If we were to step back for a moment and look at the extent to which traditionally Christian societies have become secular in recent history, we might conclude (quite reasonably) that by all appearances the Faith is dying, if not dead already. So dangerous is the perception of this cultural shift away from God, that it has become a focal point of Benedict XVI’s Pontificate, as the 2010 creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization proves.
If you follow current events in the Church you have heard the phrase “New Evangelization” many times. Simply put, it is the challenge of the whole Church to find new and effective ways of articulating the gospel message, particularly in those societies once firmly Christian in structure and practice (e.g. Canada, Europe).
But the phrase should not be misinterpreted as something entirely novel or conceived. The task of evangelization, and even innovative (“new”) evangelization, was undertaken by the first Christians themselves. They had to break-out, so to speak, in order to be Christian; and this ability has been characteristic of the Church ever since. Early apologists like Justin Martyr sought to articulate Christian truths in light of the predominant Greek philosophy of the day. Missionaries from Ireland sprang across the continent when the Roman Empire fell, and planted the seeds of Christendom. Matteo Ricci journeyed to China in the 16th
century where he immersed himself in the culture of that great empire. Thirty years later the church in China numbered in the hundreds of thousands (We may wonder what China might look like today had papal politics not interfered). And the list goes on.
But the important thing to note is this: that the historical rise of these new evangelizations was always preceded by social and cultural circumstances which demanded that they rise. To the Greeks and Romans of the early centuries Christianity did look ridiculous philosophically, and to many it was only a matter of time before this crazed Jewish sect petered out. And when the Roman Empire fell to the tribes of Northern Europe it seemed natural that its new monotheism would fall with it. And in the first half of the 16th
century when cries of protest came from within the Church it looked as if that old energy to break-out had been used up.
And so in each of these cases (there are countless more) we must note: first, that throughout Church history social and cultural circumstances demanded the rise of new evangelizations; and second, that the Church has always responded. The fact that on many occasions it looked as if the Church couldn’t respond only strengthens the point. Today, in many traditionally Christian societies (such as our own) the Faith appears to be buried in complacency or even total indifference. And to the surrounding secularism the logical conclusion must be that the old bones of the Catholic Church have only to decay in the grave. But history has proved this to be a naïve assumption, and those who assume it may be reminded that the Church, which is the body of Christ, has an historical tendency of rising from the dead.
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