What My Little Ponies Can Teach Us About the New Evangelization

The third season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just made it on to Netflix. My 5-year old daughter loves the show and roped me into watching the opening two-part episode with her. (Admittedly she didn’t have to press hard; the show is actually pretty good and includes plenty of funny Easter eggs for adults.)

The first part of the episode features the return of a long-lost kingdom of crystal ponies. Twilight Sparkle (the main character, pictured above) and her friends are sent to investigate and find that all the ponies in the kingdom are suffering from a form of selective amnesia. Research in the library reveals that their spirits can be lifted (and the kingdom protected from the evil King Sombra) by holding the annual Crystal Fair. Twilight and friends then sing a song about saving the ponies by re-introducing them to their history:

It occurred to me that this is a useful metaphor for understanding the work of the New Evangelization.

Our post-modern culture has forgotten it’s roots and cut itself off from any interest in or embrace of the past, especially anything smacking of the supernatural or spiritual. The radical relativism that pervades the culture has replaced truth and beauty with a tepid “truthiness” and utilitarianism; Christianity has been replaced with a therapeutic moral deism that is more concerned with its own feelings and desires than a spirituality rooted in an objective reality. (Science fiction author John C. Wright, in a recent blog post, identifies the First World War as the major precipitating factor of this cultural amnesia, which seems about right to me.)

The work of the New Evangelization, then, is to re-introduce (or, to use Pope Benedict’s language, re-propose) Jesus Christ and Christianity to a culture that has largely forgotten him and his message.

It is important to note that this re-introduction has a strong historical character. The Judeo-Christian tradition (including Islam), unlike Hiduism, Buddhism, or tribal religions, is deeply rooted in historical events, places, and figures. This is why St. Luke situates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in this way:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. (Luke 3:1-2)

This is a far cry from “once upon a time!” Luke locates the call of John the Baptist in a very specific time and place. He is not discussing some abstraction outside of time such as the Greek gods or Native American creation stories, but real people who have left a historical record outside of Sacred Scripture. History, then, is a vital component of our understanding of the faith. Knowing how the story of the Church has unfolded over time — how faith in Jesus Christ was expressed in a variety of places and historical epochs — can be a source of great strength and consolation.

Of course, simply talking about it won’t do much good. Twilight Sparkle and her friends didn’t just lecture the crystal ponies about what they discovered in books; they actually held the Crystal Fair! Likewise, we must help people to make connections with history by inviting them to participate in the life of the Church. This may mean helping people to participate in devotions that were meaningful to them when they were young; it may mean introducing them to new practices. Regardless we must help them reignite the spark of faith in their lives. It is participating in the life of faith — especially in the Eucharist — that connects us to the great cloud of witnesses and raises our spirits to God.

If part of the problem of modern culture is a fundamental ignorance of and disdain for our history — grounded, as it is, in a Christian cultural context — then talking about and immersing ourselves in that history must be a part of the New Evangelization. We can, in fact, save the world with our history.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Photo Credit: Nuwandalice via Compfight cc

Goodbye, Papa Benedict

BenedictXVI-OliverBonjoch-WikiCommonsIt’s hard to put into words just what Pope Benedict XVI has meant for me, particularly as a catechetical leader. More than anyone else Benedict has pushed for an understanding of faith that is rooted, above all else, in the person of Jesus Christ. In all of his teaching his constantly points to Jesus and invites us to enter into a deeper relationship with him.

I believe Benedict will be remembered as the pope that energized and put into practice the New Evangelization, for at its heart the New Evangelization is about the person of Christ. I was especially heartened at his decision to place the ministry of catechesis under the auspices of the new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. This piece of administrative business may seem uneventful, but it has important implications for how we are to understand the work of catechesis.

In aligning the work of education and faith formation with the call to a New Evangelization the Holy Father reminds us that catechesis can only be effective and faith only take root once we have proclaimed Christ‘s life, death and resurrection to those in our care. Catholic schools and parish religious education programs are a particularly important way in which faith is transmitted – not as an academic subject to be studied and quizzed on, but as a living experience of the love of God through prayer, service, and the Eucharist.

As we continue to journey through the Year of Faith, we would do well to keep before us Pope Benedict’s the call to evangelize our students as well as catechize and educate them. We must proclaim Christ‘s love and witness to its power in our lives if we hope to make disciples of our students. Or, as Pope Benedict stated:

It is a particular responsibility of the whole Church to keep the message of Christ ever fresh and effective, also through clear teaching which must nourish faith in the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God who for our sake became man, died and rose again for our salvation. She must do so tirelessly by appropriate ways and means, so that all those who accept the Gospel message and believe, may be born to new life through baptism.

“The New Evangelization and the Year of Faith” Notes and Resources

Earlier today I gave a presentation entitled “The New Evangelization and the Year of Faith” at the National Catholic Education Association’s CACE annual meeting in San Diego. What follows is the PowerPoint and notes for the session as well as the resources I recommended to those present.

Thanks to everyone who attended my session and may God bless you in the work of the New Evangelization!

Notes –  “The New Evangelization and the Year of Faith” (October 22, 2012)

Outline/Notes (PDF)

Church Documents