Brandon Vogt

Has the New Evangelization become a lazy lake?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been excitedly following the Synod on the New Evangelization, but I’ve been a little disappointed. Much of my concern surrounds the Synod’s latest focus, Islam, which was sparked by Cardinal Peter Turkson’s macabre YouTube video.

I agree that Islam is important and deserves attention. No doubt it presents many unique challenges for the Church’s missionary and pastoral work. But it does not deserve central concern at this Synod. At best, it’s a peripheral element of the New Evangelization as understood by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.

This is just one example of how the Synodal fathers have so far missed this movement’s core. As I read through the many speeches and interventions, I’m left asking, where is Paul VI’s emphasis on social communications? Where are the “new methods and new expressions” that John Paul called for? Where are the creative ways of re-proposing the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel as promoted by Benedict XVI?

I’ve not seen a single mention of new media, and there have been few practical suggestions on how the Church, particularly laypeople, can re-engage those Catholics who were baptized, imperfectly catechized, but never evangelized.

The New Evangelization is a specific movement with a definite end. It’s not a trendy label we can slap on anything “modern” or “new” or “generally spiritually beneficial.” And from what I’ve seen and read, the Synod has stretched its boundaries too far. The wide-ranging interventions read like a litany of pet issues from each bishop, regardless of how little they tie into the New Evangelization.

The problem is that by removing its limits, the New Evangelization morphs from a forceful current into a lazy lake. By including everything, I fear the movement is losing its linear drive. After all, if it concerns everything, it’s really about nothing.

I do have faith its core purpose will be re-discovered, and that the movement will regain its energy. Cardinal Wuerl, the relator-general of the Synod, has a wonderful grasp of the New Evangelization and I’m sure his final report will properly reorient the discussion.

But let’s hope the New Evangelization does not become a lazy lake. It must tighten its focus, become once more a raging, pointed current, because only then can it flood the world with fresh expressions of the Gospel.
(HT: Fr. Robert Barron for the phrase “lazy lake.”)

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  • JenB

    Heh-we can’t even agree on what the most important thing to focus on is. New Media? Social work? Maybe it’s the lack of vocations or well formed priests or which saint is best or what bible study works best…

    Maybe we just have to have the principles and work hard to discern how it’s played out ourselves. After all, isn’t that the office the laity?

  • Gabriel Lindor

    I think it’s a little soon to start fearing the Synod has become a “lazy lake.” It’s not up to the Synod Fathers to guve you the list of tools and strategies you’re looking for…if they were to try to do that for every diocese, religious community and parish, it would be a mess! Remember, it’s what happens AFTER the Synod that counts. As in every Church-wide movement of the Spirit, the leaders discern the great prophetic Word, and ask the Lord what subjects He wants to deal with. At the end, they will share this Word with us, and our local leadership (bishops, superiors, etc.) will use the Synod to discern for you the tools you need to be an effective evangelist for your specific mission field.

    This is why St. Paul wrote different letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, Collosians, etc.

    Let’s be patient with our bishops, and pray hard for them! Let’s also pray for ourselves, to be ready to listen with open hearts to what they share with us in their proclamation following the Synod!

  • Boniface

    Sorry…shouldn’t have called social media “nonsense”, but I think it is overrated. There is a huge crisis in Catholic Missions – namely, missionaries turned into social workers and neglected to preach the faith at all for fear of offending other religious traditions. This is the biggest problem. Catholics will figure out how to use social media on their own. I’d much rather see the Synod talk about the bigger issues.

  • Justin

    …useful to reflect upon, as it seems, in my opinion, most people are very quick to praise ‘New Media’, when at the same time it causes just as much distraction and detachment from a truly lived community of real faces and real books. I am under the yoke of technology as anyone else who lives in America, and I find myself staring into screens more often than I should. This is a challenge more so to myself than to fellow readers here; I just wanted to pass this along for another viewpoint.

  • Boniface

    I beg to disagree…talking about the importance of converting Muslims is of paramount importance to evangelization, since in the past thirty years the topic of trying to convert Muslims has been somewhat taboo in the hierarchy. This is the most important thing they could be talking about; perhaps the only more important thing would be discussing the conversion of Jews, which is equally as taboo.

    If they weren’t talking about this, I would be disappointed. I would be upset if all they talked about was social media and that sort of nonsense.

    • Brandon Vogt

      Boniface, your last dismissive sentence hardly deserves a response. But I encourage you to read any of Pope Benedict’s World Communications Day Messages to discern whether social media tools are “nonsense.” Contrary to you, he calls them ”

      Regarding Muslims, I never said evangelizing them is not important. It’s supremely important. But it’s a separate task from the New Evangelization. Over the last thirty years, Church leaders have carefully delineated between the New Evangelization, which is helping baptized-but-not-evangelized Catholics re-encounter Christ, and the mission ad gentes which includes outreach to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and more.

      The two are distinct and require very different methods and expressions. The whole point of my post is that when we lump both together–along with other efforts not even explicitly tied to evangelization–we dampen our ability to serve either one effectively. You end up with general platitudes, one-sized-fits-all approaches, and a lack of specific, contextualized strategies.

      • Tomas Diaz


        While I do believe Boniface’s last line is too dismissive, we must take care in overemphasizing the use of social media. Social Media, for it to be good, must be used well. This tends to be the emphasis on the World Communications Day Message.

        These tools offer a great ability for sharing information and even, as we are doing now, discussing various issues, but they also carry with them a natural changing of the message. Most communication theorists will discuss how words are only 10% of a message. Social Media, with its emphasis on words, tends to limit its message. Thus Fr. Barron’s great influence comes about from doing videos, adding more to the message, though even this can warp the message, not necessarily negatively but limiting it from its full potential. Check out Neil Postman’s Technopoly or Amusing Ourselves to Death for more on this (more users of social media need to be aware of, and make their audience aware of, the natural limitations of these tools, limitations which can often only be overcome by limiting the tool itself).

        Further, I would like some further discussion made on this split between the New Evangelization and the “mission ad gentes.” I don’t think their distinction is as strong as you make it out to be. They are powerfully intertwined. The “mission ad gentes” can only be effective if one has a lively Christian culture, the problem Archbishop Joseph Abni brought out in regard to the Muslim question. At the same time, a Christian culture will not sustain life unless it is found in spreading and pushing itself into the world, unless it feeds into the “mission ad gentes.”

        Among the greatest stumbling blocks with the New Evangelization is that it is presented without anything to oppose save some amorphous “non-Catechized, non-Evangelized Catholicism.” There is little sense of movement against the problems of the modern world outside certain politicized issued (abortion and homosexual unions). Protestant denominations and the other Abrahamic faiths are presented as almost coreligionists, with other religions fellow travelers towards truth. We do not have a sense of becoming “a light to the nations” and so it is hard for us realize that “the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession.”

        We shouldn’t make terribly distinct the “mission ad gentes” from the New Evangelization. Fragmenting our missions will do nothing but tribalize the Church further and move each toward failure. I’d be interested in any magisterial documentation to the contrary.

        • Brandon Vogt

          Tomas, sorry for the late reply! Your great comment slipped through the cracks. I agree that we shouldn’t totally split these two missions–the “mission ad gentes” and the new evangelization–but they are distinct. And a Synod on the latter should not make the former its primary focus.

          For magisterial documentation noting the clear distinction, check out Pope John Paul’s “Redemptoris Missio”, particularly sections 3, 30, and 37. The Pope says:

          “[I]t is also true that missionary activity ad gentes, being different from the pastoral care of the faithful and the new evangelization of the non-practicing, is exercised within well-defined territories and groups of people.” (37)

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