By: Tony Capobianco
The society of today has unquestionably become a post Christian society as is evidenced by what appears to be a global apostasy. It is almost certain that you have heard Christians ask, “How do we evangelize the modern world?” Many books and articles have been produced in an attempt to answer this question. Often people attempt to find novel solutions to remedy this sorrowful apostasy through trying to appeal to modern man by fabricating new ways to “encounter” and evangelize people who don’t have the Faith. In this day and age, emotions and sentimentality are often valued more than the intellect and objective truths. It has become common for those who do the work of evangelization to attempt to provoke an emotional response in their audience. This hoped for emotional experience is often achieved through using new worship music and through using a new vocabulary of evangelization. This new vocabulary avoids terms and truths such as Original Sin, mortal sin, Satan, Hell, chatisement, the sovereignty of God, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, and the need of Baptism for salvation. The new vocabulary for evangelization is meant to be “welcoming”, “inclusive”, pastoral” and to create an ill defined type of joy. As well intentioned as these efforts may be, pertinent questions arise. After decades of attempting to evangelize in a new way, sometimes called the “New Evangelization”, what have the results been? Why did this novelty fail? If the new way of evangelization hasn’t worked, how should we evangelize now and tomorrow?
The results are in and these novelties have been a tragic failure. This article doesn’t intend to go into the statistics of the measurable decline in the Church that has happened in the past 60 years because this has been well documented elsewhere, many times. Suffice it to say that the stark facts show that virtually every measurable statistic in the Church has proportionally plummeted since this new form of evangelization replaced the traditional form of evangelization. Baptisms, Confirmations, weddings, vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, Mass attendance, belief in the Real Presence, etc… have all proportionally decreased in comparison to 60 years ago. Almost every Catholic family has at least one fallen away family member. Amongst people who identify as Catholic, many heresies spread like a demonic virus. Immanentism reigns in the hearts and minds of many and as a result many self proclaimed Catholics actually lack the Theological Virtue of Faith as is apparent by their rejection of various Church teachings.
Further evidence of the failure of this new way of evangelizing is the fact that nearly all of the nations of the world are secular and godless nations which reject the Social Kingship of Christ and the moral teachings of His Church. Modern nations have far more in common with the pagan nations which dominated the world prior to the establishment of Christendom than they do with the nations which thrived within Christendom. Far from converting the current apostate world, the novel approach of evangelization of recent decades has seemed to allow for the acceleration and spread of apostasy. The current spiritual sickness of the western world is in fact so advanced and grave that practicing Catholics of just 20 years ago wouldn’t have believed that this spiritual disease could advance so quickly. Many in these unhappy times are so diabolically disorientated that they cannot even tell you how many genders there are or that a preborn baby is in fact a human life that must not be snuffed out as if he was a cancerous tumor. To put it succinctly, modern man has gone mad and he has gone mad because he has strayed away from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Why has this new form of evangelization failed? This new form of evangelization has failed miserably and I dare say that it has failed predictably so, because it has strayed away from Tradition. Whenever we stray from Tradition, the results are infertile or rotten. The buzzwords of the new evangelization are not balanced and they seem not to be an organic and legitimate development of evangelization as it was always understood and practiced, but rather these novel buzzwords often seem to be contrary to the traditional way of evangelization. Take the buzzword, “welcoming” for instance, in and of itself there is no problem with the Church being welcoming, but the sense in which the word is usually used is deeply problematic.
All are in fact welcome in the Catholic Church but not on the individual’s terms. No, the individual must conform his mind to the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ. The Church has always welcomed sinners, we are all sinners, but She welcomes us with the admonition to repent and follow the Commandments of Christ and His Church. To be truly welcoming, we must speak the truth as the Theological Virtue of Charity compels us to do so. Speaking the truth necessarily means that we don’t water down the doctrines of the Church in an attempt to be “inclusive” and “tolerant”. Tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Being welcoming in the sense that it has often been meant by various churchmen since the Second Vatican Council has frequently lead to shepherds negligently failing to teach and preach on topics such as Original Sin, mortal sin (especially sexual sins), Satan, Hell, repentance, prayer, penance, God’s justice, God’s rights, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.
How can we expect people to receive the good news of the Gospel if we don’t tell them about the unhappy reality of man after his fall in The Garden of Eden? How can we expect man to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior if we don’t first teach them that they are truly in need of a Savior? How can we expect someone to make haste and see a doctor if they don’t realize that they are very sick? Christ is the Doctor of Souls and He wants to heal the sickly souls and He wants to raise the spiritually dead souls (souls in mortal sin) back to life. How can we expect people to give up the pleasures of the flesh to follow Christ, pick up their crosses, and hope for Heaven if we fail to tell them of the excruciating pains of eternal damnation in Hell? How can we expect people to longingly desire to receive the sacrament of Baptism if we don’t first explain to them that the Church has always taught the necessity of Baptism for salvation and that prior to Baptism we are born children of wrath in bondage to sin and the Devil? It is the sacrament of Baptism which makes us adopted children of God The Father. Why should we be surprised when so many souls sorrowfully stop practicing the Catholic Faith and leave the safety of the Ark of the Church when we fail to teach and preach the infallible dogma of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus? Living the Catholic Faith is always difficult but it’s impossible to live it when we are ignorant of what it has always truly been and truly is.
Within Sacred Scripture, the Acts of the Apostles shows us the urgency and the power of true evangelization. The Apostles did not believe in or exhibit a false mercy which watered down the Gospel Truth in an attempt to make it more palatable for the decadent pagans of their time. Nor did the Apostles shy away from preaching about the reality and horrors of sin and Hell. The Apostles had the true peace and joy of Christ but they didn’t substitute it for a worldly peace in an attempt to be more appealing to a people enslaved to the spirit of the world. Exhorting men to cease sinning was never a popular message. Concupiscence has been with mankind since man’s miserable fall in the Garden of Eden. To suggest that modern man is inherently different in nature than his ancestors since The Fall, is foolishness. The disordered passions within fallen man are the same today as they were in the times of Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and the Saints. The idea that modern man is somehow special and that he needs to be catered to in a new way is misguided indeed.
In 1st Corinthians 6: 9-10, St. Paul authoritatively, clearly, and fearlessly teaches that the wicked shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven:
To suggest that modern man is more uniquely hostile to the Gospel than man was in the past and that we must therefore present the Gospel in a new, nice, inclusive, and inoffensive way, is an untenable notion to hold. The New Testament illustrates the fact that preaching the Gospel is not easy nor will doing so exclude you from persecution, rejection, and suffering. St. Paul also tells us of the magnitude of the suffering that he willingly endured in service to Christ and His Church:
Another reason that the new methods of evangelization has fallen flat on its face is because it seems to contradict the sound methods found within the Church’s tradition. That is to say that the Church’s Traditional teaching along with the teachings of the great mystics and spiritual masters has always been that men ought to be healthily detached from their emotions as the intellect and will are of a higher nature and therefore the emotions and passions must be subordinate to the intellect and the will. Yet in the modern style of evangelization we see a kind of inversion of this principle. This apparent inversion places emotions as a focal point wherein man’s entertainment and consolations are sought after at the expense of traditional spiritual practice. Modern worship and praise music often strives to stir up strong emotive responses in the attempt to give man a religious experience. This is problematic for several reasons.
The first reason being that this attempt to fabricate a so called religious experience makes man’s entertainment the apparent goal and end. This of course is disordered because it is God that must be the end and focal point of both worship and evangelization.
A second problem with focusing on an emotive response through fabricating a religious experience is that it, by its very nature, doing so teaches people to seek spiritual consolations. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and many other Saints teach that we should not seek spiritual consolations. On the contrary, Traditional Catholic teaching is that an unhealthy attachment to spiritual consolations causes the soul to love the gift in a disproportionate way to the Giver, Who is God. Focusing on created things and the gifts given by God, rather than focusing on God Himself, is disordered.
A third reason that seeking emotional and religious experiences is problematic is because in the normal order of the spiritual life, spiritual consolations become few and far between as one advances in the spiritual life. Therefore if a man comes to believe that spiritual consolations are standard part of the spiritual life, how will he react when the spiritual consolations cease? Spiritual consolations are not meant to be permanent part of our lives during our pilgrimage in this veil of tears and when those spiritual consolations depart, will the man that has his consolations taken away also depart the Faith? Lastly, such dependence on emotional experiences deludes man into thinking that he is the center of existence and he is not. God is the center. Always.
Conflating niceness with the Theological Virtue of Charity seems to be at the heart of the problem concerning the novel form of evangelization of the past several decades. It would seem as though many churchmen are silent on certain Church doctrines based in part on a misunderstanding of the Theological Virtue of Charity. People don’t want to be disliked by other people. People want to be loved by others and in a misguided attempt to create a false peace, modern Catholics tend to avoid doctrines that they think others will perceive to be difficult or intolerant. As a result many Catholics, clerics included, tend to prioritize being perceived as nice in fear of being labeled as an extremist or rigid fundamentalist. Once again we see how changing the focus from traditional principles used in evangelization to the new modern principles used in evangelization is tightly connected to the new disordered focus on emotions. In an excellent lecture on the Theological Virtue of Charity, Fr. Ripperger addressees the problem of misplaced niceness this way:
Since by all measurable criteria, the new approach to evangelization has disastrously failed, what can be done to improve this sorrowful situation? How can we evangelize the modern world? Well it would be prudent to ask two more questions before we go any further. Do we want to be the Church of Nice or do we want to be the Church of Truth? The second question is like the first and was asked by a holy priest in a recent sermon that I was privileged to hear. Do we want to be a Church of Comfort or do we want to be an Acts of the Apostles Church? Once we answer those questions correctly, as Our Lord wills us to answer them, it is only then that we will be able to effectively evangelize and bring souls to Christ and into His Church. The order of Charity demands that we be a Church of the Truth rather than an emotionally disordered Church of nice. We must return to being an Acts of the Apostles Church rather than being a Church of comfort.
How do we once again become an Acts of the Apostles Church? The answers have been alluded to earlier in this article. To once again become an Acts of the Apostles Church we must return to the basic Truths of the Faith. We must speak on the magnificent drama and splendor of salvation history. We must speak uncomfortable and unpopular truths. To do these things, we must first get our individual spiritual lives in order. We must learn the Authentic and Traditional Catholic Faith. How can we evangelize and help others spiritually if we ourselves are a spiritual mess? How can we help others if we haven’t first helped ourselves? How can we teach others the Faith if we ourselves are largely ignorant of it? How can we teach people how to love God as they ought, if we ourselves do not first love Him as we ought? How can we create a rightly ordered society when our own lives are disordered?
In order to emulate the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the martyrs, and the early Christians, we must read and study the New Testament, Sacred Tradition, and the lives of the saints. Our mission today is the same as it ever was. We must live the Traditional Catholic Faith. We must perform the duties proper to our state in life. We must make frequent use of the sacraments. We must conform our minds to the mind of Christ and His Church. We must rip out all sin within our lives by their roots. We must conquer vice and we must practice virtue. We must convert our own hearts and minds first and then we must work with and beg the Holy Ghost to convert our families, next our neighbors, then our towns, and finally our nations. After all, the pagan Roman Empire wasn’t converted in a day, nor was Christendom built over night. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, souls converted on an individual level, next on a family level, then towns, and then entire kingdoms. This appears to be the clear model that we ought to follow if we sincerely wish to fulfill the Great Commission commanded to us by Our Lord.
Start small, make sure that family and friends know that you are Catholic through the way you live your life. If you live an authentically Catholic life in these times, you will most certainly stand out as different in this apostate world which has largely returned to living pagan hedonistic lifestyles. Standing out in this way, not a prideful way but a righteous way, will inspire people that are as of yet outside of the Church to ask you questions about the Catholic Faith and when they do, provide the answers confidently. In his Epistle, St. Peter exhorts us to always be ready to give a reason for our Hope:
If we truly desire to evangelize modern man and for the Holy Ghost to convert souls to the One True Faith, then it behooves us to cultivate a devotion to Our Lady, the Holy Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Bring your problems and concerns to the Blessed Mother so that she may petition His Majesty, Christ the King, on your behalf. Ask the Virgin Most Powerful to obtain the graces of conversion for specific people who are yet outside of the Church. Pray the rosary daily for the conversion of fallen away Catholics, especially if there are any within your family.
We can and should develop a devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a burning furnace of Charity and pure love. Plead with the Lord Jesus to take your hardened heart of stone and to replace it with a burning heart made in His likeness so that you may love souls for His sake in a manner pleasing in His sight and so that you will be able to love Him as you ought. The Sacred Heart also shows us how much Christ suffered in order to save us from the consequences of Original Sin and mortal sin. In modern times, people often like to say that freedom isn’t free, well it is more fitting and true to say that salvation isn’t free. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that we could live life abundantly, free from bondage to sin, the flesh, and the Devil. Gaze upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus and ask His Most Sacred Heart to have mercy on you and on the people that you will to be converted to the Catholic Faith.
To evangelize as our Catholic forefathers did, we can also develop and interest and appreciation for The Good, The True, and The Beautiful. The Good, The True, and The Beautiful will inspire us to grow in holiness and it also often inspires people outside of the Church to draw nearer to Her.
To effectively evangelize the modern world we must become humble and recognize that we must return to Sacred Tradition. It is prideful to think that we could drastically break from the form of evangelization that was followed for nearly two thousand years in the arrogant belief that we have at last invented a new, superior form of evangelization. Major ruptures from Tradition indicate a spiritual sickness in which the person pridefully believes that his ways are superior to the ways of the majority of his Catholic ancestors. This is not to say that new methods of evangelization cannot be organically developed to supplement the traditional methods of evangelization but when there appears to be a serious rupture from the Tradition then there is great cause for concern. With the Blessed Apostles, the Church Fathers, and the Saints of the past nineteen hundred years as our guide, we must return to Tradition. We must put away a disordered concern for people’s potential emotional response to the Truth. We must not exhibit a false niceness in which sin is tolerated and coddled to the spiritual detriment of the afflicted soul. The Truth must be spoken boldly and in Charity. The work of evangelization compels us to tell man the Truth and the Truth is that he is sick and in dire need of a physician, The Divine Physician, Jesus Christ. The Theological Virtue of Charity drives us to gather as many souls as possible into the safety of the Ark of the Catholic Church. There is, for each man, an existence after physical death but there is only true life in the Kingdom of Heaven through Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. The Theological Virtue of Hope infuses within us the belief and hope that after the completion of this earthly life we will obtain through Christ, the beatific vision as we will finally see God face to face for eternity. This is the reason for which God created us. These beautiful truths must be shared with those who yet remain ignorant of them so that the Truth may set them free and so that they may become our friends in heaven. If all of this seems too daunting or impossible for creatures as lowly as us, always remember that we are not alone and that it is power from on high that works through us and that all good fruit comes from God, Who is Goodness and Love itself.
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