SASKATOON — New Evangelization Summit speaker George Weigel examined the origin of the new evangelization in the unfolding of church history: “I think we are living in an extraordinarily privileged moment in the 2,000-year history of the church,” he said.
Speaking at the Ottawa event broadcast to host sites around the world, the theologian, author, and biographer of Pope John Paul ll pointed to this as one of the moments in history when the Catholic faith is taking on “a new expression in order to meet the challenges of being the pilgrim People of God in a given age.”
The latest challenge for the pilgrim church is to be the church of the new evangelization, he said. The movement has its roots in the election of Pope Leo XIII in 1878, which marked the beginning of “the church’s great project of not conceding to the modern world and not rejecting the modern world, but seeking to convert the modern world,” said Weigel.
Efforts undertaken under Pope Leo Xlll ultimately led to an explosion of Catholic intellectual life, Scripture study, the development of Catholic social teaching, and eventually the Second Vatican Council, which was launched by Pope John XXIII in 1958 and completed by Pope Paul VI.
“Vatican ll was intended to be a great missionary council.”
Weigel described a number of ways how, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican ll understanding of the church as “a communion of disciples in mission” became clearer.
He reflected on John Paul ll’s trip to the Holy Land at the dawn of the third millennium: “He was in effect picking up the entire Catholic Church . . . and taking us to the places of salvation history, so that we could touch and feel and see the fact that Christianity is not a pious story, it is not a myth. Christianity begins with radically transformed lives, in a place you can go to today.” It is “to understand again, that, like those transformed lives of 2,000 years ago, we are called by our encounter with the risen Christ to offer his friendship to the world.”
The transformation of the church of the Counter-Reformation into the church of the new evangelization has come “just in time,” added Weigel. While the church of the Counter-Reformation could count on the surrounding culture to help pass along the faith, “we now know that is no longer the case. The cultural air we breathe not only does not help transmit the faith, it is toxic.”
“To be the church of the new evangelization is going to mean, for all the people of the church, a deepened friendship with the Lord Jesus, through regular immersion in the Word of God, a more frequent encounter with the sacraments, and, above all, by owning our baptism.”
Another challenge Weigel presented to NES participants was to grow in self-awareness, and recognize that we must respond to the mission field that exists all around us.
“Missionary territory today is your kitchen table. It is your neighbourhood association. It is your workplace. It is your life as a citizen. It is your life as a consumer. All these are arenas of missionary activity.”
The words of Christ to “go and make disciples” were spoken to each of us on the day of our baptism, Weigel stressed: “We are being called to be part of the birthing of the church of the new evangelization, which is the church of the apostles. If we can own that missionary discipleship, we will not only embody what we were called to be at our baptism, we may begin, in converting others, to convert this culture, and give the nations a new gift of freedom.”