In Catholic circles the phrase “New Evangelization” has been popping up ever since our beloved Pope John Paul II spoke of a Springtime of Evangelization. I have read a few criticisms of the phrase asking what is wrong with the “old” evangelization. As I was preparing for Mass today several thoughts popped into my head. First of all we were attending a different Mass than usual, so my sensitivity to attracting attention was on high alert. Seven children in the front pew is enough to garnish attention, but last year I started veiling and my daughters followed suit (on their own accord, I might add). To put this in perspective I have been attending the same parish for most of the last 35 years and until last year I had only donned a veil for my First Communion and wedding. I quickly put the thoughts behind me and tried to focus on my prayers. I’m not really concerned with what others’ think, at least I try not to be. My next thoughts drifted to how I got here, to this particular place in my spiritual journey. I’ve got a long way to go, mind you; but, man how far I have come in the past 20 years!
The biggest impact on learning about my faith, the Catholic faith, has come from teaching it. When I began to home school my two older girls twelve years ago, I did not even know the Mysteries of the Rosary by heart–and there were only 15 back then. Maybe, you don’t know them now either. It was part peer pressure and pride and part longing that motivated me to memorize them. I still forget and have to think about it when I’m under the gun; but, I can do it in the end. You see, I belong to a really great homeschooling support group of strong Catholic families. These families aren’t perfect, but they live their faith and reciting the Rosary at gatherings is a fairly common occurence. Hence, the peer pressure. Since my daughter was only in First grade when I started homeschooling, I began teaching Religion at the First Grade level. I had books and lesson plans and an answer key to work with so I quickly gained confidence and knowledge. There is nothing quite as humbling as reading from a second grade catechism book to your child. Suddenly, I realized just how ignorant I was (am) and how far I had drifted from living out God’s will every day.
I don’t feel guilty or bitter for not knowing my faith. I feel sad. I am part of a whole generation that got caught in a gap after Vatican II. Prior to this council, it was standard procedure for young children to memorize the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism. The memorization just didn’t seem to be enough when the baby boomers wanted to know why? where? when? how? and who gave you the authority? In response, it seems that most parishes just stopped using the Baltimore Catechism and taught more about love and peace. For whatever the reason that it was done this way, the result has been more than 30 years of lost and ignorant sheep. I’ve seen family and school peers all drift away from the Church. When I was younger I thought it was no big deal because they were still worshipping the same God, just in a different way. Some have stopped attending Church altogether, but most have a strong relationship with our Lord Jesus in a Protestant community. So, why am I sad? Because they are missing out on the Sacraments, on the richness of our faith traditions and from lots and lots of graces that they most likely don’t understand or even know exist. Now, as adults we all have to find our own way and I trust that the Lord in his Goodness is leading them closer to Himself just as He is leading me. Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe, nor does the Church teach that our Protestant brothers and sisters are not “saved”. It’s just that there is so much more!
Anyway, I don’t think the New Evangelization is only about conversion of others. It is about converting ourselves. We have to learn our faith and teach our faith to our children. My children are learning the Baltimore Catechism and I am learning it right along side of them. It is so inspiring to me to see these innocent children living out their faith every day. They ask to go to Mass and Confession and Adoration. They are naturally drawn to the spiritual realm and seeking Christ’s grace and presence. Their desires prompt my action and involvement and help me to become a better Christian, a better mom, a better wife. I don’t worry anymore about what I don’t know because I know that I can find the answer and learn as I go. I see all of my flaws and weaknesses, but I don’t worry about that either because I know that God’s mercy and grace await me in the Sacraments and Scripture. I look at how far I have come on this journey and the mountain ahead that I still need to scale. My heart has been reshaped by God’s love and grace throughout this journey: Mass and the Sacraments, The Catholic Family Conferences in Wichita, friends who shared their love and knowledge and numerous books and websites. It has been a journey of falling head-over-heels in love with my faith which has lead to this incredibly deep and personal encounter with Christ. After Confession the other night, I approached Christ in Adoration. I gazed upon Him! I lay prostrate before Him! and I poured out my heart to Him! What an incredible feeling to be forgiven and absolved and then encounter Jesus in such a personal way. And then to attend Mass and receive Him in the Eucharist! All these gifts and for the better part of 40 years it has all been taken for granted–a whole generation was just supposed to know it without being taught. Don’t make the same mistake with the next generation. Don’t deprive them of the greatest miracle in our midst. Don’t deprive yourself either.