Book review: The Evangelization Equation= The Who, What, and How
By Father James A. Wehner, S.T.D.
Foreword by Cardinal Donald Wuerl
*This is a book review for The Catholic Company*
Description: The Evangelization Equation: The Who, What, and How by Father James A. Wehner, STD is a crash course in the “New Evangelization” to which both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called all Catholics. Father Wehner explores the challenges and the opportunities in American culture for spreading the Gospel. While giving a full presentation of the cultural, historical, pastoral, and theological background of his topic, he also communicates the very practical implications of the call.Father Wehner, who made the New Evangelization his area of specialization at the Pontifical Gregorian University, has been educating seminarians since 2002. He also has pastoral experience in a large and vibrant parish and has worked with the Catholic Men’s Fellowship in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Thus, he is uniquely qualified on the topic of this book.,p> The reader, upon finishing this book, will be equipped with the intellectual and practical tools to move forward as an effective evangelist. Also, most readers will be infected by Father Wehner’s enthusiasm and commitment to spread the Good News to individuals and, by so doing, effect change in our culture. The last sentence of the book expresses both the sure hope and the charge of the New Evangelization for Catholics: “We are the Body of Christ and the gates of hell shall not prevail!”
I picked up and put this book down several times. When I hear “new evangelization” coming from the Catholic Church (and her clergy) my skin crawls because instantly I want to defend the “old” evangelization. After all, it was the OLD evangelization worked for well over a thousand years and since Vatican II the Church has seen a horrible (in my opinion) decline- on all fronts. So you see, I don’t think very highly of “the new evangelization”.
That said, I am still
happy… perhaps that’s not the right
term… I am grateful for having chosen “The Evangelization Equation” to review
for The Catholic Company. The book gave
me a deeper insight into this “new evangelization”- it didn’t make me like it
any better, but I had a more rounded understanding of it.
The book is written in three parts; The Who, The What and The How. Beginning in part one, I felt as though I had climbed onto a roller coaster. The foreword had me feeling a little uneasy (remember I nearly break out in hives over the term “new evangelization”) but hopeful when I began reading statements like “Only the Church possesses the whole truth about man, God, and the God-Man who redeemed the world. For only in the Church has that truth been passed down infallibly from generation to generation through the teaching power of the Magisterium.” [Introduction xvi]
Yeah! I totally agree! No wishy-washy protestant sounding “evangelization” there. The roller coaster climbed higher and I wasn’t turning green or feeling ill.
Part one begins by explaining what is wrong with ‘modernization’ in society -not medical help and things that save lives, but rather things that make us more secular. Material things that take the place of God in our lives. I totally agree with Fr. Wehner on this. Father goes on to tell how modernization has led to society rejecting absolute truth and Catholics who have decided abortion is OK and gay marriage and birth control and a list of other things. The absolute truth taught by the Church from the Holy Spirit has been rejected by many Catholics because of the secular modernization of our society.
The roller coaster is climbing higher and higher and I am still feeling good. No worries in sight!
I am thrilled to see Father admit that this destructive modernization has found its way into the Church among the clergy who are afraid to speak in absolute truths on any number of issues (contraception, homosexuality, divorce, the need for Confession etc).
Father goes on to write “One of the challenges in evangelization is our need for the Church. The independent mindset of so many leaves people with a spiritual crisis of wanting to believe in God without the Church. ‘Me and my Jesus’ is often the mantra of those who are convinced they can be Christians without the burden of belonging to the Church.”
'Right on Father!' I shout as the roller coaster climbs to its highest point yet!
I turn the page to chapter three, and the roller coaster does a nose dive as I shrill “NO!” after reading:
“The phrase, ‘new in its ardor, method, and expression’ is crucial to understanding the new evangelization. The new evangelization seeks newness in its methods, not in its message. It looks at the world and says, ‘This place isn’t what it used to be.’ It recognizes what modernity has post-modernity have done to men, and admits that if the Church wants to reach people, it has to do things a bit differently.”
No, no, no, no NO! I completely disagree with this last part. If anything, we see the FAILURE of this “new evangelization” since Vatican II. Is there seriously ANY Catholic who FULLY believes ALL official Catholic teaching (abortion is ALWAYS wrong, gay marriage can NEVER be condoned, birth control is a sin etc) who also thinks that Vatican II has HELPED to “evangelize” anyone of the True Faith?
Since Vatican II we have clueless Catholics sitting in the pews that reject MOST of Catholic teaching, refuse to confess their sins and yet march up for Holy Communion on the rare occasions they even attend Mass.
Today’s Catholics are a FAR cry different than the majority of Catholic’s pre-Vatican II.
Just before I think the roller coaster is going to crash and burn into the ground below, it whips me to the right and begins to climb again when I read:
“Now we also see how Pope Benedict XVI is asking the Church to reclaim the mystery and awe of our faith as a direct way to evangelize the culture. An important component of the success of the new evangelization is indeed to reclaim the wonderful traditions that have directly influenced music, art, literature, science, architecture…” [Page 47]
Yes!! All those things LOST because of Vatican II (my opinion). I was once again in agreement with Father. The BEAUTY of the Church, not just her doctrines but also the liturgy, the music, the architecture of the parish buildings themselves all help evangelize people.
We are called to WORSHIP God at Mass. Our surroundings often influence the mood we are in. Look at World Youth Day for a moment… sun shining, waves crashing, flags flying and people swaying. Now compare that to an “old” (pre-Vatican II) High Mass. Which one looks more like worship to you?
Apparently Father and I differ here because he says [page 50]
“Just as the new evangelization doesn’t seek to present a new Gospel, it also doesn’t seek to restore some past Catholic Golden age.”
If it was a “Golden Age” doesn’t that mean it was good? What age are we in now? The Catholic Iron Age? Is this better than the Catholic Golden Age of the past when Catholic families attended Mass together, when Catholic parents were actually married to each other, had their babies baptized and practiced the Faith?
Roller coaster plunges again then soars to another peak.
Father goes on to discuss humanism and the call to Holiness and then to the Church being “more effective” in teaching against the evils of communism, Marxism and materialism. Part three goes on to discuss “inculturation and interculturation” (thanks to JPII). Basically (if I understand it correctly) it means making the Gospel flesh- yeah, I know that is Jesus- God Incarnate. But this is the MESSAGE incarnate- brought to life in things like symbols, and how we talk (this changes with time and cultures).
Father writes: “An inculturated catechesis seeks to transform hearts as well as minds. It helps people see the connection between what they profess in the Creed on Sunday and how they act Monday through Saturday.”
Honestly, this chapter took me two times to even vaguely grasp because it sounded like nothing new at all, only someone got tired of the old terms and decided to use new ones. So clearly I missed something vital here because I don’t see most of the Catholics I know personally putting what is said/taught at Mass into effect when they walk out the doors. I know they still practice birth control (they tell me) and I know they still support gay marriage (they tell me that too) and I know they still think abortion is a woman’s choice so it should remain legal (they tell me that). Either they don’t know their Faith or they reject it. The “new evangelization” methods are not working on most of them.
The highest point of the book for me is found in chapter five [page 90-93]. This part is about Father Derek Lappe (in 2002) at St. Thomas Aquinas in Camas, Washington. When Fr. Lappe first arrived, the parish was small, the people had a “bad understanding” of their faith and there was “incessant chattering before Mass” (BOY CAN I RELATE TO THAT ISSUE!). Anyway, Fr. Lappe sets out to correct the things he found “problematic” by (get this) RESTORING the things that had been lost over the years! He put the Tabernacle back to front and center (yeah!), he remodeled the building removing the modern look with a traditional frescoes (YEAH!), he walked into the sanctuary early before Mass and knelt down before the altar to pray giving a visible WITNESS to HOW people should behave before Mass (YEAH! No more chattering), he also brought back the REVERENCE with the “smells and bells’ that have marked the Church liturgy for centuries.”
WAY TO GO FATHER! Now that is a GREAT way to evangelize people! It worked! People changed how they behaved at Mass. The parish increased its members and more than doubled its daily Mass attendance. Adults and children learned HOW to be Catholic. Wonderful stuff!
I particularly loved this part:
“Lessons learned? First, beauty matters. A beautiful Church, with beautiful liturgy and beautiful music, communicates the faith. It shows people, makes it visible, in a way that mere words cannot. If the parishioners, when they go to Church, only experience what they experience every else in culture, and if they have no experience of the transcendent when they enter the church and participate in the Mass, one of the more important catechetical tools we have at our disposal is wasted.”
So true! For example when people walk into an old parish, full of enormous stained glass windows, statues, ornate wood carving and a gorgeous marble altar they often behave differently than walking into a plain concrete block building that might resemble their work place rather than a place of worship. If the music is Gregorian chant or Ave Maria coming out of a pipe organ people will behave one way. Silent and reverent. Now take those same people and walk into a parish where someone is strumming a guitar while his back up is bongo drums.
You’re just NOT going to get the same behavior or reverence. What is around us, what we see, what we hear all effect our mood and how we behave. That’s just how it is. A beautiful Church with beautiful music has much more to offer in the way of “new evangelization” than a modern plain Church with modern music.
Father Wehner admits to the failings of Vatican II while at the same time saying this “new evangelization” will work.
I don’t know how he comes to that conclusion, but I admire his optimism.
So while this book had the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride for this Catholic, I am grateful that I read it and have a better understanding of where our clergy and Church are coming from when I hear the term “new evangelization”- even if I don’t think it is working.
Overall, I would recommend this book for other Catholics who want to learn what is meant by “new evangelization”- especially now that Pope Francis is speaking so much about reaching out to the world with the Gospel message, this book will help Catholics understand what the Church is referring to.
Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner