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Cardinal Dolan on the New Evangelizaton View Comments
By John Feister

"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.

Number 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.

And thirdly, 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 dormant.

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!”

We know that the United States of America 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 are.

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 else?

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.

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John Feister is editor in chief of this publication. He has master’s degrees in humanities and in theology from Xavier University, Cincinnati.

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Benedict Joseph Labre: Benedict Joseph Labre was truly eccentric, one of God's special little ones. Born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at 16 years of age, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood, much to the consternation of his relatives. 
<p>He became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. He wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the poor. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called "the poor man of the Forty Hours Devotion" and "the beggar of Rome." The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that "our comfort is not in this world." </p><p>On the last day of his life, April 16, 1783, Benedict Joseph dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death the people proclaimed him a saint. </p><p>He was officially proclaimed a saint by Pope Leo XIII at canonization ceremonies in 1883.</p> American Catholic Blog Today offers limitless possibilities for holiness. Lean into His grace. The only thing keeping us from sainthood is ourselves.

 
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