Three Musts of the New Evangelization
If we face up to the facts, we have lost some serious ground in the culture wars. It is not because what we have to say is not true, or right, or loving. It is beca
way we say it is unintelligible, unconvincing, and unaffective (I know this isn’t really a word). We are using a language that is lost on generations of people who do not speak the philosophico-theological lingo. We, in effect, are preaching in German to the French. It is absurd and laughable.
If we want to take our situation seriously, we need to do things differently. We have to become more intelligible. We have to become more convincing. We have to become more affective.
Becoming more intelligible…
In our daily arguments with ‘the World’ we seem to think that if we use the same words, we will be understood. The problem is that the same word means different things to different groups. It is like I tell my friend, “Let’s go fishing tomorrow; I’ll meet you by the bank at five.” We both know what fishing means, but when I say bank, I may mean the bank of the river or the financial institution. When I say five, I have not made clear if I mean in the morning or the evening. So, when my friend shows up at the wrong place at the wrong time, I should not be surprised.
A more concrete example is the matter of “rights.” If we look at them, we will notice that we do not even have a functioning definition of what a right is or where it comes from or what distinguishes rights from pseudo-rights. As Catholics we like to think we can take the high ground, but we are using a borrowed word that carries a lot of baggage. Without denying the existence of rights—which we have not even proven—we can talk about all the same issues using the language of duty.
Sure, I may have the right to do ‘this’ or ‘that,’ but I certainly do not have a duty to do ‘this’ if it conflicts with the duty to do ‘that.’ And if I do not have the duty, then I most certainly have a clear moral imperative to refrain from ‘this’ and to do ‘that.’
Becoming more convincing…
In order to be convincing, we have to be credible. Nothing makes us less credible than our failure to practice what we preach. The only way to be more convincing is to be more loving. Our good works preach the gospel, at times, more loudly than our words (and no St. Francis never said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary.” Look it up.).
Integrity is essential to our arguments, especially when are arguments are about being a certain kind of person. Our own lives need to reflect better the lives of the saints. We cannot do that if we do not first know Christ. The common denominator in the lives of the saints is Christ and His Church. A love for the Sacraments is essential to living a truly Christian life. If you want to know Christ, you have to meet Him where He is, namely in Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in your bother and sister (cf. Mt 25).
Becoming more affective…
We have to touch the heart and mind, and we cannot do one without the doing the other. We have to not only be loving, but we have to get others to feel loved. We have to stir up the spirits of those we are preaching to and all the Spirit to move them to conversion. We cannot expect them to change based solely on one or two moving experiences, but without those experiences, we change is difficult if not impossible.
We have to stop thinking of all emotive experiences as superficial. Some of them are consoling. When a sense of peace and joy, that is ordered and reasonable, fills a person we can be sure that that is the work of the Holy Ghost. When someone is stirred with a joy that is muddled by the overwhelming desire to do too much too soon, we have to question the source of that experience. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom and will never lead us imprudently. We can be sure, however, that peace is from God.
If we touch the heart without touching the mind, our desired effect will be short lived. If we touch the mind without touching the heart, we will have an army of self-referential pietists who may know the faith but do not practice it or who practice only that aspect which is most comfortable to them, most likely study.
We should not be afraid to use means that move people as long as those means are accompanied by sound reasoning. A logical argument can be quite moving if presented in the right way. And a more affective, intelligible argument will ultimately be more effective and convincing especially if one presenting it is a person of real integrity.