Brandon Vogt

The most important key to the New Evangelization

Yesterday morning, Cardinal Donald Wuerl opened the Synod on the New Evangelization with a 6,500-word introductory address. In it, he outlined the Synod’s four main goals:

1. Reaffirm the essential nature of evangelization
2. Note the theological foundations of the New Evangelization
3. Encourage the many current manifestations of the New Evangelization
4. Suggest practical ways in which the New Evangelization can be encouraged, structured and implemented.

However, I’d like to focus on Cardinal Wuerl’s clear definition of the movement:

“At its heart, the New Evangelization is the re-proposing of the encounter with the Risen Lord, his Gospel, and his Church to those who no longer find the Church’s message engaging.”

To me, this definition confirms a theory I’ve long held: the most important key to the New Evangelization is “re.” That prefix sums up the movement, and also shows how it differs from the past.

Older evangelistic periods centered on the initial proclamation of the Gospel to people that who never heard it before—the kerygma. But the New Evangelization is all about re-telling the Catholic story to a world that has largely forgotten it. It’s about re-minding, re-introducing, re-invigorating,  and ultimately re-viving some latent faith buried within.

That’s why Pope Benedict’s motu proprio for the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, contained no less than six instances of that “re-” prefix. The Pope described the New Evangelization as the need to “re-propose the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel.”

Throughout Cardinal Wuerl’s opening message, he came back to that prefix again and again:

“There are numerous people, particularly in the western world, who have already heard of Jesus. Our challenge is to stir up again and re-kindle in the midst of their daily life and concrete situation, a new awareness and familiarity with Jesus.”

“As has already been noted, New Evangelization is the re-introduction, the re-proposing, of Christ.”

What all this means is that modern evangelization is about recovery more than discovery. It’s built on an appeal to nostalgia, instinct, and intuitive knowledge as much as objective reason.

It centers on reminding fallen-away Catholics of what they know deep in their bones: that life has purpose, meaning, direction, and hope; that God loves you; that the Church is on your side; that Jesus wants to give you life, and life to the full. Once those truths are re-encountered for the second, third, or thousandth time, then the dead bones will rise back to life.

Then we’ll witness re-surrection.

(Credits: Rocco Palmo and Reuters)

  • Brandon, we must be on the same brain wavelength…or it’s a Holy Spirit thing! I wrote a blog for work on the “re-” idea last week and it was published this morning:

  • Kid Charlemagne

    What about Matt Kelly’s REdiscover Catholicism? He was way ahead of the Synod of Bishops. Lay people like Matt Kelly should be at that conference providing key insights to help Catholic leaders understand the problems. After all, Catholic leaders are the ones responsible for most of the problems

    • Great point! I never made that connection. Through his “Rediscover Catholicism” and Dynamic Catholic Parish Book Program, few have carried out the New Evangelization as effectively as Matthew.

      • Kid Charlemagne

        I agree. Fantastic book.

        One of the most significant problems in igniting new evangelization efforts is that church leaders are too high on their pious pedestals to heed the voices of the laity, identify the leaders among them, and empower and embolden those leaders to give sermons at parishes on Sunday. Priests and deacons are not cutting it. We need bold, English speaking, seasoned leaders and expert communicators to SHOW parishioners what it means to evangelize in a propose-not-impose style that draws people in rather than sends them scampering away with their tails between their legs. Then again , I’d just be happy if we could get priests that spoke clear English. In our mostly white and Asian church our priests’ accents are so thick that 80% of their homilies are unintelligible and leave the majority of parishioners PERPLEXED every Sunday.

        • I agree that we need a revival in homiletics, which is something the bishops have been pushing for a while.

          But the New Evangelization doesn’t rise and fall in the pulpit. It’s ultimately meant to be a lay-driven movement. It needs laypeople like you and and me to preach the Gospel in all areas of life–work, friendships, the Internet, etc.

          The liturgy is only the beginning of evangelization, not it’s primary home.

  • Davedeuce

    I must agree with Lee. I continually find various authors lamenting the disreputable state of affairs within the church which has occured over the last 50 or 60 years. Well, golly! What, prithee, could it be that happned half a century or so ago that caused the need for this RE everything in the church?
    No, I am not going to go on a bad-mouthing rant against Vatican II. It does, however, seem a huge coincidence that all of the things that are considered necessary of REdoing stretch back to the 60’s and 70’s.
    After several decades of trying to come to grips with what, exactly, Vatican II was trying to accomplish and just exactly how it intertwined with what I had been taught
    previously, it occurs to me that to REconnect with the average “person in the pew”, it might be best to ditch the lawyers and REwrite the documents of Vatican II in the vernacular. NOT the vernacular of the lawgivers, but in the vernacular of everyday people.
    I’m not entirely surte that this is something that Cardinals, Bishops or anyone else in the Tower of Ivory can actually accomplish; but, to succeed in reaching the “pew peeps” they really do need to give it the old College of Cardinals try.
    Lex orandi, Lex credendi

  • Dan Crofts

    Awesome! Couldn’t agree more!

    I wonder if perhaps that’s why many evangelists in earlier times may have appeared “harsher” in the way they communicated the faith…not because they were in fact harsh, but because their task was to present the Gospel — in all of its shocking newness, incredibility, and demands — for the first time, without compromise.

    There appears to be, if I may use this phrase, a “lighter tone” in current Catholic writing. Not that anyone is trying to “water down” the faith, but *re*-explaining the teachings of the faith in ways that show that they make sense and, in fact, speak to the deepest longings of the human heart, can by nature afford a slightly more “congenial” mode of communication.

    This is just speculation, but I thought I’d share it to see what people think. God bless!

  • LizEst

    “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34b). We who would re-evangelize must know our faith…but we can’t wait to become experts. We can take the first steps now. “The Christian must not be tepid: this is the greatest danger” (Pope Benedict quoted by Rocco Palmo: In that respect, we must become living witnesses, living schools of the faith we profess and propose. We must re-form our lives again and again after the pattern of Jesus. Our actions must match our words, so that together they leave no doubt that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life…and our everlasting joy.

  • bduncan2184

    Hey Brandon, have you ever read the book titled, “Dedication and Leadership” by the late Douglas Hyde?

    If not, here’s a little backstory:

    Mr. Hyde was a member of the Communist Party for 20 years (since age 17) until finally renouncing his place in the Party by becoming Catholic. The book is a series of seminars that he gave to Church leadership on the methods used by communists to create dedicated and hard-working followers within their movement, and how some of their tactics can be positively “re”-enforced by Catholic activists today.

    I just downloaded it for free from, and I am only a small part of the way through, but after reading the first few pages, I could easily see how these methods could in some way be carried out in conjunction with the message of the New Evangelization.

    An interesting fact that he pointed out was that during the prime years of the Party’s activity (in Great Britain) many of the Party leaders were former Catholics. Why? One reason he says was that many felt the desire to be part of something larger than themselves. They wanted to dedicate their lives to a cause that demanded something BIG. Obviously, to us, a life lived for Christ takes some serious dedication and devotion, but I think what he was trying to demonstrate is that at that time the leadership in the Church was not calling (or rather demanding) a great response from its people.

    I believe – and hope – that this is ultimately what will result from the Synod of Bishops. We can “re”-propose and “re”-package all we want, but if the leadership does not “demand” or “command” greater things from its flock, then in light of Mr. Hyde’s presentation, the message will once again become blurred and Catholics will continue to fall by the wayside.

    Please do not misunderstand my love and fidelity to Church leadership, but I think now, thankfully, we are starting to see the separation of the wheat from the chaff.

    I hope you will consider reading this book, as I have found it very enlightening thus far.

    From one Brandon to another, keep up the great work!



    • Thanks for the excellent comment, Brandon! And great book suggestion. I think the key is to heed one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite lines: “the Church always proposes; never imposes.”

      You can’t simply demand conversion. It’s caught more than commanded.

      That’s why we need to re-capture those latent longings and show how they ultimately point toward Catholicism. In your example, you could take that “desire to be part of something larger than themselves” as a starting point and re-mind them that Catholicism–and the Trinity, in particular–is the true fulfillment of that longing. If you search elsewhere to quench that thirst, your heart will only be left restless as it was for Augustine.

      This “re” movement requires us to 1) spot the latent desire, 2) point it out, and 3) show how the Church fulfills it. That, I think, is the way to evangelize fallen-away Catholics.

      • bduncan2184

        Oh, I certainly agree with JPII’s statement and what you say about conversion, and I guess I failed to clarify on what I meant by “demand”. Probably not the best word choice.

        In other words, after considering, what I was speaking of could have been aimed more toward faithful Catholics, than not. As Mr. Hyde demonstrates in his book, in a population of over 50 million, the communists accounted for a mere 15,000; yet, why were their methods so effective in getting people to join them? Obviously I cannot address those points here, but I think what you, me and every Catholic out there committed to the transmission of truth through the media is only a small portion of what Mr. Hyde is speaking about.

        Also, I think the conversion you are speaking of is the one of the heart, and the one I emphasized was more that of the mind. It is the shortest journey, and yet for many it is the hardest. St. Augustine is indeed the perfect example of this, as he also once said (paraphrasing):

        “To search for God is the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement; to fall in love with Him, the greatest of all romances.”

        I believe your final points are the great recipe, but how we strategically and tactfully carry that out is – by God’s grace – what the bishops are helping us figure out right now.

        Onward and upward, my friend!

© 2019 Brandon Vogt