The Pope & the New Evangelization
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that evangelization should teach ‘the art of living’ . . .
In an address to catechists and educators in the Jubilee Year 2000, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that the New Evangelization entails more than proclaiming doctrines and moral truths. More fundamentally, it is teaching what he calls “the art of living.”
“How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? To evangelize means to show this path — to teach the art of living,” he says.
Living well isn’t easy. It requires many skills that are learned like an art form. Indeed, to find fulfillment in life’s most fundamental relationships (marriage, parenting, friendship, relationship with God), one must have an array of virtues such as patience, generosity, self-control and charity. For hundreds of years, men and women learned the art of living from a Christian culture that handed on the wisdom of how to live a happy life from one generation to the next.
But our de-Christianized, relativistic, “anything goes” society has cut itself off from this tradition. And Ratzinger is concerned that the essential values to live a happy life are no longer being passed on. Young people might learn how to succeed in a job, but they aren’t trained in the basics of how to build a successful marriage. We might learn how to invest our money wisely, but we’re unsure how to raise our children in the faith. Ratzinger says our relationships are stunted by the inability to possess joy and love:
“The deepest [human] poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice — all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world. This is why we are in need of a new evangelization — if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works.”
But how can the art of living be made known today? How can the Church make its voice heard in our relativistic world?
Ratzinger says we must make use of modern methods of communication. He underscores, however, that the New Evangelization will be carried out even more by the witness of Christians who embody a new way of life — Christians who question the mainstream and choose “not to live as all the others live, not to do what all do, not to feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just because others do the same.” Christians who “look for a new style of life” different from what the world offers will illuminate the true path to happiness.
The fruit of the New Evangelization, however, won’t be seen quickly. Ratzinger warns of the temptation of impatience. The Roman Empire was not converted quickly, but over time and through small Christian communities. Even though the Christians were insignificant according to the standards of the world, they proved to be like leaven that eventually permeated the whole empire (Mt 13:33).
“New evangelization cannot mean immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods,” Ratzinger says. Instead, “it means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow (Mk 4:26-29).”
The name that Cardinal Ratzinger chose for his pontificate points in this direction. In a book-length interview published in 1997 as Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, Ratzinger turns to St. Benedict as a model for the kind of renewal that the world needs today. In late antiquity, just as the decadent Roman Empire was starting to collapse on itself, a young Roman nobleman named Benedict abandoned the mainstream ways of living. Though escaping the notice of most people in his time, St. Benedict and the monastic communities he founded carried the Gospel through difficult times and attracted many others to a better way of life. Benedict’s small movement eventually became what Ratzinger calls “the ark on which the West survived.”
Similarly, the Church today is entering a new era which will be characterized by the mustard seed — small groups that seem to have little significance in the world, Ratzinger says. But these small groups of Christians who, like St. Benedict, depart from the secular, individualistic patterns of living pave the way for new models of life in our morally chaotic society.
“There are Christians who drop out of this strange consensus of modern existence, who attempt new forms of life,” he says in Salt and Light. “To be sure, they don’t receive any public notice, but they are doing something that really points to the future.” For the Holy Father, the New Evangelization will be carried out in a particular way through new movements, families and other small Christian communities who, like those followers of St. Benedict, will be the seemingly insignificant mustard seed that eventually transforms the culture.
Edward P. Sri, STD, is provost and professor of theology and scripture at the Augustine Institute in Denver. The author of two Catholic best-selling books, he is a founding leader of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and often speaks to Legatus chapters.