My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Over the last several years there has been much discussion about the "New Evangelization," an initiative vigorously proclaimed by Blessed John Paul II and enthusiastically taken up by his successors, Pope Benedict XVI, our Holy Father emeritus, and our present pontiff, Pope Francis. Yet, for many, the new evangelization is a popular theme but not very easily explained. The birth of Christ, which we joyfully celebrate on Christmas day, December 25, gives us the definition of the new evangelization.
The birth of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Son of God, took place on our behalf. The second person of the Blessed Trinity came to dwell among us to teach us about his Father, to share with us the love of the Triune God, to forgive our sins, and to open for us the doors of eternal life and to establish the community of faith, the church, of which he is its cornerstone. Since the time of the Incarnation and the earthly mission of Jesus Christ, these realities have not changed. What has changed is humanity’s lack of awareness of these marvelous acts of the Son of God. The new evangelization is really a call to awaken in us a renewed appreciation for Jesus Christ present among us, continuing to live in our midst and alive in our hearts if we only open our hearts to receive him.
The new evangelization is not a program or another strategic plan; it is not another proposal; it is not something, but someone, the very person of Jesus Christ: his life, his words, his presence, his union with us in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist. The new evangelization is the Incarnation coming alive in our own age. The new evangelization means accepting the Child born at Bethlehem and unreservedly following him. The essence of the birth of Christ, the essence of the "New Evangelization," is powerfully captured in the words of Benedict XVI: "From the moment of his birth, He belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path." (Pope Benedict XVI, "The Infancy Narratives, Jesus of Nazareth," 2012, p. 67).
The new evangelization is not recreating a product; rather it is recreating ourselves in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. It means joining the shepherds and Magi at the crib and realizing there is the Savior of humanity and, in that recognition, redefining who we are as God’s children, making a conscious effort to follow the Lord in all things.
Once again, the means for renewing ourselves in Christ are present and call for a rediscovery of them on our part. It is almost impossible to speak of renewal without speaking of the sacrament of reconciliation, a sacrament that sadly is forgotten by many in the community of the faithful. Yet it is so very powerful in its effects as so beautifully taught by Blessed John Paul II in Reconciliatio et paenitentia: "(I)t has to be added that … this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the church. He is reconciled with all creation." (31, 5)
Once we have experienced the Lord’s mercy, we have placed ourselves in more intimate communion with the Lord culminating in the celebration of the most holy Eucharist. One cannot understand or appreciate the One who is the new evangelization without entering into the mystery of the Paschal Lamb, who forgives our sins and nourishes us with his very body and blood. The primary concern, the first concern of the new evangelization should be welcoming back, encouraging and reaching out to our brothers and sisters who no longer attend holy Mass. Without this emphasis upon the importance of participation at the eucharistic sacrifice, the new evangelization is without a subject. In his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis writes: "The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith: an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself." (44)
The new evangelization is the wood of the crib at Bethlehem become the wood of the cross on Calvary. It is Christ upon the cross who speaks to us of the new evangelization. In him crucified we see the two great commandments lived fully: Love God, love your neighbor. Do not these two great commandments unveil anew the meaning of the new evangelization? "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (cf. Mt. 22:37-40) Many have forgotten the meaning and the power of the cross. "The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, ‘the one mediator between God and men’. But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every person, ‘the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery’ is offered to all people. He calls his disciples to ‘take up (their) cross and follow (him)’, for ‘Christ also suffered for (us), leaving (us) an example so that (we) should follow in his steps.’ In fact Jesus desires to associate with His redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 618)
This, my brothers and sisters, is the message of the new evangelization! The cross is not a mere symbol, only to be depicted on decorative jewelry or other ornamentation — the cross is real, Christ’s death is real, Christ’s resurrection is real and this is the reality of the new evangelization, the message that needs to resurface and rise above the voices of secular society that either ignores God or denies his existence! The birth of Jesus Christ ushered in a new moment in humanity’s history, new in every age and in every circumstance because in its transcendence it breaks the limits and boundaries of all that is human and introduces humanity to eternity! "The human existence of the Son is the glory of the Father. In the crib and on the cross, the glory of God is raised aloft in this world. And wherever men follow this God, a new humanity begins, and peace on earth begins, even if only in a fragmentary fashion." (Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, 2007, pp. 108-109).
As we celebrate this great solemnity of the birth of our savior, let us embrace as a diocesan family the new evangelization for, in fact, we are embracing Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever! And may our faith in Him cause us to be mindful of those among us who suffer in any way; may we be instruments of joy and peace for them according to our particular gifts and talents. Let us also remember those in military service, away from family and friends, who defend our freedom. May they return home safely and may peace, the peace of Christ, the peace of that first Christmas, bless our world once again!
I wish you all a very blessed Christmas and a joyous and peace-filled New Year!
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop-Designate of Rochester