NEW EVANGELIZATION EVER OLD AND YET EVER NEW
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 SM 7:4-17; PS 89:4-5,27-30; MK 4:1-20 ]
It was only in recent times that the Church started speaking about the New Evangelization, beginning with St John Paul II. This term was used to reawaken and elicit renewed efforts in a new missionary and evangelizing undertaking. It is new in its ardour, methods and expression. “Consequently, the new evangelization is not a matter of redoing something which has been inadequately done or has not achieved its purpose, as if the new activity were an implicit judgment on the failure of the first evangelization. Nor is the new evangelization taking up the first evangelization again, or simply repeating the past. Instead, it is the courage to forge new paths in responding to the changing circumstances and conditions facing the Church in her call to proclaim and live the Gospel today.” (Lineamenta, 13th Synod of Bishops, No 5).
In other words, the Church is invited to renew her efforts to meet the new challenges facing Church and society in the face of changing cultures as a result of globalization, technological advancement and urbanization. Today, because of mass communication and a digital era, the way we proclaim the gospel would be quite different from our forefathers. How are we to live the Christian life today in a urban and affluent setting? How do we speak of the family unit in a world where family members no longer stay together in the same locale, or even same country? How do we speak of the indissolubility of marriage and sexual ethics in a world where the ideals of marriage are seen to be impractical and irrelevant? How can we maintain the traditional understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman in the face of same-sex union? How can we maintain the uniqueness of Christ as the Saviour of the World and the fullness of truth in the wake of inter-religious dialogue?
It is encouraging to read in today’s gospel how the work of the New Evangelization was already in practise during the time of Jesus. We read how Jesus was not stuck in the old ways of proclaiming the gospel: He “began to teach by the lakeside, but such a huge crowd gathered round him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there. The people were all along the shore, at the water’s edge.” Until then, Jesus was using the traditional places to proclaim the gospel, namely, in the synagogues where the Jews would gather to worship and listen to the Word of God. But His preaching there was often not welcomed because of His criticism of the laws and the religious leaders and most of all, the breaking of the Sabbath. He aroused much opposition from the religious leaders.
Hence, He felt that perhaps the best way to proclaim the message of His Father’s unconditional love and mercy was not in the synagogues but in the open fields, at the sea shore and on the hills. Instead of waiting for the people to come to the synagogue, He went out to them in the countryside. Jesus brought His mission to the people. He did not confine Himself to a synagogue but He brought God’s love directly to the people wherever He went. His synagogue was the field or along the road. He did not need a permanent place to preach the Word of God.
This brings to mind today’s first reading when King David was feeling guilty that he was living in a house of cedar whilst the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent. King David wanted to build a Temple for the Lord. But the Lord thought otherwise. He said, “I have never stayed in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have always led a wanderer’s life in a tent. In all my journeying with the whole people of Israel, did I say to any one of the judges of Israel, whom I had appointed as shepherds of Israel my people: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” The truth is that the God we worship is a Trek God, a God who lives in the midst of His people and moves with them. This God is so close to His people He wants to be near them. He does not want to be isolated and kept away from His people.
This is our constant temptation, which is to compartmentalize God in daily life. This is what secularization seeks to do as well. Many of us feel happy to put God at an altar, or in the tabernacle at church. We live a dichotomy between faith and life. We are Catholics only when we are in church, but outside of church, we behave like everyone else. Our faith is not expressed in our daily life. Our God is kept in our churches and in our homes. That is why God is not felt in public and daily living. We only remember Him once a week for an hour. And we feel happy about that because the rest of the time is ours to live according to how we want to live. We do not think of God unless we are in trouble.
Precisely, the New Evangelization challenges us to go out of our churches, our comfortable and secured confines, to the people where we are to share the Good News. Many of us are happy to meet only in church for instructions and for activities. This makes us exclusive, but we are not reaching out to the unreached and to the crowd who do not yet know Jesus. This is why Pope Francis invites us to go out to preach and share the gospel; “In our day Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples’ echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” (EG 20)
Pope Francis wrote, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37). (EG 49)
Not only are we to witness Christ in the world, beyond the walls of our parishes and churches, but we must use a new language to speak to our people, especially the young. In the gospel, Jesus said, “The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may see and see again, but not understand.” What was unique about Jesus as a teacher was that He used parables to convey the God-experience to the people. He used everyday life examples to help people connect with the love and mercy of God. Jesus knew that if he continued to use the language of the day, they would be inattentive and He would not be able to sustain their interest more so in the wide open fields where the people could leave as and when they liked. To help them relate with God’s love, He used parables and stories so that they could identify with what Jesus sought to speak to their hearts and evoke their experiences of God in their lives.
Again, this is what the New Evangelization is asking of us. We need to find new ways not just new means to express the unchanging truths of the gospel. By merely repeating the orthodox language of our faith, we are not understood. Moreover, such language no longer holds the attention of the people. The unchanging truth must be expressed in a way that is not alien to our people. We also need to reconsider some of our customs, precepts, devotions and even the way we worship. Some of these were once useful and effective in helping people to encounter God but has now become alien to the modern generation. Liturgy evolves with time and it is not fixated as many would like to think. Liturgy is a celebration of life. Whilst the essence of worship cannot change, the way we worship needs to evolve according to the time. The work of the New Evangelization requires us to communicate more effectively the perennial truths of the gospel in a new way.
In the final analysis, let us not run the risk of losing the heart of the Gospel’s message, which is to help people to encounter Jesus personally. Let us focus on the essentials, what is beautiful, liberating, joyful and enriching, rather than on the secondary dimensions of our Catholic Faith. This was what Jesus sought to do in His preaching. Instead of being bogged down by the traditions, customs and rules of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus proclaimed the essential message of the gospel – the Father’s unconditional love and mercy through His healing miracles, exorcisms, works of mercy and forgiveness of sins. He came to set His people free from guilt, a slavish observance of the laws and a religion that makes life burdensome. We must not allow the presentation of the Catholic Faith to degenerate into a modern Pharisaism. This is the heart of the gospel as described by Pope Emeritus Benedict, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. (Deus Caritas, 1)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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