What are we not about as Catholics trying to live out the New Evangelization?
We are not about just getting people back to Church or getting people ‘more engaged in their parish.’ Simply filling pews and getting butts in seats is, in some sense, not helpful to the New Evangelization – it’s what got us in this mess.
Now, the Mass is indeed the greatest thing we can do on Earth:
For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that “the work of our redemption is accomplished,” (CCC 1068)
But in our efforts to evangelize, good attendance at Mass does not necessarily get at the fundamental problem:
“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”: it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity. (CCC 1072)
Didn’t expect to read that in the Catechism, right? But we should, because it makes sense. How many people across the centuries have gone to Mass dutifully for dozens of years and still, sitting lukewarm and indifferent in their pew, have not gained ground spiritually?
Evangelization is not getting someone to be part of a club. What the Lord desires is not rote practices, but conversion. He wants the total and radical life-change. He wants His people to know Him deeply and experience walking with Him. He wants his sons and daughters throbbing with an ache for Him and for His people. He wants hearts and minds on fire! He wants souls that have jumped off the cliff into His Sea!
It is not enough to be present at Mass; we must take part, ‘participate’ in it. (Divine Intimacy, pg. 481)
How can we possibly do that unless the Spirit awakens our hearts and some level of conversion has taken place? To ask that rhetorical question is to demonstrate that the effort of evangelizing is much more than just getting people to come back to Church or be a reader at Mass.
Notice also how CCC 1072 says participation in the liturgy “must be preceded by” being evangelized and having an encounter with the Lord Jesus that changes your life. That means that in our participation in the Lord’s Mission, a good handful of people we try to help meet Jesus aren’t ready to come to Mass yet, maybe even if they’re already Catholic! We need evangelization before we are ready for the sacraments. (For a great discussion of this read chapter four of Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples.)
All of this is simply to keep clear in our minds the mission of evangelization:
The proclamation of the Gospel has Christian conversion as its aim [not externalities]: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith… Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple. (Redemptoris Missio, 46)
Let’s not put the horse before the cart. Conversion comes first; and then the Mass will begin to rock our world.
And may we never forget that “we cannot preach conversion unless we ourselves are converted anew every day” (RM, 47). Come Holy Spirit and inflict upon us a deeper, more complete conversion and a more radical participation in your Mission. Yes Lord! We may tremble, but we want it!