Put out into the deep – the New Evangelisation’s challenge to the Church

By Marita Winters, Director, Catholic Enquiry Centre and the National Office for Evangelisation

Recently I’ve been part of several dinner conversations on the state of the Catholic Church.
Does that sound familiar?

During one, there was comment on the average age of the few participants at a vigil Mass -the estimate given was “at least mid-60’s”. During another there was discussion around the overwhelming participation for registration for a parish Sacramental program one week and the return to half-empty seats the following week.

Yet the Church is calling us to go beyond the tiredness and the seeming hopelessness to “put out into the deep”.

Pope John Paul II encouraged the Church with these words of Jesus in Novo Millennio Ineunte. After speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, Jesus invited Peter and his companions to “put out into the deep” for a catch: “Duc in altum” (Lk 5:4). These first disciples trusted Jesus’ words, and cast the nets. “When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish” (Lk 5:6).

It is this encouragement from Jesus firstly, repeated by Pope John Paul II, which comes to mind when I think of the new evangelisation.
The Church proclaims Christ, that is “evangelises”, through preaching, catechesis, liturgy, the sacramental life, popular piety and the witness of a Christian life (see Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi 17, 21, 48ff).

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II encouraged the whole Church to become missionary. In Redemptoris Missio (1990) he stated “The moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”

In various ways evangelisation is the responsibility of all Christians, not just the parish priest, pastoral associate or members of particular parish committees.

As members of the Church take up the missionary mandate, John Paul II encouraged us to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians: “We can count on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who impels us still today to start out anew, sustained by the hope “which does not disappoint”. (Rom 5:5). (NMI, n58)
Pope Benedict XVI has continued the call to a new evangelisation, with a particular emphasis on Europe whose traditional Christian roots are no longer holding. Bishops from across the world in Rome in October 2012 for the Synod on the New Evangelization, coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, to discuss what this means for the Church today.
In the preparatory document for this Synod the need for the new evangelisation is confirmed: “Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the new evangelization has increasingly presented itself as an appropriate, timely tool in addressing the challenges of a rapidly-changing world, and the way to respond to God’s generosity in our being gathered together by the Holy Spirit to experience God as the Father of us all and to bear witness and proclaim to all the Good News -the Gospel- of Jesus Christ.”
In response to Jesus’ invitation to put out into the deep, Simon Peter said “Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.”
It could be easy for those in the Church to echo only the first part of Simon Peter’s words, lamenting the hard work and little return. Why bother with a new evangelisation? But what of the second part, where he states “But if you say so, I will pay out the nets?” There is another part of the story for the Church, too!
The Lineamenta for the forthcoming Synod on the New Evangelization repeats the words of Pope Paul VI, reemphasizing for the faithful the primacy of evangelization: “It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: through God’s mercy, people can gain salvation in other ways besides our preaching the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation, if through negligence, fear, shame – what St. Paul called ‘shrinking from the Gospel’ – or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?” (n2)
Duc in altum! May we have the courage of Simon Peter and the first disciples to listen to the voice of Jesus and the Church calling us to proclaim Christ, and throw out the nets time and time again. For it is Jesus who will draw the people back to himself and has the state of the Church in hand.