When Pope John Paul II first called for a New Evangelization 30 years ago, it did not rank high on the Richter scale. Over the ensuing years, he spoke increasingly of the need for new methods of bringing the Gospel to formerly Christian countries. He also called for greater zeal and new ways to express eternal truths.
In a sincere effort to respond to Pope John Paul's call, people have created books, websites, social media, lecture series, glitzy brochures and who knows what else. None of it has had the impact of the simple witness of Pope Francis, the surprising man from Argentina who eschews the trappings of wealth and power, and urges us by his example to walk with the poor.
He knows that the Gospel must be lived for it to be believed. With the face of the Church marred by scandals and careerism, we badly need the witness of this man who is committed to simplicity.
In defence of the Church's golden worship halls and episcopal palaces of previous centuries, it used to be argued that the faith of the common people would be strengthened by edifices that raised their minds to the transcendent. Perhaps that was once true, but today it is a counter-witness to the proclamation of God's word.
"Proclaiming the Gospel must take the road of poverty," Pope Francis said in his June 11 homily. (See story on Page 8.) Jesus sent his apostles out with no gold or silver so that people would respond to the Gospel, not to trinkets with no lasting value.
Recently, Scripture readings at daily Mass have been from St. Paul's great Second Letter to the Corinthians. There, Paul repeatedly tells the wealthy Corinthians that the real treasure is the cross. That treasure is carried in earthen pots so that it is clear that the power of the Gospel comes from God, not from puffed-up humanity.
Paul, the greatest evangelizer, says he will boast, not of his successes, but of his weaknesses. Through his weaknesses, his poverty, God will shine through.
Too often, we have it backwards. Too often, we act as though our strength and ostentation give glory to God and can be a magnet for the unbeliever.
However, the unbelieving world has had enough of that. It no longer trusts those who strive for power and accord themselves the greatest comforts. The world was attracted to Mother Teresa because of her poverty, not because she also consorted with the powerful. The world is attracted to Pope Francis because of his simplicity and his refusal to be the pawn of any establishment.
When people want to make the Church rich, she is in trouble, he says. It is praising God with our lips and with our lives that provide the real wealth. That is the true engine of the New Evangelization – no gimmicks, just living in a way that authentically gives praise to God.