ESTERDAY WAS A WONDERFUL DAY for me. I went to the ordination of three of my good friends, who became new priests for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Something really struck me at the ceremony, during the prayer of ordination. As you may know, when someone is ordained a priest, the bishop lays hands on the head of the person being ordained. Then the bishop also says a prayer, during which the man actually becomes a priest. In fact, the conferral of the Sacrament occurs at these very specific words: “Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these, Your servants, the dignity of the priesthood.”
What struck me were the very next words in the prayer: “Renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness.” Really? They literally just became priests, and we’re already asking God to “renew” them? This reveals a beautiful truth. Even from the very first moment we were baptized, we’ve all needed renewal. Ever since the very first moment I became a priest, I’ve needed renewal, too.
This should teach us something powerful about the feast of Pentecost. For fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection, the Apostles went into hiding, scared to show their faces in public. Then, when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they were empowered to go out and convert the whole world. That’s literally what they did! Hardly a place could be found on the Earth, now, where the Good News of Jesus Christ has not been preached. Emerging from a locked room in Galilee, those twelve uneducated but chosen men began the work of evangelizing the world for the first time, and they were amazingly successful.
Do you think the Apostles needed to be renewed as they went about proclaiming the Gospel? Sure they did. What about us? More than 2,000 years have passed since the Good News was first preached to the world. Do we need renewal in that area today?
At the start of the third millennium, during the Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II started talking about the “New Evangelization.” Pope Benedict often picked up on the theme, too, and now Pope Francis continues to talk about it. What do the Holy Fathers mean? Is the “New Evangelization” a new or different Gospel? Certainly not. But, then, what is it?
The “Old Evangelization,” if you will, consisted in bringing the Good News of Jesus to those who had never heard it before. Saint Peter went to Rome, while tradition holds that James went to Spain and Thomas went to India. Later, Jesuit missionaries like Saint Isaac Jogues would travel to the New World to convert the Mohawk & Iroquois people. The Church sent missionaries to Africa & China & South America. The goal was to evangelize the whole world—a difficult task, to be sure.
The “New Evangelization,” though, describes the even more difficult task of bringing the Good News of Jesus to those who have heard it already, but in whom it has grown tired or stale or lukewarm. How many people are there in the world who think they know what Christianity is all about? How many people in our own families think of themselves as staunch Catholics because they went to Catholic school, even though they gave up on coming to Mass years ago? Of course, just going to Mass doesn’t mean our faith is alive, either. It can be very hard to convert people who think they’ve already been converted. But that is the work of the “New Evangelization.” This is our task in the modern day—trying to wake up people in whom faith has fallen comatose or in whom it has been reduced to mere habit or cultural association.
The “New Evangelization” means the renewal of our faith, in this Year of Faith. If we are going to be effective agents of the “New Evangelization,” we must first be renewed, ourselves. Are we really on fire with faith? Do we have a living relationship with the Lord? Or are we stuck in the rut of routine?
When we are renewed, ourselves, we will empowered like the Apostles on Pentecost. We’ll have the fire and zeal and stamina to lead others to experience the same renewal of faith that we have found in Christ. “Lord, send out Your Spirit, and renew the face of the Earth!”