The Call For a “New Evangelization”

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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored” (Mt 5:13a RSV). This saying of Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount, provides the recurring image for the Oblate Summer School which was held at Wistaston Hall, Crewe, from July 20th to 26th 2012 on the theme of “New Evangelisation” Fr. Eugene KING, former Vicar General, led the participants and wrote this summary of their experience.

The theme echoes a growing concern in the ministry of recent Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that a thrust of new Evangelisation is needed within the Church if it is to accomplish its mission of witnessing to the vigour of the Gospel in the modern world.

The summer school unfolded in two modules, one emphasising the call to new evangelisation, the second the mission of evangelising. Both sessions developed from four sets of questions:

  1.      1. Why all the fuss about new Evangelisation in our time? Has the magic of the Gospel dimmed? Is a spiritual desert growing where once Christian faith flourished?

  2.      2. What is involved in the experience of being evangelised? Oblates in recent General Chapters have been emphatic in the conviction, that to evangelise we must, first of all, be evangelised. Who can be an advocate for salt if one has never known the contrasting tastes of boarding-school porridge, prepared with and without salt?!

  3.      3. What is involved in the experience of evangelising — awakening others to the workings of salt in soil, in food and liquids? Oblates and their partners often appeal to experience and missionary practice — to their 200 hundreds years of existence, that the core of their existence is to be salt for life, salt for food, salt for cure, salt for eternal life among the poor of the world.

  4.      4. What can we do to respond to the call to new Evangelisation? The workshops aimed at re-awakening the taste for the Gospel, at confirming everyone in their giftedness for evangelising — from the ear of the retired listener, the silent hand of the ever alert sacristan, the caring presence of the health worker, the compassionate smile of the pastor. The workshop concluded in a harvesting of ideas about at least one thing participants are already doing or could do to restore the salt of the gospel.

But there was a difficulty. It is the very word “evangelisation”. It is just not used in common Catholic discourse. Who wants to tell their family or friends that during the workshop they became evangelisers! Worse still that they are carrying the DNA of an evangeliser and did not know it. Besides, the word “evangelisation” opens the door to other words with which we are no more comfortable — evangelical, evangelistic, evangelism, with undertones of fundamentalism, instant conversion, and preoccupation with being saved.

We realised that we should not abandon completely these terms, and that we have something to learn from other churches who make such terms their own.

Was our difficulty solved? Are we any more comfortable in speaking of the Gospel, the Good News? What is important is to know the savour of salt, and the flavour it gives to life.

The beauty and hope of the workshop is in the participants, they who supply the good earth, host to the salt of good news that wells up to eternal life. They came from Wales, England, Scotland, and Ireland and some with visible roots in other regions of the world. They came with the wisdom of battles won and lost; with the practical experience of class room, office, and robust neighbourhood; with the zeal and feet of youth ready to be salt among the world’s huddled masses; with a life time of discoveries that mustard seeds are home to mystery, and that at the end of the day it is “only God who gives the growth” (I Cor 3:7b).

Why should we bother with “new Evangelisation”? The alternative is bland despair. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” (Mt 5:13, RSV) (Oblate Connections, October 2012)

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