I am taking a moment to write this post at 1:57 local time, Feb. 28, just a few minutes before Pope Benedict officially renounces the role of Holy Father. The beautiful bells of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart started ringing at 1:52, offering an eight-minute tribute to the Pope, the Papacy, and the Church that journeys onward. The bells always bring a beautiful sound right outside my office window here at the Institute for Educational Initiatives, but they touch a melancholy note today because it really does feel like a worldwide family is fatherless at the moment–yes indeed, the bells just stopped, it is the 8 pm time of resignation in Rome. I am thankful that the Lord is always with us, that the Holy Spirit is always guiding us as individuals and as a Church, and we shall not be left orphans. Bells like these at Notre Dame always ring out hope, especially valued during this Lenten season when we are especially mindful of the Cross, which is truly our only hope, as the Congregation of Holy Cross wisely points out. As Francis of Assisi used to say, Peace and all good things, Papa Benedict.
It was a treat to welcome Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society, to South Bend last week. I’ve met him in person a few times, including a visit to the ACS annual national conference in Minneapolis several years ago, and it’s been my pleasure to participate in two Chesterton reading groups on campus, including one led by my friend Father Charlie Gordon, CSC.
Chesterton’s insights are awesomely eloquent, pithy summations of wisdom grounded firmly in the Catholic faith and dealing with just about any topic in life.
Because I bought a couple of books at Ahlquist’s appearances, including a dictionary of sorts titled The Universe According to G. K. Chesterton, I know that GKC has a great definition of education: “truth in a state of transmission; the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next.” It reminds me of the quote from Pope Benedict XVI in which he told Catholic educators in the United States that an education in faith “nurtures the soul of a nation.”
Chesterton is a champion for truth, for the notion that truth exists–which is why it’s worth transmitting to others, including the next generation. Ahlquist talks about this championing of truth in an episode of his EWTN series, “The Apostle of Common Sense.” And the Universe book I just bought includes a nice definition of truth (accentuating the dynamic, interactive power of truth) taken from GKC’s writings. Truth, he says, is “a fact with meaning; a living fact; a fact that can talk; a fact that is conscious of other facts; a fact that can explain itself.”
Yesterday’s “Rekindle the Fire” conference for Catholic men, sponsored by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, is going to stay in my mind and heart for a long time to come. The speakers offered energizing and informative insights about where the Church and society stand today—and what that implies for our involvement in the New Evangelization.
One of the speakers was Matthew Kelly, whose book Rediscovering Catholicism, is an international best-seller. His work on increasing engagement among today’s Catholics is worth getting to know. Two ways to start: Visit his website at dynamiccatholic.com, and watch his YouTube video.
Starting around the 7:00 minute mark, Kelly points out that Catholic schools save Americans about $18 billion a year—one of the many stories that the Church needs to communicate better. Meanwhile, he acknowledges that we also need to make a bolder mark on the world as people of prayer and spirituality, not just a big institution.
Another powerful speaker at the annual diocesan men’s conference on Feb. 9 was Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, who happens to be a Domer, class of 1988. He called upon the 1,100 attendees to build a closer relationship with God and with other people through a deeper engagement with Scripture, the Mass, and the fullness of the Catholic faith.
We were delighted to host Deacon Harold today at ACE’s home on campus, Carole Sandner Hall, so he could meet with old friends, including Fr. Joe Corpora, who leads our Catholic School Advantage campaign. See the story of his vocation to the permanent deaconate.
The New Evangelization is something all Catholic communicators will want to learn more about and ponder more deeply. It was my pleasure to attend a Men’s Prayer Breakfast at South Bend’s Little Flower Parish this weekend, where Bishop Kevin Rhoades talked about the New Evangelization as a top priority in his leadership of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. His remarks helped to crystallize the New Evangelization in my mind.
Evangelization, in its basics, is nothing new, Bishop Rhoades clarified: The Church is called to evangelize, to spread the Good News. But the New Evangelization, an idea promoted by Pope John Paul II, “is directed principally to those who are baptized but have drifted away.” This evangelization, as described by Blessed JP2, must be “new in ardor, new in methods, and new in expressions.” Intensifying under the papacy of Benedict XVI, the New Evangelization is a multi-faceted outreach to an increasingly secular society where, even among many Catholics, the sense of mystery and the transcendent — indeed, the awareness of God – are in danger of being lost. The New Evangelization, Bishop Rhoades pointed out, must begin with us as people engaged in vibrant prayer, nurtured by the sacraments, and immersed in a pursuit of holiness.
As a communicator for the Alliance for Catholic Education here at Notre Dame, I was gratified to hear the Bishop say there are a number of encouraging signs that can help propel the New Evangelization forward, including a stronger Catholic identity emerging in many Catholic schools. I know the building up of schools’ Catholic culture is a priority for ACE. Spiritual growth among Catholic educators is a pillar of ACE’s formation of teachers and principals. ACE chaplain Father Joe Carey, CSC, is writing a series for our website to help teachers grasp lessons from the Church’s Year of Faith. The Notre Dame ACE Academies schools in Tucson and Tampa-St. Pete remind their students every day that their top two goals are “college and heaven.”
The word “heaven,” as a reminder that we are destined for eternity, adds a touch of ultimate meaning, purpose, and urgency to our pursuit of holiness and thus kicks the New Evangelization into a higher gear.
I have come away from the Prayer Breakfast with a clearer understanding of, and a more zealous approach toward, the New Evangelization. It’s something we all have to take personally as part of our daily lives as Catholics. I’ll be looking for more ways to stay informed about the New Evangelization. Please send me your ideas!
For now, as regards the New Evangelization in Catholic schools, I can point toward a Jan. 29. 2013, statement (for Catholic Schools Week) by Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The “Whispers in the Loggia” blog offers insights into the New Evangelization and many other Church endeavors. And Notre Dame’s own Institute for Church Life publishes an online journal about the New Evangelization.