A palpable sense of energy and activity pervaded St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie last Saturday morning. Dr. Scott Hahn, the noted Catholic author and Biblical scholar, had come to deliver a morning symposium on “New Apologetics for the New Evangelization,” and more than 300 guests gathered in the Prayer Hall to hear his presentation.
In his introduction, Msgr. Peter Vaccari, the seminary’s rector, called Dr. Hahn the one Catholic apologist “who has made us understand the Bible from the heart of the Church (more) than any other.”
Dr. Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, did nothing to dispel Msgr. Vaccari’s assessment. He drilled deeply into his topics during his two conferences, the first centering on the Eucharist and the second on marriage and family. Because of this column’s brevity, the reporting here will focus on the first conference, which was especially good.
He showed how the last three popes, beginning with St. John Paul II, have each worked to advance the New Evangelization. He said Pope John Paul II coined the term in impromptu fashion during a pilgrimage to his Polish homeland in 1979. The pope also defined it as a re-evangelization of those who have been de-Christianized by a secularized culture.
Pope Benedict XVI built on the foundations of his predecessor, leading the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in 2012. The next year, Pope Francis added his own apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), on the Church’s primary mission of evangelization in the modern world.
Dr. Hahn, who entered the Catholic Church in 1986 after serving as an ordained Presbyterian minister, shared many personal stories, including some examples of his own evangelizing efforts. In one case, he noted that although Jesus did not write about the Eucharist, we do have the Gospel accounts of two of His disciples, John and Matthew.
The apostles were all busy celebrating the Eucharist, which was itself “the New Testament,” Dr. Hahn said.
“That was how and why the Church spread,” Dr. Hahn said. “This was why the faith was understood and proclaimed in a united way.”
“When you study the Bible in light of the liturgy, when you see the liturgy as related to the Bible, you begin to see this nexus, this inseparable bond,” he explained. “You can’t understand one properly without the other.”
Dr. Hahn is also founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, which presented his talks in association with St. Joseph’s Seminary. Following his presentations, he answered written questions submitted in advance by audience members.
The morning began with Mass offered by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan, vicar general of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, in the seminary chapel.
Joan Nastasi, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Shrub Oak, shared a few thoughts with CNY after the morning conferences. Even with all the beauty and truth in our Catholic faith, it often doesn’t get the full consideration it deserves, she said. “Dr. Hahn encourages us to think more deeply,” she added.
Ms. Nastasi, who is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, said she particularly liked Dr. Hahn’s advice about evangelization, especially when he suggested sharing the faith with our friends, just as we would recommend other good things in life, such as a movie or a book.
For someone who was baptized Catholic, but has lapsed in his or her religious practice, a recommendation from a friend might be the impetus for renewal, Dr. Hahn said.
“Just talk to people,” Ms. Nastasi said. “You never know what burdens they are carrying.”
At the program’s conclusion, Cardinal Dolan praised Dr. Hahn as “America’s premier catechist.” He added a few words about St. Joseph’s Seminary’s role as “a center of the New Evangelization,” especially for the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, whose major seminarians all come to the Dunwoodie campus for their final four years of priestly formation.
As someone who has long witnessed the fine priests that St. Joseph’s produces, and the seminary community’s willingness to step forward in faith, I agree with the cardinal’s assessment and hope that the seminary community continues to extend itself even further as a center of evangelization.