More on the “New” Evangelization

Evangelization is a “hot topic” in the Catholic Church these days, as it should be: as Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization.” Given the current emphasis on this central topic, I’ve recently read several new books on the subject. I was a bit disappointed by the one I just finished, The Parish Guide to the New Evangelization: An Action Plan for Sharing the Faith, written by Fr. Robert J. Hater and sent to me by The Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program.

For someone who has never read anything on the subject of evangelization, the opening chapter does a competent job in explaining why evangelization is central to Catholicism and that it is a lifelong process. It also raises some of the challenges of evangelization.

But for something labeled a “Parish Guide” and an “Action Plan,” the book is short on any new, real concrete steps that would aid parishes in strengthening their efforts at evangelization. (I say that despite a final chapter labeled “A Practical Process.”) The most that is offered is a suggested process for a parish to begin to think about the issue.

I have several specific criticisms of the book. First I found it very repetitious; certain points are made over and over again. Yes, scripture is essential. Yes, liturgy is important. But such points need not be made with the frequency with which they are made in the book. In some sections consecutive paragraphs say the same thing in different words.

Second, some of the points made are so self-evident as to not be worth mentioning. “Evangelization happens in every day life.” When else would it happen? “The most basic way to ensure good catechesis is to have well-prepared catechists.” I should think so!

Third, some of the distinctions are not clearly drawn. For example, one chapter talks about different sectors of evangelization – cultural, social, communications, economic and civic and political. They are presented as separate but as I read the descriptions, I found it hard to distinguish one from the other in some cases, nor was it clear why the distinctions were necessarily helpful.

The subject of evangelization is an important one. But I think there are more challenging and helpful books out there than this one for parishes that want to take on the challenge of deepening their commitment to evangelization. Among those are Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (about which I’ve written before) and Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilt.