Adjunct Faculty

Comments on the Lineamenta for the Synod on the New Evangelization

Fr. Michael Fones, OP

While the lineamenta for the Synod of Bishops lineamenta necessarily addresses the worldwide Church, my six brief observations are limited by my distinctly American perspective.

Chapter II of the llineamenta lin states that, “Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions for [a] personal encounter of individuals with Jesus Christ.”

This is incredibly important, absolutely true, and, for many American Catholics, I'm afraid, incomprehensible.

According to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey [1] less than 48% of Catholics are certain one can have a personal relationship with God, and nearly one-third of American Catholics believe God is an impersonal force.

This may explain why 62% of American Catholics seldom or never share their faith or view of God with others.

In America, an atheist is more likely to share their view of God with another person than a Catholic is.

Furthermore, without a description of what is meant by “personal relationship,” many postmodern westerners will interpret it to mean a relationship strictly between the individual and God, without need of an ecclesial and communal dimension.

2) It is also troubling that in the first chapter, section 5, page 10, the lineamenta  linobserves that the New Evangelization “is not a matter of redoing something which has been inadequately done or has not achieved its purpose, as if the new activity were an implicit judgment on the failure of the first evangelization…”

Why not? Why not admit that the abandonment of Catholic Christianity in so many countries in the West, at least, is a result of our failure to adequately proclaim Jesus Christ, and then try to learn from our mistakes?

By not admitting our lack of effectiveness in, or even attentiveness to, evangelization, one could surmise from the discussion of the six sectors calling for a new evangelization in section 6, that the loss of faith is due solely to forces outside the Church.

The lineamenta lin notes that in the West “the secularizing movement has taken a more subtle tone in cultural forms which invade people's everyday lives and foster a mentality in which God is completely or partially left out of life and human consciousness. [2]

This is, in reality, another condemnation of our ineffectiveness at passing on the faith.

For it is in the West where Catholic Christians, if they were properly evangelized and converted to Christ, could have had the most effect on culture, transforming it from within as politicians, philosophers, and leaders in the arts and sciences.

3) I would suggest that somewhere along the way, the focus of our proclamation shifted from the Gospel of the saving work of Jesus Christ – what St. Paul called “boasting in the Lord [3]” - to boasting about our Catholic culture and intellectual heritage.

It is tempting to substitute proclaiming the folly of the cross with proclaiming our successes.

One example of this tendency is the Catholics Come Home commercials.

Dioceses in the U.S. have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on these television ads, which often become their chief instrument of evangelization.

The two-minute long commercial called Epic [4] is described on the Catholics Come Home website as emphasizing “the history, beauty, spirituality and accomplishments of the Catholic Church over her 2,000 year history. [5]

It is well-done, inspiring, and hard to connect to “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.[6]

We have to ask ourselves if we speak more about the Body of Christ, than the Head.

For example, in the lineamenta lin, the words “Jesus Christ”, “Jesus,” “Christ”, and “Son” appear 31, 12, 20 and three times, respectively (a total of 66 occurrences).

The word “Church” is used 246 times.

The lineamenta lin admits that “the work of the Church's institutions are not easily perceived and, at times, are even looked upon with great reservation. … the situation is requiring the Church to consider, in an entirely new way, how she proclaims and transmits the faith. [7]

That new way must not be ecclesiocentric.

Postmodern society is deeply mistrusting of institutions and authority, but respectful of personal experience.

Because the lineamenta lin takes up the insistence of Pope Benedict that faith “is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love [8]…” an evangelization that includes that personal experience will speak to postmodern hearts.

4) But we must also remember that this intimate encounter with the “Light that has come into the world”[9] will inevitably confront us with our own shadow.

The New Evangelization is not moralizing, but the authentic encounter with Christ inevitably raises moral issues in the heart of the person being evangelized.

We have to anticipate the bewilderment, fear and even momentary despair as the seeker of Christ recoils like Simon the Fisherman who begged Jesus, “depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”

5) As a priest involved in the formation of seminarians, I am concerned that the lineamenta lin makes no mention of how the New Evangelization might affect our seminaries.

Initial and ongoing formation of priests must ensure that they themselves have experienced the transforming encounter with Jesus and that their preaching and teaching reflects their ongoing communion with Him.

If priestly formation is lacking in the explicit and constant reference to faith as relationship with God in the Spirit and through the Incarnate Son, “the faith” can quickly deteriorate into a sterile knowledge about God; what the lineamenta lin calls “a system of articles of faith and moral precepts [10]

This is the faith of the demons who believe and shudder. [11]

In section 12, p. 22, the lineamenta lin correctly points out “The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of ‘being' with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of ‘feeling' compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful.”

We naturally talk about people we love, but when God is the object of our love, we need to provide training for how to do this in a world that doubts his existence.

The formation of priests should prepare them to proclaim the kerygma effectively, and also train others who have undergone conversion to Christ in this art and profound act of love.

Only that way will “every Christian actively take part in the conversations taking place within real-life situations and the workplace, so as to bring to these situations the Christian gift of hope. [12]

6) A popular story has it that, while in Rome seeking papal approval for the Order of Preachers, St. Dominic was given a tour of the treasures of the Vatican by Pope Honorius III.

At one point during the tour, the Pope is said to have remarked, “Peter can no longer say, ‘I have neither silver nor gold.'”

“No,” replied Dominic in agreement, looking straight at the Pope and picking up the pope's reference to Acts 3:5, “and neither can he say, ‘Rise and walk.'”

In section 24, p. 40, the lineamenta lin quotes Bl. John Paul II's hope that the New Evangelization will “rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the Church's beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. [13]

It points out that “St. Paul the Apostle acknowledges the primary role of the action of the Spirit at a particularly intense and meaningful time for the nascent Church…” and, also, “In many ways, our times are similar to those in which St. Paul lived. [14]

The proclamation of the Kingdom by Jesus Christ, and the preaching of the Gospel immediately following Pentecost were accompanied by healings, the expulsion of demons, and other charismatic manifestations of God's power.

Indeed, that power has always been at work in the lives of the saints and blesseds who fulfill Jesus' promise to his disciples that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. [15] ”

So, finally, might the New Evangelization be an opportunity to recognize the importance of the charisms given to the baptized in supporting the proclamation of the Gospel through gifts like evangelism, teaching, prophecy, wisdom and yes, even healing and discernment of spirits?

Then people who have lived as though God does not exist will not only hear of what God has done in the past, but experience the supernatural effects of his presence today.

We ought to be able to say with St. Paul, “our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the holy Spirit and [with] much conviction. [16] ” 


[1]  US Religious Landscape Survey - Pew Research Center Back to text.

[2] The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, Lineamenta, §6, p. 13 Back to text.

[3] 2 Cor. 10:17 Back to text.

[4] Catholics Come Home commercials  Back to text.

[5] ibid. Back to text.

[6] 1 Cor 1:23 Back to text.

[7] Lineamenta § 3, p. 9 Back to text.

[8] Angelus, Oct. 22, 2009 Back to text.

[9] John 1:9 Back to text.

[10] Lineamenta, §11, p. 21 Back to text.

[11] James 2:19 Back to text.

[12] Lineamenta §16, p. 27 Back to text.

[13] Novo Millenio Ineunte, 40 Back to text.

[14] §3, p. 8 Back to text.

[15] John 14:12 Back to text.

[16] 1Thessalonians 1:5