As the World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization opens Oct. 7, a pressing question awaits an answer: We know the synod will lead to yet another Vatican document on evangelization; will it also lead to a missionary outburst that challenges the deadening, dehumanizing secularism of the West? Will the synod's deliberations lead to a metanoia, a conversion, in our attitudes and actions, or will it remain business as usual?
The New Evangelization – a revival of the Catholic faith in countries that have become increasingly secular and indifferent – means more than packing churches with hordes of currently inactive Catholics.
For religion today is privatized; it occupies a polite corner of people's lives, but is not allowed to bring its voice of truth into the public square. What will it do to fill our churches if the new arrivals believe the secular dogma of a separation of faith from life?
The New Evangelization changes the culture. It challenges a society that pretends to be neutral about religion, but in fact seeks to disembowel it. The human person finds fulfillment in the Word Made Flesh. That truth must imbue every aspect of life – politics, family life, entertainment industries, health care, education, the workplace – anywhere that humans make decisions affecting other humans.
As Christians and as a Church, we need to examine our consciences. Do we live divided lives - one part for Jesus and another part for me? If so, we have fallen prey to the central temptation of secularization.
Overcoming that temptation is not easy. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of a community of faith. One cannot do it alone.
One section of the document to help bishops prepare for this synod – yes, another document on evangelization – was headed "The Church transmits the faith which she herself lives." What faith do we live? A Sunday-morning-only faith; a faith of consumerism; a faith of indifference to the poor? Or, the faith of Jesus Christ?
To live out that faith, we need liturgies that bowl us over with the transcendent, homilies that challenge and inspire, and parishes that are communities of living faith. Then we need to implement the forgotten last chapter of Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity – the chapter that says lay people need to be formed in and informed about the Church's teachings so they can permeate society with the spirit of the Gospel. You cannot give what you do not have.
The Church's mission is to lead us to eternal life. If that mission is successful, it will show in the lives we lead and the society we create. A synod on evangelization must be a synod of the Holy Spirit, a synod that transforms us with new power and new vision. A power that transforms every aspect of life.