to evangelization but at least some measure of formation in discipleship.
III. Formation for Discipleship: Deepening the Encounter
A. When we speak of “formation”, we tend to think of a program, such as a series of retreats or seminars – and these things play and important role in formation for discipleship. No program can supplant the deeply personal and non-programmatic formation of deepening one’s encounter with the living Christ. So with you I’d like to reflect further on the nature of this encounter and how it is deepened in us and in all the baptized.
B. Pope Francis invites “all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ or at least an open-ness to letting him encounter them” (EG, no. 3). This open-ness to encounter and the encounter itself is not something we conjure up but rather is made possible by the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and while it is deeply personal it is not private. It is mediated through the Church and it is meant for the Church and her mission. The Church mediates this encounter with Christ through the proclamation of Scripture, through preaching (note how much attention Pope Francis gives to good preaching), through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration, through the Sacrament of Penance, the sacrament of conversion and mercy, and through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Add to this the development of one’s own personal life of prayer, including the prayerful reading of a sacred text (lectio divina) and spiritual direction.
C. Here is where we are always tempted to cut corners and instead to become Pelagians or at least semi-Pelagian. When I am faced with a deadline or a mountain of work, I face the temptation to abbreviate time spent in prayer and to get to my desk “while I’m still fresh”. How ironic to sit there writing a homily based on a Scripture text I never prayed over. Prayer – both public and private is the indispensable venue for encountering Christ. Prayer is how we come to the conviction that “…it is not I who live but Christ Jesus who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) and therefore it is Christ who will speak and act in and through me. Prayer is where I undergo conversion, a fundamental re-orientation of my life toward Christ and toward his Church and the mission he entrusted to it, a process that involves dying to oneself and to one’s carnal desires. According to the teaching of Vatican II, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Christians and it is the most privileged place of encounter with the Lord. It is in and through the Eucharist that we truly encounter Christ, that we “absorb” the kerygma and “digest” the secret of the Resurrection, that is to say, the entirety of the Paschal Mystery. It is in and through the Eucharist that we begin to take on the features of Christ, as we pray the Our Father, internalize the beatitudes, and exhibit “from the inside out” the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit – becoming ourselves the Servant whom we have encountered and received.
D. As our life of prayer deepens, we hear the Lord saying to us personally “follow me” and we begin to discern the specific ways the Lord wishes us to do so, including the vocation to which he is calling us. In this way, we begin to fulfill our baptismal calling to love. Our open-ness to the Lord leads us to internalize the kerygma and it is this that gives our evangelizing endeavors an “inner thrust”. Pope Francis tells us that the “…the witness of Christians, whose lives are filled with the hope of Christ, open the hearts and minds of those around them to Christ” and lead them to a moment of conversion – to a moment, deepened over one’s lifetime, of re-orienting one’s life toward God.
E. This is how the document Ecclesia in America puts it: “An encounter with the Lord brings about a profound transformation in all who do not close themselves off from him. The first impulse coming from this transformation is to communicate to others the richness discovered in the experience of the encounter. This does not mean simply teaching what we have come to know, but also, like the Samaritan woman, enabling others to encounter Christ personally: ‘Come and see’ (Jn. 4:29). The result will be the same as that which took place in the heart of the Samaritans, who said to the woman: ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this indeed is the Savior of the world’ (Jn. 4:42). The Church which draws her life from the permanent and mysterious presence of her Risen Lord, has as the core of her mission a duty ‘to lead all people to encounter Christ’” (Ecclesia in America, no. 68).
F. The purpose of evangelization is to bring about faith and conversion to Christ… a life-long deepening of one’s faith and a life-long journey of conversion, deepening our relationship with God and the Church, refining and maturing our consciences as the moral life becomes a wholehearted response to God’s prior truth and love, developing an intimate knowledge of the faith, integrating the faith into all aspects of our personality and activity – such that the features of Christ emerge in the unique and unrepeatable reality that is each person, made in God’s image and called to eternal life and glory.
IV. Places of Encounter
A. Prayer is the way in which we encounter the Lord but where are the “places” of encounter? Let me briefly mention them.
B. First is the Encounter with Jesus in the Family. The family is our first community and the most basic way Jesus gathers us and forms us to act in the world. The early Church refers to the family as the “domestic church”. It is within the family that we learn to seek prayerfully God’s will for us. The story of family life is a story of love shared and nurtured but sometimes rejected and lost. If we wish to evangelize our parishes (which is a family of families), it will be necessary to evangelize our families. It will be necessary to help couples live the Sacrament of Matrimony which has been elevated to a Sacrament so as to reflect and share in the spousal love of Christ and the Church. In our day, we need to help them make their homes places of prayer, love, and forgiveness where the faith is shared.
C. Second is the encounter with Jesus in the Church. For many people “church” is their parish – period, end of story! While the parish is the first and main point of contact with the Church, a healthy, evangelizing parish that is not inward looking – opens out onto the local church (the diocese which incarnates the universal church) and through the diocese opens out onto the universal church which is diverse, international, and multicultural. We want missionary disciples who are “parish centered” – who are working to revitalize their parishes, but who are not “parochial” in the pejorative sense of that term.
D. Third is the encounter with Jesus in others. St. Vincent de Paul tells busy priests what to do when their prayer is interrupted by some urgent need, especially that of a hungry, sick, or dying person – you get up from your prayer and minister to the person who is need. St. Mother Teresa spoke of adoring the Body of Christ on the Altar and washing the Body of Christ on the streets of Calcutta. Pope Francis tells us that our encounter with Christ has to lead us outward to the “peripheries” – not necessarily a far way place but to those who needs are different from our own and to those who may be “distant” because of alienation, anger, or apathy.
V. Formation for Discipleship: Learning to Accompany Others
A. And that is nice segue into what follows upon our conversion and our initial impulse to share with others what the Lord has done for us. We must participate in creating what the Pope calls “a culture of encounter” – that is at the heart of our missionary outreach . . . as the Pope himself puts it: “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” This missionary outreach and encounter with others demand of us a readiness to listen to others, to understand their situation, their point of view, including their reasons for no longer practicing their faith. To paraphrase Pope Francis’ words to a group of bishops when he visited Rio: ‘A church that does not listen to the reasons why people have left the church will not be in a very good position to give them reasons why they should return.’ As always, he lays it on the line!
B. At the same time, accompanying others is more than listening and engaging. As the Risen Lord walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he opened their minds to the understanding of Scripture. He bore witness and brought them to the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharist. So too, when we accompany others, we are “sent” as Jesus was sent by the Father to open the minds & hearts of others to the understanding of Scripture, the kerygma.
C. One area of special concern for the Holy Father is couples in struggling marriages. The two synods on marriage and chapter 8 of AL should be read in that light. Those who are living together, married only civilly, divorced and remarried, those who are in loveless marriages – deserve our time and attention. We need to do more in the way of family friendly preaching, in the way of parish outreach to families, and in helping families to regularize their marriages when possible and in exercising careful discernment where this is not possible.
D. Fellowship and Solidarity
A. One important truth we learn along the way is that it is very difficult to live a life of intentional discipleship in an isolated fashion. We need the support not only of family and parish but often of a small community such as a prayer group. I meet with a group of bishops but also with a small group of priests periodically for evening prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, discussions, sometimes a review of the Scriptures we are to preach on the following Sunday and then drinks and dinner coupled with a lot of stories, laughter, and good fun. If God is a Trinity of Persons and the Sacraments induct us into a community of faith, it only makes sense that we need to anchor our lives of discipleship in an experience of fellowship and solidarity.
B. Belonging to a small group makes a difference in my life of prayer. We pledge to engage in the same regimen of prayer and while we live apart and our schedules differ somewhat, it is a great comfort to pray each day in solidarity with my brother priests. When I’m tempted not pray, I feel I’m letting them down.
C. This is simply replicating what the disciples experienced with Jesus. After sending them out on mission, he gathered them for prayer and rest. “Come away and rest awhile,” he told his enthusiastic followers. This is not a moment to be focused on self but rather a moment to draw strength from the Lord and from co-workers in the vineyard for mission. Mission is done in solidarity – it is not ‘solitary’.
VI. Formation for Mission: Culture Change
A. When Pope Francis speaks of missionary conversion, he does not limit that to individuals or even to small groups but indeed extends that concept to every vocation and to all ministries and indeed to all structures in the life of the Church.
B. That is certainly how I read his admonition to priests and bishops to live simply, to know their people, to acquire ‘the smell of the sheep’, not to make the confessional ‘a torture chamber’ and to preach in a manner that is accessible and attractive to our congregations, and just speaking for myself, the Holy Father challenges me greatly.
C. So too, he challenges parishes to undergo missionary conversion. He tells us that the parish is not an outdated and useless institution so long as it is a vital community of faith, worship, and service, so long as it is reaching out beyond the walls of the Church and penetrating the surrounding neighborhoods with the joy of the Gospel while meeting the pastoral and spiritual needs of the people who live there. Conversely, the Pope speaks harshly of parishes that are ‘self-referential’ – made up of people tightly clinging to their responsibilities, un-open to returnees and newcomers alike, most concerned with its own self-preservation, especially when the crazy bishop begins to engage in pastoral planning!
D. Perhaps the secular equivalent for missionary conversion is culture change. In the corporate world, one pays a lot of money for cultural change. People who do this for a living command high fees but since the Church doesn’t have a lot of money, we have to rely on the gifts that the Lord does give us to bring about the shift ‘from maintenance to mission’ – When I was ordained some 40 years ago, we didn’t put it this way but we priests thought of ourselves as chaplains who were called upon to serve generously the needs of the people and families who came to Mass every Sunday and whose children when to our school or participated in religious education or youth group activities, etc. And most assuredly that ordinary pastoral care still needs to continue but with the passage of time the pastoral needs have shifted as we have become short of priests and nearly 75% of our people don’t come to Mass on Sunday anymore. So it is necessary for parishes not to function as a chaplaincy but rather as an intense hub of missionary activity, geared toward outreach in the way its staff and people are formed and in its activities. The pastor is the one who sets the tone, who calls forth the gifts that the Spirit distributes among his people, who knows how to delegate and empower, and who provides tools for formation and for energizing the mission. This is more than mere administration, the Pope reminds us.
D. This shift in consciousness, this missionary conversion must be marked by attention to pastoral fruitfulness . . . in other words, when we go on mission, we look to see the good and lasting fruit of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel. It should have an effect in the lives of those we touch. We should not be averse to looking at “outcomes”, both qualitative and quantitative, in terms of parish life and activity – and this is very much at the heart of the evangelization planning process in which the Archdiocese of Baltimore is currently engaging.
VII. Dimensions of Formation
A. Effective pastorates require effective leaders. As I have gone around speaking about the pastoral planning process, people immediately and rightly raise the question of formation . . . and many would like assistance in providing that formation right in their parishes. They see the importance of large and/or regional gatherings or to classes and seminars or to the effective use of technology, but more and more priests and parish pastoral teams and lay leadership are seeking a formation that will be centered in their pastorates and that will involve as many of those still active as possible.
B. However it is delivered, I would submit that it has the following dimensions:
1. Pastoral: Pastoral leaders, through their own example, lead & inspire others through an engaging vision, personal witness, and commitment. A pastoral leader who is in full communion with the Catholic Church is able to minister joyfully and faithfully, and has the desire and ability to accompany others on the spiritual journey toward Christ while living and teaching as the Church does.
2. Spiritual: The kerygma, the proclamation of the story of salvation, constitutes the foundation of spiritual formation of pastoral leaders who must not only know the kerygma and be able to proclaim it themselves but also understand their place within God’s ongoing salvific plan. Ongoing catechesis, prayer, participation in the Sacraments, a commitment to daily prayer, to penance, to spiritual direction, to a life of charity and service to the poor and vulnerable. It is important for the pastoral leader to persevere in prayer so that he or she might persevere in mission and not burn out. 3. Human: human formation includes the ability to empathize with others and to put the needs of other people ahead of our own. It also includes a willingness to learn active listening skills and to collaborate with the bishop, pastors, and other pastoral leaders. Human formation includes emotional maturity, a capacity both for friendship and for professional relationships, the management and appropriate expression of anger and affection, and the ability to invite, delegate, and mentor others.
4. Intellectual: because we were created with both and intellect and will, it is important to have a strong intellectual formation, including the study of Scripture and Church doctrine (being well versed in Scripture and the CCC) – as well as other disciplines such as philosophy, literature, the arts, the behavioral sciences, medical ethics, culture and language studies, business administration, leadership and organizational development, etc. This will often require lectures, discussions, research, theological reflection on field experience, the use of technology (social media).
5. Multicultural: the Archdiocese is wonderfully diverse in cultural and language yet that also requires of pastoral leaders inter-cultural competencies. Knowledge, attitudes, and skills in inter-cultural and inter-racial relations are indispensable requirements for engaging in the Church’s evangelizing mission, as Gospel and cultural must meet, so that the message and presence of Christ can transform cultures from within.
VIII. Culture of Encounter, A “Functional” View
A. Pope Francis calls us to create a culture of encounter in pastoral ministry and lest we think of encounter as something fleeting he combines the words “nearness and encounter” – without a nearness to the people we reach out to, without an authentic encounter (“encuentro”), we will never really be able to attract others to Christ and to active participation in the life of his Body, the Church.
B. The following are some of the ways a culture of encounter takes root in a parish and they are ways of behaving for which we must be formed:
1. Engaging others through Christian witness in everyday life: Being a witness to Christ includes not only proclaiming the Gospel but also sharing one’s personal conversion story, participating in the prayer of the Church and allowing the Gospel to penetrate all areas of one’s life. This includes integrating and living the Church’s social teaching, based as it is on authentic human dignity most fully revealed in the Incarnate Son of God.
2. Creating an atmosphere of invitation, hospitality, and trust: Just as Jesus engaged Nicodemus or the woman at the well, so too we are called to engage people as individuals, accompanying them along the path of conversion we ourselves trod. The entire parish community must foster a spirit of hospitality and welcome. This must be extended to those who are “on the margins” and there must be the never-ending outlook for the teachable moment, when we have a chance to encounter those who are currently distant from the life of the Church (e.g., weddings, baptisms, funerals, time of illness).
3. Building collaborative relationships, teamwork, commitment: Being a collaborative member of a ministry team means working to secure cooperation, promoting teamwork, resolving conflicts, recognizing the potential value of differing ideas, opinions, competing needs, able to turn challenging situations into opportunities to make effective changes geared toward the fruitful accomplishment of the Church’s mission. Doing the Church’s mission, in other words, is a matter of shared responsibility.
4. Welcoming and embracing culturally diverse communities: pastoral leaders must welcome and be open to culturally diverse families in order to effectively proclaim the Gospel and effectively promote the life and dignity of each person.. Stronger intercultural competence opens new missionary doors for parish teams.
5. Integration of ministries: every parish engages in a wide variety of ministries which must not be isolated “siloed” but integrated.
Thanks for listening!