Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus founding the Church in the Gospel of Matthew:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Many, however, do not know that Jesus was actually standing on a massive rock as he changed Simon's name to Peter and established him as head of his Church. This rock has a cavelike opening that is an entrance to a deep pit. Some in the time of Jesus thought this pit was Hades and the cave opening was thought to be the gates of hell. So when Jesus was talking to Peter, he was likely pointing to the opening while saying, “What I am building here with you, these gates of hell will not prevail against.”
At the bottom of this pit is a spring that serves as the headwaters of the Jordan River. It is fascinating that Jesus establishes his Church right at the beginning of the Jordan River when one recalls Revelation 22:1:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life . . . flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb . . .on each side of the river stood the tree of life . . . and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Now, there are two seas that are formed by the Jordan River: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is filled with life and gives an abundance of it to the surrounding area. But the Dead Sea is literally dead. There is no life in its waters, and the surrounding area is a desert. Do you know why the Sea of Galilee is filled with life and the Dead Sea is lifeless? Because the Sea of Galilee receives of the Jordan River but also gives of it, while the Dead Sea merely receives of the Jordan River and does not give of it.
In other words, the Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee and has an outlet on the opposite side, but the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea without an outlet. Nature, through these two seas, can teach us something very profound about love! In order for love to flourish and be life-giving, we must receive the love of another and give of ourselves to the other in order to have a loving relationship.
Our world today in a lot of ways is like the Dead Sea. So many of us are very concerned with what we can receive from this world: money, power, pleasure, possessions, and comfort. We are eager to consume and not so excited about giving. While things like money and comfort are not bad in and of themselves, if our life is consumed by only receiving, then the good things that come to us will slowly drain us of our inner life, making us dead in many ways to those around us. In essence, the goods we welcome will be like the waters of the Jordan, but our selfishness will spoil these goods, making us a lifeless sea to those we encounter.
If we find in ourselves qualities of lifelessness and our culture dead, we should not despair! There is someone who came to this Earth to breathe the gift of life back into the culture and into every person. There is one who came, died, and rose from the dead out of love, to awaken and fill our lifeless hearts and to transform our culture from the Dead Sea to something more like the Sea of Galilee: Jesus Christ.
“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Jesus is the answer. Jesus is the cure. We each receive our life from God, and we must each empty ourselves of self in order to have life in abundance. Then we will be able to receive the love of God and give the love of God to others. Our life must be consumed by receiving love and giving love. If we do this, one by one, we can help transform this world from a Dead Sea into a life-giving Sea of Galilee.
How can we encourage people to receive and give of the love of God? How can we spread our beautiful messages about chastity, sexual morality, marriage, and family in today’s world? What methods, signs, gestures, images, words, or expressions do we need to reach our modern culture? These are the questions the Catholic Church is trying to answer when she invites us to present the good news of the gospel into our sphere of influence through the New Evangelization.
Much has been has been written about the New Evangelization. There are many schools of thought, many opinions, many suggestions, and many debates about how one should evangelize. I would like to simplify all of that by suggesting that the New Evangelization is first and foremost encountering and growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ first and then introducing the person of Jesus Christ to the people you come across.
Growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ:
Writing about the New Evangelization, Pope Francis first “invites all Christians, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (Evangelii Gaudium). One cannot simply decide to go out and evangelize. One must first be evangelized himself. Therefore, we need to reflect honestly and openly: How is my relationship with Jesus? How is my prayer life? Am I living a good Christian life? If the answer to these questions is “Not so great” or “Not so much,” don’t worry! Jesus came out of love and mercy so that he could help us fall in love with him and grow in our relationship with him.
Pope Benedict once said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” This is so important to remember for the New Evangelization. The Christian life is a journey and growth in love with the person of Jesus Christ. It is a loving encounter with a person. It is a relationship with someone.
In the New Evangelization, it is important to first receive God’s love and work on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Ask Jesus to fascinate you and help you to get to know him better. Beg him to fill you with his spirit. Fall more in love with Jesus. How? The more time you spend with someone, the more you will get to know that person. Jesus came in the flesh and continues to give himself to us completely through the Eucharist so he can literally spend time with us and so that we can literally receive him.
Spending time with him and receiving him in the Eucharist, participating in the liturgy, reading and meditating on Scripture, adopting various devotions (especially the rosary), learning the teachings he gives us through the Catholic Church, and experiencing the culture that the Church has inspired in literature, art, and music are all ways to get to know the person of Jesus Christ better.
Your encounter with Jesus Christ is not a one-time thing, an instantaneous event. All relationships take time and work. I am not saying you should wait until you "feel" your relationship with Jesus is advanced before you introduce him to others. If you are earnestly seeking to make the Lord the center of your life and the one for whom you live each day, you are ready to introduce him to others. And in doing so, you will grow in your loving friendship with him.
I am suggesting that the New Evangelization is first our new encounter with Jesus Christ. This new encounter is meant to transform our hearts, our minds, and our whole beings. And in the same manner in which we introduce a new friend to an old friend, the New Evangelization is about introducing the person of Jesus Christ, whom you now know and love, to the person in front of you.
Introducing the person of Jesus Christ to the person you come across:
The second part of the New Evangelization is about introducing the person of Jesus Christ to the person in front of you. It is not only about teaching doctrine and ethical choices. It is very important to teach what the Church teaches. It is necessary to share what the Church teaches with love and patience when bringing one closer to Jesus—such as what the Church teaches on sexuality. However, at times people focus only on sharing what the Church teaches and forget to introduce the person of Jesus Christ to the individual.
For example, if you approach someone who is having premarital sex and begin by saying, “Don’t you know that the Church teaches that you should only have sexual union with the person you are married to? You are sinning and breaking yourself away from God.” Even if you explain why the marital act is just that—meant to be experienced only within marriage—it is possible you will not get very far in your evangelization effort.
I think this is one of the reasons why Pope Francis said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
Pope Francis is inviting us to show others an integral, whole, attractive way of living the gospel rather than presenting only isolated doctrine or condemnation of a particular sin. We should invite others to meet and experience the joy a relationship with Jesus brings. Then all the teaching and doctrine will follow naturally. I suggest that the New Evangelization cannot be only about transmitting what the Church teaches. It must be combined with introducing the person of Jesus Christ to the person at home, at work, at play, or on the street. It is about introducing your personal friend to another.
I suggest that you not lead, when talking with someone about the Faith, with what the Church teaches. Start off by asking, “How are you? How is your heart?” Start off by listening to the person to whom you are talking. Then introduce him to Jesus in whatever way seems to fit the situation. Perhaps that would be to share with him what Jesus has done in your life. Tell him why you are Christian and why you love Jesus. It might be by inviting him to join you with some of your friends on an outing where he will see what living the Christian life is really like. It usually doesn't take long for someone in our relativistic age to see that you stand for something and someone far different than he has ever known. He will open up to you, ask you questions, want to know more. Then you may find a heart that is opening up to Jesus and to what his Church teaches.
Go proclaim the good news!
The love of our Lord is a constant flow of grace into our hearts. Each day we have the opportunity to let that love transform us and then let that love flow from our hearts to the hearts of those whom we encounter. We must seek to be a Sea of Galilee fed by the graces that originate from the waters of our baptism—a baptism into the love of Jesus. It is easier to be a Dead Sea, expecting, taking, hoarding without giving. The New Evangelization is about helping Jesus to transform this culture to become more like the Sea of Galilee. You can help him do this by first encountering Jesus Christ and growing in your relationship with him—and then introducing the person of Jesus Christ to the people you come across. Let’s take up this task of the New Evangelization and help transform this culture to be more like the Sea of Galilee!