Book review: The Evangelization Equation= The Who, What, and
By Father James A. Wehner, S.T.D.
Foreword by Cardinal Donald Wuerl
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
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
“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:
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
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
Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner