A few months ago, Pope Benedict XVI called for a New Evangelization. In his announcement, the Holy Father urged all of us to involve ourselves in this very important endeavor. The challenge is similar to the one that he issued in Scotland during his 2010 visit to thee United Kingdom, where he called on the faithful to share in the responsibility of spreading the Faith.
But, just how can we, as the laity, help in this crucial mission? First and foremost, any effort that we make must be grounded and rooted in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Worshipping God and receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion give us the strength and sustenance we need to carry out this important work. One of the four dismissals in the revised Roman Missal actually gives us our marching orders, so to speak: "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord." Granted, this may sound rather abstract, but, prayer is the foundation of all of our activities.
All throughout the Christmas season, a priest friend of mine has been issuing a challenge to the laity, especially parents. While he wasn't speaking directly about the New Evangelization, his words mirror the Holy Father's call. At nearly every homily, he's urged parents to take every streep to hand down the Faith to their children. He reminded the parents that they are their children's first teachers in the Faith. He noted that it's rather interesting that children learn to love their parents' favorite sports teams, be formed in political ideology and even share in their occupations. However, he wonders if the parents are handing down their most sacred heritage, the Catholic Faith. He reminded us that God could have chosen any means He wanted to in order to save our fallen race. Instead of coming down in fire, thunder and majesty, the Lord chose to enter human history by way of the family. Instead of a fiery chariot, He chose a young virgin to bring Him forth into the world. The Heavenly Father also chose to entrust His only begotten Son to the care of a carpenter, a holy and upright man. God willed that His Son come into the world as an infant, totally dependent on His virgin mother and His foster-father. He willed that the child Jesus learn to walk and to talk. He who was the giver of the Law chose to have His Mother and his foster-father instruct him in the Faith of Ancient Israel. As St. Luke notes in his Gospel account, the child Jesus grew in wisdom and in strength.
What my friend noted in his homilies was that God chose to save the human race through a family. The family is the most elemental unit in society. It is also both the most important and the most in danger. God sanctified the family by chosing to enter into one and live as a member of that Holy Family. In this day and age, He still chooses to use the family as a means of saving the world. But, families need to be open to the will of God. Parents need to realize that while it is important to teach their children about the three "R's", there is a fourth, more important "R" that will take their children into eternal life: Religion. Yes, secular education and secular careers are important, but, eternal life surpasses everything. Health and wealth fade, but, Faith is permanent. Faith endures.
Mary and Joseph had the unique privilege and gift of rearing the Child Jesus. Son though He was, Jesus subjected Himself to their authority, allowing Himself to be taught by them. I have to admit, this is something difficult for me to wrap my head around because it is hard to imagine that Jesus had to be taught. However, God's ways are not our ways.
Some 2,000 years later, God once again seeks the aid of the family, every family. When we were baptized, our parents promised that they would educate us in the Faith. Both they and our godparents promised to keep the flame of the Faith burning in our souls when they received the candle at our Baptism, the candle whose flame was taken from the Paschal Candle. Families can keep that flame lit by praying together, especially by going to Mass as a family. For example, I remember my mom teaching me to pray at a very early age, even before I was enrolled in Catholic school. My paternal grandmother augmented these lessons by having me sit in with her while she prayed her rosary whenever we would visit her. She would also quiz me on what I had learned in religion class. I owe a great debt to my parents and my paternal grandmother for instilling the Faith in me. They were certainly my first teachers in the Faith.
And what of those of us who do not have biological children? We are part of that child's family in the Faith. When the Rite of Baptism is celebrated within the context of the Mass, the Church also challenges us to help pass along the Faith, whether as teachers or just by the example of Christian living. In this day and age, we can also use electronic media, such as blogs, to do our part.
Perhaps this is the key to implementing the New Evangelization envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI, going about it one family at a time.