By Joseph Summers
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.” Mk 2:22
It is an exciting time to be a Catholic! Even more so a Catholic missionary evangelist! All the buzz surrounding this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization is truly encouraging. This is certainly a crucial moment in the life of the Church, we Catholics are being challenged to evaluate our lives examining them through the lens of the Gospel.
Evangelion is Greek for Gospel, and so the New Evangelization could rightfully be called the New Gospelization. It is time for us to get Gospelized and to Gospelize the world!
As simple as that sounds, the reality is that getting from where we are as a people of God to where we need to be is going to involve some epic maneuvering; heck, it might even involve some about faces in certain areas of our lives as individuals and as a Church. (By the way the Biblical term for that is Repentance!)
You see, you can’t just slap a “New Evangelization” bumper sticker on the same old methods, practices and models of Catholic living and pretend like that is enough to get the job done.
If the old/current approach were enough, we wouldn’t need a New Evangelization, and there wouldn’t be Catholics sitting on cushioned pews, stacking up bundles in the bank, while the souls of billions, the great majority of humanity in fact, are in jeopardy, wandering in darkness without ever having heard the Gospel.
If our present system were hunky dory, then we wouldn’t be renovating church after church here in the United States while other Catholics around the world literally starve, or have no access to the teaching ministry of the Church. Jesus says new wine deserves new wineskins, which means the NEW Evangelization needs new methods and fresh commitment.
Back to the Basics
It is time for NEW! Actually, we need to be re-NEWed. The New Evangelization is not a new message. We don’t need a new Gospel, we need to live the Gospel! It is time to get back to the basics, to the faith and proclamation of the first Christians when the Gospel truly was new! The Good News was so hot off the press that it burned like fire in the hearts of the early disciples. As the Church founded on the Apostles, it might benefit us to pay attention to what the Apostles preached.
If you open the book of Acts you will not find Peter and Paul talking about First Saturday devotions, the Novena to St. Joseph, or even the do’s and don’ts of liturgy. (This is not an assault on pious practices or Catholic doctrine which I value, it’s just an observation of Apostolic preaching). Their message, or kerygma, sounded something like this: “God loves us, even though we have sinned and offended God, even though we deserve punishment for our rebellion against Him, the Father sent His Son to die and bring us new life. You can be reborn, you can be saved through Jesus!”
Ignited by the Fire of Pentecost
The early Church was fixated on JESUS. They couldn’t stop talking about Him, they couldn’t stop thinking about Him, they couldn’t stop trying to live their lives by His Words. In fact, no one could stop them! St. Paul expresses the unconquerable attitude of the first Christians in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ and death is gain.”
Death wasn’t enough to stay the bold evangelization of the Apostles and company! Far too often this Apostolic fervor is starkly contrasted when compared to my faith and the faith of most of my fellow parishioners! But before we give too much credit to the Apostles, let’s not forget where they were when Jesus was being executed.
Even the Resurrection was not enough to get them out of the upper room and onto the corner of Jericho and Main in downtown Jerusalem; it was not until Pentecost that we see the profound metanoia of the Apostles. Ignited with the very fire of love, the Holy Spirit fueled the engine of evangelization that was to transform the known world.
It can happen again, but we first need to beg God to send a New Pentecost for this New Evangelization, that we too might be transformed by the awesome power, gifts, and charisms of the Holy Spirit. In fact, to take a cue from Jesus’ advice to the Apostles before ascending into heaven, we shouldn’t be doing much of anything before being filled with God’s anointing Spirit.
The New Wine of the Spirit
We (individuals, families, parishes, & dioceses) need this new life, this new wine. We need a new paradigm because the new wine of the Spirit will burst complacent Catholicism. To see the New Evangelization bear the fruit the Father undoubtedly wants to see in the world, we must drink deeply of the new wine of the Spirit.
In order to Gospelize the world, we must be steeped in praying and reading the Gospels. Intoxicated by the Spirit, and a love for the Gospel, incarnate in Christ Jesus, we must put off the old wineskins of a faith that is content to be a part of our lives, instead of our very lifeline.
We must shatter ideologies that leave the Sermon on the Mount, on the mount two millennia ago. We must renounce a model of church that allows us to invest all our resources in maintaining buildings and the status quo, while the primary service of evangelization which the Church offers humanity goes unattended and unfunded.
We can’t pretend that God doesn’t care if I keep adding cute new outfits to my wardrobe while Jesus hungers, thirsts, and waits in the least of our brothers. The New Evangelization doesn’t mean getting Catholics to feel good about hanging crucifixes on their walls, it means tearing down walls, taking up our crosses and following Jesus, even to death.