For all the talk that has occurred on the theme of John Paul II’s call for a “new evangelization,” there has been little concrete effect. That might sound pessimistic, but I think it’s fair to say that for many of the so-called “lapsed” (and their cousins, the “nominal”) Catholics, the concern hasn’t been so much a matter of effective preaching of the Gospel or the particular engagement with new social media by church ministers. I think that what keeps people away or at least fuels the reasonable incredulity about one’s return to regular worship and full, active participation in the life of the church is the action of many of those who identity themselves as “faithful Catholics,” including many of the church’s ecclesiastical leaders.
I contend that much — but, certainly, not all — of the talk in recent years about the “new evangelization” suggests very little about newness and reinscribes a lot of previous notions of missiology, evangelization, and propositionally based tactics that center on “getting the word (lower case “w,” of course) out” in new jargons or colloquialisms and by means of new technology.
But, as Francis of Assisi said so aptly in his Regula non bullata, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds” (XVII:3), there is a stirring in the air of a REAL “New Evangelization.” This time it is being quietly, humbly, and compellingly inaugurated by someone whose namesake is famously remembered for the preaching by deeds injunction: Pope Francis.
A new story by NBC News suggests that “lapsed Catholics” might be “lured back by Pope Francis.” This is, in large part, due to the small things that Pope Francis has done. He has, it seems, “preached by his deeds,” and has prioritized relationship with all people in a way that has not been really seen around the Vatican in many decades — if ever. While I’m not entirely convinced that what NBC News is presenting is as causally significant as it is made to be, there might indeed be a legitimate correlation between the actions of the Bishop of Rome and the “return” of those marginalized, on the outside, and the like.
The NBC News story begins:
Twenty million Americans consider themselves lapsed Catholics, but Pope Francis is convincing many to test the holy waters again with his bold gestures and common touch.
After years of disenchantment with the church’s hierarchy and teachings, former members of the flock say they are willing to give the Vatican a second chance under new leadership.Dallas teacher Marilyn Rosa is one of them.
“It was a sign,” Rosa, 57, said of the Argentine Jesuit’s election as pontiff last month. “It was like a miracle.”Born and raised Catholic, Rosa attended parochial schools and had a church wedding for her first marriage. Over the years, she drifted away from the religion that had been such an integral part of her Puerto Rican family’s life.She questioned the relevance of church policies in the modern world. As a divorced woman, she felt cast out. The pedophile-priest scandals disgusted her.Three years ago, she quit going to Mass and joined an evangelical church. But she didn’t feel at home and she started to wonder how she could fill the void.“The day the pope got elected, I turned on the TV and when I learned he was Latin, I went crazy at home,” said Rosa. “When they started to talk about how he lived by himself and didn’t move into the archbishop’s residence, how he took the bus to work, I said, ‘I know God is talking to me. This is the man we needed.'”
On Palm Sunday, she and her second husband “reverted,” attending services at Dallas’ St. Pius X Catholic Church.
“It was packed. I had to stand up the whole time. But I felt so happy. It was like a revival,” she said.
Rosa has kept going to back to St. Pius, encouraged by what she’s seen of the pope: from the simple white robe he wears to his rejection of the opulent papal apartment in favor of a spartan guest house.
“He’s not letting himself be controlled by the rest of the church,” Rosa said. “He’s his own man.”