Called to a New Evangelization

By By Dr. Michel Therrien
Part 19 of a weekly series

Many people came to Jesus to find physical healing, to find an impossible cure. Jesus witnessed to the Father’s mercy and people responded.

As Jesus healed, he would say “your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20) and “your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34). Why does Jesus associate the desperate plea for physical healing with repentance of sin and salvation? Jesus was teaching them that their physical ailments were symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Yet at the same time, he confirmed their faith in his ability to cure. He then sent them forth, challenging them to grow in that faith.

They came wanting bodily healing; they left challenged to embrace his spiritual forgiveness.

What we learn from these healing miracles is that there is, in some mysterious way, a connection between our physical realities and our spiritual ones.

The situation we face today in the church is similar. We see all around us evidence that something is ailing the body of Christ. The shortage of vocations, the financial deficits, the dwindling Mass attendance — all are outward signs that, interiorly, the body of Christ is in need of healing.

Jesus’ healing miracles are helpful in understanding the church’s call for a “new” evangelization. It is the cure to an ailment for which deeper faith is the only remedy. The external challenges we face will ultimately find their remedy through a deeper conversion to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally. The new evangelization focuses our attention on three areas in need of conversion:

  • The first is the necessity to evangelize our own people. In the words of Blessed Paul VI, “(the church) always needs to be called together afresh by him (Jesus) and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel” (“Evangelii Nuntiandi,” 15).
  • The second is the requirement for parish communities to mature. St. John Paul II indicates in “Christifideles Laici” that we need to attend better to the “formation of mature ecclesial communities in which the faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and his Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service” (34).
  • Third, we need to move from a status quo mentality of managing decline to a culture of missionary discipleship. As the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization concluded:

“(The new evangelization) is synonymous with mission, requiring the capacity to set out anew, go beyond boundaries and broaden horizons. The new evangelization is the opposite of self-sufficiency, a withdrawal into oneself, a status quo mentality and an idea that pastoral programs are simply to proceed as they did in the past … (it) is the time for the church to call upon every Christian community to evaluate their pastoral practice on the basis of the missionary character of their programs and activities.”

On Mission for The Church Alive! is our way as the Church of Pittsburgh to respond to the call for a “new” evangelization. It is the remedy to the loss of faith we see all around us. As in natural life, healing is painful, but it strengthens us in the end.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

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