"You can’t give what you don’t have.”
So says New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan,
passing along a piece of classical advice during our interview in his chancery
office on 1st Avenue
in Manhattan. Actually,
he recites the saying in Latin first—this president of the U.S. bishops’
conference has a doctorate in history. He’s referring to a pressing concern of
the Church today: the New Evangelization. Pope John Paul II used the term in
1979 when he spoke of the need for much of our Church to awaken our faith. How
can we share the Gospel if we don’t experience it?
This month representatives
of the world’s bishops gather with Pope Benedict XVI to talk and pray about evangelization.
This World Synod of Bishops coincides with the kickoff of a Year of Faith (see
our column on page 20). Cardinal Dolan will be among the U.S. bishops at the synod. He gave
a talk on the New Evangelization to the pope and cardinals just a few months back,
when he received his red cardinal’s hat. Now sitting in his office at the end
of a busy workday—a day that apparently will continue for some hours—he talks
freely, in his trademark unguarded, jovial style, sometimes even breaking in on
questions. He’s a seasoned media handler.
Q: Before you were elevated to cardinal, you gave a talk on the
New Evangelization. First of all, why were you chosen to do that?
A: Well, I think ’cause the other guys couldn’t make it! [laughs] Seriously, I think they wanted
an American. I think they wanted a new cardinal. And I think they wanted
somebody from a big city who was somewhat known to perhaps have a reputation,
however unjustly, of being materialistic and secularistic. Those are thought to
be the toxins to the New Evangelization.
Q: I think a whole lot of people don’t understand what it is.
What’s the difference between the New Evangelization—
A: It is somewhat confusing because everybody immediately says, “What
in the world is so new about evangelization?” Isn’t it nine days older than Pentecost?
After all, it was the last mandate of Jesus to go out and preach the Gospel.
That’s evangelization. So in one way, it ain’t new. It’s as old as the hills,
namely the hills of Galilee. It’s as old as
the hill of the Ascension. It’s been the engine that has driven the mission of
the Church for two millennia.
Pope John Paul II is the one who coined the term “the
New Evangelization.” And what did he mean? He says first of all, we’ve got to
evangelize ourselves again. We traditionally tend to equate evangelization with
missionary work. And missionary work is indeed an essential component of evangelization.
Missionary work we think of ad
extra . . . to the foreign lands who
have never heard the saving name, person, or message of Jesus Christ. So John
Paul II said the New Evangelization means we also evangelize ourselves.
two, it also means that we evangelize the Church. He reminded us of what Pope
Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975: the Church always needs evangelization. So that’s
somewhat new, because usually we think of the Church as the subject of
evangelization, the doer. John Paul said it’s also the recipient.
we must evangelize those cultures of the world that are nominally Catholic, but
wherein the Gospel has lost its tang.
Q: Right—we hear a lot about European Catholicism being kind of
A: Yeah, listless, lethargic,
drifting. “If salt loses its tang, what is it good for?” to quote from Jesus.
Now, the very fact that, if I understand correctly, the first time John Paul II
used the term was in his visit to Poland in ’79. He was kind of
hinting we need to do that throughout all those lands that are nominally Catholic—nurse
the flame of the Gospel. We need to refire it.
Q: Many people worry that secularization is
a major problem in our time. Are people all pointing to the U.S. as a secularized place?
A: It is strange, because I think we in the United States would be very proud of the fact
that the United States of America is a
very religious nation. Europeans, especially if they’re here for the first
time, as we’re driving up and down the street, they’re saying, “Why are all these
churches here? Why are your churches filled? We thought you were pagan!”
know that the United States
is a very religious nation. But if you look at the perception that America has throughout the world, we’re a military
power, we’re very wealthy, and we’re all about Hollywood. Because that’s about all they see
on TV. That’s what gives us the perception, however inaccurate, that we are a
secular, pagan nation.
We do know that we have very powerful secularizing
influences. Where? Government. Universities. Entertainment. The media. Those
four opinionmaking institutions, those four cultural-forming entities, are very
secular. And that’s what gives the perception, however inaccurate, that we are a
secular, pagan nation.
Q: When you say
secularism chokes the seeds of faith, what do you mean? A: Well, it’s in the very definition: secularism is when you
seek your ultimate values in the here and now and not in the beyond. Secularism
is when you seek personal worth in what you have or what you do instead of who you
The other danger is that even though America is a highly religious nation,
there’s also a powerful influence within religion that would make it intensely
personal and would say that there is a profound Berlin Wall between one’s
religious beliefs and one’s external behavior. And that, of course, contributes
to secularism, right?
Q: I’m sure it would.
There’s a tension between the Church as a controlling influence—
A: Yeah, and it would also put duct tape over the New
Evangelization! The essence of evangelization is to carry one’s faith into the
marketplace, into the public square, into society and culture. If you come from
a culture or a society that believes religion is intensely personal, that’s
going to mitigate against a vibrant New Evangelization.
Q: Let’s say Catholics discover who we are
as Catholics, and we become worthy of going out and preaching something. Then
how do we not go back to triumphalism, to thinking we’re better than everyone
A: Well, it’s a biggie, because
one cannot evangelize unless one is confident— confident in the strength and endurability
of one’s own faith. But there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance,
triumphalism. The good news is that the Second Vatican Council threw out
triumphalism in the Church. The bad news is the confidence went with it! We
need to recover a sense of confidence.