I am gathered with over 200 brother priests from the Archdiocese for a convocation on the New Evangelization. And we are blessed to have Dr. Ralph Martin as our Keynote speaker.
Of course some wonder at the title “new” in the New Evangelization. On the one hand it is new in the sense that we are having now to reach back to once Christian cultures and people and repropose the gospel. The is a “new” (and unfortunate) development that is in a way harder than opening new “virginal” territory for the Kingdom. The ancient Western world was as a virgin awaiting her husband. But the modern West is more an angry divorcee. And this requires new approaches rooted in healing past hurts and overcoming a kind of spiritual boredom and sloth that has overtaken the modern West.
There are also many new modes of communication that make evangelization new in the sense that we must retool, and enter whole new realms of instant and global settings. But one of the most central aspects of evangelization that must be newly emphasized (as it was in the early Church) is to become a personal and firsthand witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be able to say how I met him, and what he’s doing in my life.
Doctrine and Scripture are essential and help us to verify whether our experiences of God, are in conformity with the truth of who God is as he has revealed himself. But one of the dangers is that we become content to quote the doctrine, to quote Scripture, but not really come to know the One, who reveals them. We run the risk of becoming content to know about the Lord, rather than to know the Lord, personally and intimately.
And thus, there comes a time, and the moment for us to ask the critical questions, Do I know the Lord? Or do I just know about him. Have I met him? How? When? And what is my relationship with him doing in my life?
Sadly, we Catholics are collectively terrible at reflecting on and learning to give witness to the Lord in our life. Frankly, many of us were never taught to give personal testimony, and even worse many have never been taught even to expect a personal encounter with the Lord.
This needs to change, especially in a culture such as ours, where the argument from authority no longer holds much sway. If it was ever true that we could hand on the faith without personal testimony, it certainly is not true today. People rightfully and reasonably expect an authenticity wherein our proclaimed faith, matches with our life, both as publicly lived an experienced.
We may get to a moment with someone where we are able to announce that Jesus Christ can save them from sin and set them free from all bondage. And then comes the question from them, “That sounds like good news, but how do I know it’s true?” And here is where you have to be able to say, “Look at me.” and begin to describe how it is in fact true in your life, that since meeting the Lord, you are seeing sins put to death, and many graces come alive.
Yes, we have to be able to tell our story, to say, briefly, how we met the Lord, and what our relationship with him is doing to change our life.
Critical though it is, all the apologetics in the world, may founder if we cannot authentically and authoritatively answer the question “How do I know it’s true?” by saying, authentically,
“Look at me. ” In other words to be able to say, “This word, this teaching, is true, because in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it, and found it to be true, and here’s how. And Jesus is real, because I have met him and here’s when, and here is how. And here is how I’m experiencing him today in my life. Yes, when I pray, I am heard. The Lord speaks in the depths of my heart, sometimes in wordless contemplation, at other times vividly through his proclaimed word, and in my mind, and in the experiences and interactions of my day. I see him, I know him, and I experience his presence, and this is changing my life.”
- Can you authentically speak like this?
- Have you met the Lord,?
- How, when?
- Do you know him?
- And how is your relationship with him changing your life?
- What has your walk with him done?
- Have you encountered him in his word, and in the sacraments celebrated?
- How, when, and what has this liturgical experience of the Lord done for you?
- How is it changing you?
These are essential questions and truths to ponder to be able to answer briefly and articulately if we are going to personally evangelize others today.
Ask the Holy Spirit to anoint you to know the answers to these sorts of questions, and to be able to access the memories of how the Lord is living, working and relating with you in your life. Ask God the Holy Spirit to help you form a testimony, so as to become a first-hand witness to the power of the Lord in your life!
It is increasingly clear to me, that God’s people expect me as priest pastor, preacher, an evangelist not just to know the facts, but to know the Lord. Our people, whether they know it or not, are desperate to hear from us that we who announce the truth, know in a very personal and deep way He who is the Truth. The people of God, need first-hand witnesses, witnesses who know the Lord, and know by experience the truth of his Word. Our preaching cannot simply be technical and a mechanistic it must be personal and proclaimed by someone who knows what and of Whom he speaks.
And if this is true of priest, it is also true parents who must become more comfortable with giving true witness to their children of the faith, of the personal relationship and walk with the Lord, and of the power of God’s Word and Sacraments to change their lives.
Both priests and parents need to learn what it means to preach and teach with authority. The Greek word for authority is “exousia” which means to literally to speak out of one’s own substance and experience. This is is what made Jesus such an authoritative preacher: he Knew the Father and spoke out of his own substance and experience. And we too, empowered by him must experience his power, love, life, joy and truth and speak out that experience and relationship. Nothing less will be very effective today Dr. Ralph Martin, in his new book The Urgency of the New Evangelizationon, a book which I want to review more thoroughly next week, has the following insight
Now at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit at the beginning of every class I have one of the students give his testimony. …. I ask seminarians and priests not to tell how they discerning a calling to the priesthood, but how they came to discover the reality of God in their lives. This is a struggle for some, but eventually almost everyone reaches the point where they can briefly give an account of how God became real in their lives in such a way that unbelievers could relate to it.
Thus, what is new about the new Evangelization is essentially very old, very apostolic. It is to give personal witness and testimony to the revealed faith based on what we have seen, heard and are experiencing. St. Paul couldn’t look it up and quote it, he had to experience it and write it. And while we are not evangelists like the apostles, we are called to speak to the truth of the faith they revealed out of our own substance, life and experience.