The Urgency of the New Evangelization: An Interview with Dr. Ralph Martin
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing my good friend, Dr. Ralph Martin. Ralph has been a leader in Catholic renewal movements for many years. He’s the president of Renewal Ministries and host of “The Choices We Face”, the longest running television show on EWTN. He’s also an associate professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Ralph has authored several books including at least three on the New Evangelization. His important 2012 book, Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Eerdmans) made waves upon its release and continues to generate discussion. His most recent book, titled The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call, was just published by Our Sunday Visitor.
Ralph has a well-earned reputation as an expert in the New Evangelization. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made him a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and also appointed him as a “peritus” (i.e. expert) to the Synod on the New Evangelization in October 2012.
In our interview today we explore the New Evangelization, its many barriers, and what Ralph saw and heard at the Synod.
BRANDON: We often hear about the urgency of the New Evangelization, but many people are left with a basic question: what is the New Evangelization?
Dr. RALPH MARTIN: The New Evangelization is a new emphasis on the Church’s ongoing mission of evangelization. The message isn’t different since Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but there are some new dimensions.
The first thing that’s new about it is that it’s no longer just directed towards traditional mission territories where people have perhaps never heard the gospel before. It is now directed towards the growing numbers of baptized Catholics who aren’t living as disciples of Christ. While “non-practicing” and “fallen away” Catholics have always been a part of the landscape, their numbers have grown dramatically to the point where traditionally-Catholic and Christian parts of the world can now accurately be described as “post Christian.” The fact that evangelization now has to occur in a post-Christian culture is another aspect that is new.
Another thing that’s new about the New Evangelization is who is expected to do it: every Catholic who is living their faith. While traditional mission work was primarily carried out by priests and nuns, primarily from religious orders, Vatican II recovered the meaning of baptism and its implications for lay holiness and mission, and clearly teaches that all of us by virtue of baptism are called to participate in the ongoing mission of Christ “to seek and to save those who are lost.” All the post-conciliar documents on evangelization also emphasize the importance of each baptized Catholic embracing our mission. Pope Francis, of course, has dramatically underlined this for us today by asking “What are we waiting for?” and outlining all the simple opportunities we have to “preach the gospel” in the multiple encounters and environments of lay life.
Finally, John Paul II never tired of saying that the New Evangelization also needed to be new in “ardor, method, and expression,” emphasizing the key role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring both courage and creativity in sharing the good news.
BRANDON: What are the biggest barriers preventing Catholics from evangelizing and how can we overcome them?
Dr. RALPH MARTIN: Ignorance of the faith and the fear of sharing it are certainly common obstacles, but solutions to these obstacles are rather obvious and near at hand.
I think, though, that there is an underlying doctrinal confusion that, unless directly addressed, will make the response to the New Evangelization lukewarm at best. Many of our fellow Catholics have drifted into an unexamined presumption that perhaps only a few very evil people will be lost and since God is so merciful, virtually everyone will be saved. This unexamined presumption therefore makes of the duty to evangelize not a matter of life or death, heaven or hell, but a matter of “enriching” someone’s life, something like an “optional” enrichment course. This presumption often springs from an alleged development of doctrine at Vatican II. I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to showing the fallacy of this since I believe that a lukewarm response to the call to the New Evangelization will actually endanger the salvation of souls. While Vatican II clearly teaches that under certain conditions it is possible for those who haven’t heard the gospel, through no fault of their own, to be saved, it also clearly teaches that no one lives in a neutral environment and the powerful spiritual realities of the world, the flesh and the devil, make it likely that “very often” these conditions aren’t met. Therefore the gospel must urgently be preached for the sake of peoples’ salvation. (cf. Lumen Gentium 16 and my book Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization).
I was happy to see that Proposition #6 from the Synod on the New Evangelization didn’t omit these crucial last three sentences of Lumen Gentium 16 as most treatments of this question do. And concerning the salvation of baptized Catholics who aren’t living their faith the Council is even more startlingly direct, teaching in Lumen Gentium 14 that indifferent, baptized Catholics will not only not be saved but will be the more severely judged, listing in a footnote some of the numerous sayings of Jesus that underline this truth.
While God’s mercy is great, so is his holiness, his truthfulness, and his justice, and that great messenger of God’s mercy, St. Faustina, makes this very clear. In her Diary, where she recounts what Jesus and Mary have communicated to her, she faithfully transmits a message that is in total harmony with the scriptures, that while the mercy of God is great, that mercy doesn’t force its way into peoples’ lives, but “knocks on the door,” so to speak. St. Faustina makes very clear that there needs to be a response to mercy – repentance, confession of sin, faith – in order for mercy to be effective in reconciling sinners to God and gaining for them eternal life. In my new book, The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call, I devote a whole chapter to the question of God’s mercy and quote rather fully the amazing revelations St. Faustina received from Jesus about the reality of hell and the urgent need for there to be a response to mercy – an urgent need to call unbelievers, fallen away Catholics, and those not practicing their faith to conversion, for the sake of their salvation.
In the post-conciliar church we have tended to want to just present the positive message of God’s love and mercy and leave out some very important additional information! I believe we need to not only tell people about God’s love and mercy but also tell them what Jesus and the apostles said about the kind of response which is necessary for this mercy and love to be effective in a person’s life, namely faith and repentance. In addition we need to tell them about the consequences of responding or failing to respond to the offer of mercy, namely, heaven or hell. We need to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles and not think we can be more effective by leaving out essential elements of the message. All of the message, the offer of mercy, the need to make a personal response to that mercy, and the consequences of responding or failing to respond to mercy, are revealed to us by the mercy of God.
BRANDON: In your new book, The Urgency of the New Evangelization, you claim the New Evangelization requires a new Pentecost. What does this mean?
Dr. RALPH MARTIN: I do have a chapter on the need for a new Pentecost in order for the New Evangelization to be launched but as people will see there is an absolutely consistent and passionate call for a new Pentecost from Blessed John XXII through every subsequent Pope including now Pope Francis’ impassioned teaching on the need for the Holy Spirit in his recent Apostolic Exhortation. The clarity and consistency of this call has not really been noted and I think people who read the chapter will be quite amazed and inspired.
In the chapter, I also analyze the factors that prepared the way for the first Pentecost, which launched the first evangelization. I explain how these factors are actually reproducible and relevant for today. The condition of the disciples before the first Pentecost is not unlike many very dedicated Catholics today. Those first disciples had the best teaching anyone ever had, had the best bible study, had the best personal spiritual direction, the best supervision in evangelization. But something was missing, an encounter with the Holy Spirit that enabled all these elements to come together, in a passionate knowledge, experience, and love of Jesus and his message. That gave them the courage and zeal to go to the ends of the earth with the message and suffer martyrdom. We certainly need that same encounter today – martyrdom is coming, martyrdom is here – in order to give us that “power from on high” without which bold evangelization and witness is not possible. In the chapter I explain how we can dispose ourselves for such an encounter and identify resources that can help us.
BRANDON: Before he retired, Pope Benedict XVI appointed you as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. You also participated in the Vatican’s Synod on the New Evangelization (October 2012). What did you see and hear at the Synod, and what do you think its impact will be?
Dr. RALPH MARTIN: I think the main impact of the Synod was that Bishops and Cardinals from all over the world – even in the so called “young churches” where the faith seems to be growing – agreed without argument that the New Evangelization was urgently needed everywhere there were Catholics. In the developed countries the statistics are absolutely shocking at what can only be described as a great apostasy; in the growing churches of Africa, bishop after bishop testified that the faith has grown a lot. But there is still a great need for true and deep conversion that affects every dimension of a Catholic’s life. Pressure from Islam was also noted as a significant problem.
At the same time I can’t say that by the end of the Synod that a very clear understanding of the New Evangelization had emerged, so various were the final propositions. I hope my new book can be a contribution, among many others, to that. At the Synod, I had a chance to assist various bishops and Cardinals in drafting propositions. I also had the privilege of working closely with Cardinal Wuerl, who was overall responsible for leading the Synod to its final conclusions. Two things in particular that Cardinal Wuerl said at the Synod continue to stay with me. First of all, he identified the problem in vivid language: “A tsunami of secularism is sweeping over the world.” Secondly, he identified the most important element of the solution: “We need to recover our confidence in the truth of our faith.” I agree!
BRANDON: If you had thirty seconds to share the Gospel with an unbeliever, what would you say?
Dr. RALPH MARTIN: When people die two very different kinds of things happen. For some, death is truly an entryway into a higher form of life where we share in immortality and experience resurrection and infinite love and joy. For others death confirms an alienation and separation from God rooted in unbelief and unconfessed sin. The doorway to the glory of heaven passes through God’s gift to suffering humanity – Jesus. The doorway to eternal isolation is clinging to the illusion of an autonomy that proudly refuses to surrender to the offer of love. Time is short and only one decision is significant. The decision to humble ourselves and accept the love with which we are loved in Jesus, or the decision to reject that love. Let’s talk.
For more, check out Dr. Ralph Martin’s new book titled The Urgency of the New Evangelization (Our Sunday Visitor). And be sure to follow Ralph through his website, RenewalMinistries.net.