After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What?

This morning the Supreme Court ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the state must recognize marriages between persons of the same sex.

When someone told me the news they were surprised at my rather blasé response and questioned why I wasn’t angry or bitter.

The truth is that anyone surprised by this ruling is completely out of touch with the prevailing cultural and intellectual currents in American society. The triumph of the personal will over any other competing interests has been a fait accompli for some time. It is the basis for the rampant materialism and shallow spirituality manifested in everything from the collapse of the real estate market to the popularity of Oprah Winfrey.

Indeed, I find it impossible to be mad at the justices who ruled in favor of redefining marriage in the same way I can’t be mad at a fish for refusing to leap from the sea and take flight. They did not possess the means of arriving at a correct decision and it would be unjust to expect their ruling to conform to the natural law and God’s revelation when their underlying assumptions and premises are rooted in neither.

If I’m going to be angry with anyone it is with a Church that for too long allowed the ambient culture to shoulder the burden of forming its members. We were all too happy to outsource the work of building up culture and people when the culture agreed with us. Now that the culture has turned against us we are reaping the rewards of that transaction.

What we have discovered it that, for too long, the Church allowed its evangelization muscles to go unexercised, seemingly content that, even if the culture wasn’t forming disciples of Jesus Christ, it at least passed on a cultural Christianity that kept butts in our pews.

Now, for those of us involved in catechesis and evangelization, our task is to shake off the dust and begin to exercise those muscles again — to take up the call to “make disciples of all nations” without relying on the culture surrounding us. This will be a long, arduous process — think of it as physical therapy for the Church. It may require something approaching Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. But we will need to start with baby steps and small, seemingly insignificant victories that won’t make a dent in the culture but will help us make the slow, incremental progress needed to return to true health. Our losses against the culture will grow worse before they get better. I don’t expect to see the tide turn in my lifetime.

One sign of hope, however, are the wonderful men and women helping the Church to begin exercising these muscles — people like Fr. Robert BarronSherry Weddell, Tom Quinlan, Elizabeth Scalia, and Greg Willits (to say nothing of the statements of recent popes). The work has already begun — and thank God for the prophetic call of those who saw the need to begin working our evangelization muscles before now!

But the road ahead is long and narrow. Through prayer, kerygmatic formation, and a careful reading of the signs around us we can rebuild what we have lost. The gift we make to future generations will be in our commitment to pass on to them the tools of evangelization that we ourselves did not inherit.

O God, who in the power of the Holy Spirit
have sent your Word to announce good news to the poor,
grant that, with eyes fixed upon him,
we may ever live in sincere charity,
made heralds and witnesses of his Gospel in all the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

(from the Mass for the New Evangelization)

The “Circles” of the New Evangelization

The phrase “New Evangelization” is frequently thrown around today to describe a variety of programs, teachings, initiatives, and projects – so much so that sometimes we forget that the New Evangelization is at its core, in the words of Donald Cardinal Wuerl, “a mode of thinking, seeing and acting… a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew.”

To help combat the “programmatization” of the New Evangelization it may be helpful to think in terms of a series of concentric circles, each with its own needs and requiring its own approach:

circles

At the center of the circle is Jesus Christ, the ultimate end of the New Evangelization. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), “Being 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.” That person is Jesus. The goal of evangelization and catechesis is to help individuals to know him – not just in an intellectual way, but through our lived experience in relationship to him.

The next circle from the middle consists of intentional disciples – those who have oriented their lives towards Jesus Christ and follow him in a way radically at odds with the ways of the world. It is important to note that intentional discipleship is more than just showing up for Sunday Mass. True discipleship flows into all aspects of our lives. Those who have reached this circle seek to emulate Jesus in all things.

The next circle out is seekers. These individuals are looking for more – and may be involved and present in our parishes – but they have yet to fully turn over their lives to Jesus. They are pursuing, to various degrees, a spiritual life and may well be on their way to true discipleship.

The “marginals” are those family members and friends that we may see at Christmas, Easter, or funerals, but who do not participate in the faith regularly. Many of them still have a personal prayer life and would bristle at being called “inactive” or “non-practicing.” However their religious activities do not include the wider Christian community, even if they continue to identify as Catholic.

Moving outwards we next encounter the “nones,” a rapidly growing group that identifies with no religious tradition. (They get their name because they mark “none” when asked about their preferred faith tradition on surveys.) Members of this group may or may not be hostile to religious faith, but they have no interest in organized religion, finding it to be irrelevant to their needs.

Finally, in the circle furthest from the center, is the culture. The Church’s teaching on the New Evangelization is clear that, in addition to reaching out to individuals in their communities, Christians are also called to evangelize the cultures in which they find themselves. This is accomplished through various outreach and service programs including Catholic schools and hospitals, and initiatives of the bishops such as Catholic Relief Services and advocacy for more just laws in the secular sphere.

The goal of the New Evangelization is to help people to come to know Jesus Christ – in effect, to help people to move from the outer circles to the center where we find, ultimately, union with Christ. What this looks like will depend on which “circle” we are dealing with. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet the varied attitudes, experiences, and needs we will encounter in the people we meet. It is the work of our dioceses, parishes, and families to ensure that all people hear the Gospel and are invited to take that first step – no matter how small – towards Christ.

This post was originally written for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute.

Gigs, Geeks and God

Today I am giving the keynote address at the Archdicoese of Milwaukee’s Gigs, Geeks and God conference. The topic of my keynote — “The New Evangelization in a Digital Culture” — explores how the Church can adapt to the emerging internet culture and rethink parish life in light of it.

A video of the presentation will be added here early next week.

Slides

Notes

The notes for this talk are available in PDF format.

Recommended Resources

The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

“New Clues” for 2015 by Doc Searls and David Weinberger

The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet edited by Brandon Vogt

Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet by Sherry Turkel

Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis

Notes – Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization

Today I’m at the National Catholic Educational Association’s Convention and Expo in Pittsburgh giving a presentation entitled “Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization.” Below are my notes and materials from the presentation as well as links to additional resources. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter where I’ll be posting notes, thoughts, and pictures from the conference!

Presentation

Notes

Resources

Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roots of the New Evangelization

Second Vatican Council

Our diocesan Office for Worship and the Catechumenate has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium with a brown bag lunch series on different aspects of the document. (We’re using this video resource from Liturgy Training Publications as the basis of our reflection, aided by some wonderful handouts produced by Eliot Kapitan, the director of the sponsoring office.)

The first session began with this brief video clip:

In the course of our discussions I realized something that hadn’t occurred to me before: the roots of the New Evangelization can be found in the four aims of the council as laid out in the opening of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy. (no. 1)

If we break this paragraph down, we see that the council is concerned for

  1. reinvigorating the life of the faithful;
  2. renewing of the structures of the Church;
  3. drawing all Christians to greater unity;
  4. and calling all people into Christ’s Church.

This maps very nicely to the Church’s understanding of the New Evangelization — that it is firstly a self-renewal of all Christians, called to ongoing conversion, who strengthened by their faith in Jesus Christ then turn and invite others to rediscover and share that faith. That the council should echo what we now call the New Evangelization should not be so surprising, since the New Evangelization is itself a restating of the Chruch’s primary mission: to make disciples of all nations.

These themes are echoed throughout the council documents in various ways. As we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the council we would do well to reflect again on the great challenge presented to us by the council fathers to renew our Christian walk and make Christ known to the world.

Postlude: After I mentioned this insight on Twitter, Timothy O’Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy wrote me to mention that he has a book coming out on just this topic. I’ve put it on my wish list and will be sure to review it once I’ve read it!

Video: Understanding the Necessity of the Three “News” of New Evangelization

On October 19 I had the privilege of moderating the weekly #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. Our conversation centered on the New Evangelization.

The very first question I asked was how people understand the phrase “New Evangelization.” The responses prompted me to make this three-minute video about Bl. Pope John Paul II’s three “news” of the New Evangelization:

Book Review: Mentors for the New Evangelization

mentorsThis past summer at the St. John Bosco Conference I picked up a copy of Sr. M. Johanna Paruch’s new book, Mentors for the New Evangelization: Catechetical Saints of North America (Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University, 2013). I’m glad I did — the books is a treasure trove of inspiring stories from the saints of North America who evangelized and catechized the continent.

The book focuses both on familiar names (St. Juan Diego, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Ven. Fr. Michael McGiveny) and lesser-known saints (St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, Bl. Marie of the Incarnation).

Each chapter focuses on one or two saints and includes a biographical sketch, a reflection based on the life of the saints, questions for further reflection, and a prayer. The biographies are straight-forward if leaning towards hagiography. The reflections and prayers would be ideal for use in a small group setting or retreat for catechists; I can imagine a catechetical leader presenting information on each saint and then leading a period of reflection based on the material.

Mentors for the New Evangelization is an ideal resource for those who wish to know more about the history and persons behind catechesis in North America. It would make a great addition to any catechetical library.

#CatholicEdChat: Or How I Spent my Saturday Morning

appleThis past Saturday I had the pleasure of moderating the weekly #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. I was joined by Catholic educators from around the country for a one-hour real-time discussion on Catholic schools and the New Evangelization.

We had a great conversation; Nancy Caramanico was good enough to compile an archive of the event and list some of the resources recommended during the chat.

Thanks to Nancy for the invitation and to everyone who joined us! #CatholicEdChat is held every Saturday morning at 8a (CT) on Twitter. Just look for the hashtag!

Free Webinar: Using the Parish Web Site to Power Adult Faith Formation

road-to-emmaus

On April 10 I will be offering a free webinar in conjunction with the Adult Faith Formation committee of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership:

Everyone knows that they “need” a web site for their parish — but what do you do with it once you have one? How can you best use your parish web site to reach out to adults? And what does this have to do with the “New Evangelization?”

This webinar, presented by Jonathan F. Sullivan, will assist parish catechetical leaders in strengthening their web site and other online platforms as an “engine” for adult faith formation. It will demonstrate the necessity of a modern, user-friendly web site and specific strategies for creating and maintaining a strong adult faith formation presence on a parish web site.

I hope you will join us for this webinar!