By sharing our faith we can start to change the culture around us

People pack the pews during a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonisation of St John Paul II (CNS)

The phrase “the New Evangelisation” has been around since it was widely popularised by the late St John Paul II in the decade before the new Millennium. However, it floated straight over my head. I didn’t give it a moment’s thought – except for thinking it didn’t apply to me; wasn’t it all about the new movements in the Church and what the Holy Father was doing so effectively himself?

Then I noticed a news item in this week’s Catholic Herald: “Bishop recruits hundreds of evangelisers.” It seems Bishop Egan of Portsmouth is replacing all his pastoral councils with evangelisation teams, explaining, “It’s all about vision. Its purpose is to sponsor mission-projects across the area.” So, a diocesan mission that is not the usual once-off event to stir up individual parishes, but something on-going, designed to shake up every member of the diocese. At the same time, in an interview with Archbishop Georg Ganswein last week, the Prefect of the Papal Household made it clear that “the most important priority [of Pope Francis’s pontificate] is mission, evangelisation. This aspect is like a red thread. No internal navel-gazing, no self-reference, but sharing the Gospel with the world. That is the motto.”

These news items have begun to clarify my mind, just as I have been reading a short but challenging book by Scott Hahn: Evangelizing Catholics. Now I understand what the phrase means: every baptised Catholic, lay or clerical, has an apostolate, proper to their state, to spread the good news of salvation and the quickest way to achieve it: through participating in the life and mission of the Church. Hahn, who is an American and who was once a Protestant minister dedicated to bringing lapsed, unwary and ignorant Catholics into the Protestant fold, is now a well-known Catholic evangeliser, biblical scholar and academic. He has been using his gifts since his own conversion to explain why the Church’s claims and teachings are true and how they are supported by scripture.

In this book – significantly, it is dedicated to Pope Francis – he sets out to explain to his fellow Catholics why they must change their mentality and realise that they have a duty to share their faith. As he remarks, Catholics tend to think this is being “Protestant” – something they would rather run a mile from than undertake themselves. Sometimes, he suggests, this is ignorance of their faith; unlike Protestants, many Catholics, badly catechised, have “never encountered Jesus Christ in a meaningful and personal way.” Other Catholics, who do know their faith, prefer to keep their heads down, wanting to blend in with their neighbours so as not to appear weird. But, as he points out, “Our faith withers if we don’t share it.”

Quoting St John Paul II, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty”, Hahn reminds readers that in sharing our faith, whether in our family life, at work, by our example, through the media and through friendship, we slowly start to change the culture around us – a culture which we are generally ready to criticise while doing nothing constructive to alter it. As he reminds readers, this was how the early Christians slowly changed the pervasive pagan culture of ancient Rome: by showing the beauty of faithful married love; by cherishing new life and repudiating abortion and infanticide; by the example of their chaste lives and their rejection of immorality; and by their love and care for their pagan neighbours during times of plague and upheaval.

Our parishes, he states, should be our spiritual homes, not places “where we go once a week to fill up on sacramental graces.” People, he remarks, are not attracted to an abstract idea but by “Catholicism as a way of life.” In other words, they will be attracted by our love for our faith and how it affects our daily life. He points out, “Our family may be the only Catholic family the bachelor across the street ever meets.” The New Evangelisation is not about far-away countries or those who join the new movements and communities; it concerns each one of us – today. This is the message the Holy Father – and Bishop Egan – want to communicate.