"Big Four" Highlights


Fathers and the New Evangelization

An interview with author Ralph Martin

Ralph Martin is president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. He is also host of the television program The Choices We Face on EWTN and a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. He and his wife, Anne, live in Ann Arbor, Mich. He spoke to Fathers for Good about his new book, The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call.

Fathers for Good: In a nutshell, what is the new evangelization?

Ralph Martin: I think it would be good to get clear what evangelization is before we talk about what’s new in it. I think the best definition I know is in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mission of the Redeemer, section 46, where he says, “Evangelization has Christian conversion as its goal, which is a sincere and complete adherence to Christ, by virtue of a personal decision to accept his saving sovereignty and become his disciple.”

Ralph Martin proclaims the first reading last year at the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Now that’s a mouthful, but it’s pretty clear that evangelization isn’t just about getting people back to church, however good that is, or getting people active in the parish, which is also certainly good. Evangelization is about conversion, about bringing people to really surrender their life to Christ and personally decide that he’s going to be the center of their life.

What’s new about the new evangelization is first of all who it’s directed to. The traditional missionary work of the Church was geared towards people who had never heard the Gospel before in far-off countries. The new evangelization is directed toward baptized Catholics who may have never really understood what it means to be a baptized Catholic. Maybe they drifted away from the practice of the faith, or at one time went to Mass but no longer go, or maybe even are going to Mass but don’t understand what it’s all about. So there’s a need to call baptized Catholics to an encounter with Jesus Christ that helps them to center their whole life around him.

The second issue is: who does the new evangelization? We’ve been used to thinking about bishops and priests and nuns as the ones who do the work of evangelization. One of the things that Vatican II so strongly emphasizes is that every single baptized Catholic has a responsibility to be a witness for Christ in their families, in their environments, their neighborhood. So, who does the new evangelization? We baptized Catholics do.

FFG: What’s “urgent” about it, and why should the average Catholic care about it?

Martin: The reason I wrote the book is because I feel like there’s a certain kind of fog pervading the minds of many of our fellow Catholics. If I were to describe how the average Catholic looks at the world today, I might describe it like this: “Broad and wide is the way that leads to heaven and almost everybody’s going that way. But narrow is the road that leads to hell and difficult the road and few there are who are finding it.” This is a little disturbing because this is the exact opposite of what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:13-14. And this is not an isolated text; there are dozens of these texts in Scripture.

People’s salvation is really hanging in the balance, and we really need to help people come to meet Jesus Christ and repent and believe in him in order to be saved. There’s a lot of focus today on the mercy of God and the love of God, which is absolutely correct and right, but people are not paying attention to the fact that there needs to be a response to the mercy of God, there needs to be a response to the love of Christ by faith and repentance. If there isn’t a response, that redemption, that love, that mercy can’t really be effective in our life, and we may find ourselves cut off from that mercy by refusing to open to it.

FFG: How can a father engage in the new evangelization in his own family?

Martin: It’s really important for parents to be a witness to Christ in their own homes, and that means that the father can’t leave it to the mother to lead prayers at table or that type of thing, but he needs to take an equal responsibility. So just saying Grace together as a family or occasionally saying the rosary together or when you’re traveling in a car suggesting a family rosary or different things like that are important.

But one of the sad things that’s happening today is parents are dropping their kids off at Confirmation class but not going to church themselves, so we really need to give a witness to our children about how important Christ and the Church are to us by our own faithfulness.

Then of course we need to look for opportunities to bring our children to events where they might meet Christ — whether it’s retreats or giving them books that are appropriate to their age level that can inspire them with the lives of saints. Also important is having contact with other families that share our values, so we can really support each other in raising our children in the faith.

FFG: Pope Francis has called for a Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2014 with the theme “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization.” What would you like to see the bishops discuss at this gathering in Rome?

Martin: I think we really need — and I’m sure the Synod will provide this — is a really beautiful, positive statement on the beauty of Christian marriage and what a treasure it is and what a gift it is and how we need to really safeguard it. I think we also can expect is an emphasis on the importance of marriage preparation, not just in a theoretical understanding of Catholic views on marriage but actually recognizing that many Catholics coming for marriage in the Church today aren’t really living their faith. They need not just to hear about marriage and how to stand in the wedding ceremony, but they really need to hear about who Jesus Christ is, and those preparing people for marriage really need to talk to them about where the people are in their relationship with the Lord and the Church and be ready to remove obstacles and misconceptions and help them embrace more fully the life of Christ and the Church.