A few years ago I was in Rome during the Synod on the New Evangelization and I had the opportunity to speak with many of the Synod Fathers and other leaders who were directly or indirectly involved with it. The Synod addressed many elements in the process of evangelization and as I reflected on what I was hearing, I saw four significant pillars emerge: Initial Proclamation, Catechesis, Liturgy & Sacraments, and Missionary Discipleship.
These pillars are inherently foundational, but could also be considered a natural Christian progression or path. A person first encounters the Lord through Initial Proclamation. They are then formed more deeply in the understanding of this encounter through Catechesis. This leads them further into meeting the Lord in the Sacraments and the Liturgy where they are spiritually nourished and strengthened. And they discover that their call to witness to and share their faith with others is in fact their deepest identity as Missionary Disciples.
The Church has done an excellent job of expressing, communicating, and preserving the second and third of these pillars: Catechesis and Liturgy & Sacraments. We have incredible tools and resources to support and nourish the second pillar such as the RCIA, numerous Sacramental Prep programs, Jeff Cavin’s Great Adventure Bible timeline, Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism Series, etc. As for the third pillar, the Liturgy & Sacraments are a centerpiece of the Catholic experience and we know how to deliver them well. Consider how smoothly and quickly the implementation of the new translation of the Mass went throughout the English speaking world.
However, when we consider the first and last pillar – Initial Proclamation and Missionary Discipleship – there seems to be a noticeable gap. When we examine the average parish experience, these often seem absent. We could ask, how many people are actually hearing and responding to the initial proclamation? How many homilies give people an immediate and tangible opportunity to put Christ at the centre of their lives? How many parishioners are acting as missionary disciples actively reaching out and bringing new people to their parish? Where are the resources and tools, the formations and training to express, communicate, and preserve these pillars? In fact the Synod recognized these deficiencies in its final propositions:
The ‘first proclamation’ is where the kerygma, the message of salvation of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, is proclaimed with great spiritual power to the point of bringing about repentance of sin, conversion of hearts and a decision of faith. At the same time there has to be continuity between first proclamation and catechesis which instructs us in the deposit of the faith.
We consider it necessary that there be a Pastoral Plan of Initial Proclamation, teaching a living encounter with Jesus Christ. This pastoral document would provide the first elements for the catechetical process, enabling its insertion into the lives of the parish communities. (#9)
The Church might have neglected these recently but the Holy Spirit has not forgotten the importance of these two pillars. You see them manifested most often in the new movements and associations. They have charisms to attract new or fallen away members to the faith and to empower them to evangelize others. You also see them manifested in our Evangelical brothers and sisters. In fact in many ways, they have preserved these gifts of clear evangelical outreach and passionate kerygmatic mission work in their local churches, their ministries, and their charitable endeavors.
Experience, insight, and practical teaching on these two pillars are also something that CCO in particular has been blessed with. In fact in our official response to the Lineamenta, which was submitted to the Canadian Bishops Conference and the Vatican, we proposed four important considerations for the New Evangelization:
- Make No Assumptions – Since the message of the cross is of vital importance, we should not assume that people have been evangelized already, even those in our parishes.
- Frequent Proclamation of the Kerygma – We should invite people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ by proclaiming the Kerygma clearly and simply.
- Form Catholics in Their Missionary Identity – Evangelization is not complete until those who are evangelized are evangelizing others.
- Materials and Methods Matter – Simple, transferable evangelistic tools allow people to bring Christ to others in a clear and repeatable way.
Examining these four considerations, we see quite clearly that CCO has a special calling and has been gifted by the Holy Spirit specifically in relation to the first and last pillar – Initial Proclamation and Missionary Discipleship. The Holy Spirit has raised up CCO to be a catalyst for the whole Church in these areas. For the Church to be strong, all four pillars must be strong. But at this precise moment in our history two pillars – Initial Proclamation and Missionary Discipleship – need strengthening otherwise we risk a great collapse of the whole building.