“Don’t ask me to do one more thing!”
We hear this familiar chant from all quarters throughout the United States, especially at this time of year. We all recognize that we are just too busy and life has become too hectic. This cry began to well up in me when I spent three weeks at the Synod on the New Evangelization in Rome last month. Is the new evangelization in danger of joining that chorus of activities that makes a busy American pace even more hectic?
At the recent meeting of the U.S. Bishops in Baltimore, those who attended the Synod were asked to share a one-minute summary of the weeks in Rome. I found this summary easy. By far, the main “take away” from those three weeks came from Pope Benedict. His insight was captured within the closing message of the Synod with the phrase, “serene courage.”
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which seeming opposites are put together, such as “jumbo shrimp.” At first glance, the phrase “serene courage” has that quality. Courage often evokes brave action and serenity, a calm drawing back. Pope Benedict, however, provided insight into this phrase as he decried the hectic, do-it-yourself culture and reminded us that the new evangelization emerges from the action of Christ.
Thus, the new evangelization isn’t about “doing” one more thing before you drop, but about letting Christ the Evangelizer lead. We come to known him in the pages of Sacred Scripture, especially when read slowly and reflectively; at the Holy Eucharist, which is his supreme prayer and supreme act of sacrificial love for us that enters our lives each Sunday; and in our private, personal prayer.
I must admit that as a Seinfeld re-run fan, when the word serenity is used I can’t help hearing the echo of George Costanza’s father screaming in desperation — “serenity now!” However, this Thanksgiving I made my usual trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani to slow down and allow God to act.
My reflections revealed that courage will be needed to move us not to do one more thing but to do things differently. This courage to allow Christ to act in and through us won’t come by sheer force (“do one more thing before you drop”) but by a serene love found in prayer.
The new American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, is a helpful example. Her name in Mohawk means “to put things in order.” The new evangelization is about looking at what we already do in a new way. Priests at our last Priests’ Council meeting began to brainstorm about funerals and weddings, about baptisms, and about their message in parish bulletins. (By the way, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports that by far, Catholics surveyed rate the good old Sunday bulletin as the most tried and true way for them to get information. Sure, more of us should read it more thoroughly, but the survey makes it clear: we do better with the Sunday bulletin than any other source. Also confirmed is the high regard in which parishioners view the message from their pastors.)
A new document approved at the recent meeting of bishops continued the theme of reviewing and improving what we already do — but in a better way. This document is on preaching and will be a gift to priests and deacons as it calls us to do with greater joy and diligence what we are already doing. A movement of the new evangelization, preaching that reveals Christ’s power and love has the strength to turn hearts and hopefully invite parishioners to attend Mass more frequently. Father Tom Gaunt, president of CARA, reported that our numbers would double if those who still come, but come infrequently, began to attend weekly. About 17 million come to Mass each Sunday in the United States and an equal amount attend monthly.
A second document — and one to which I referred in my last column — is the call for renewed appreciation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. In what was for me a deeply moving gesture to confirm Jesus as the Evangelizer, we concluded the bishops’ meeting with a holy hour at which confessors were available. It remains my favorite part of the annual bishops’ meeting and, though positioned at the end, is surely the center of what we do.
I love joining with brother bishops in prayer and adoration. I love receiving the Sacrament of Penance. I always come away from that holy hour renewed. After going to Confession, I recall the exuberance of a grade school child walking home from church on Saturday after I had gone to confession, and I left the meeting “walking on air.”
May you have that experience of the Lord’s mercy this Advent, and may he grant you the serene courage of a new evangelizer.