‘You keep talking about this new evangelization,” the student at one of our college campus ministries remarked. “Try as I might, I don’t understand what it is.”
He had a point. Even though Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis have all placed it as priority No. 1 for the Church, a lot of folks don’t quite comprehend it. The danger is that it might become a slogan or a cliché.
It is tough to define this new evangelization, I admit.
Yet, it’s sure clear when you see it.
And I just did, last week, in Lourdes, the renowned shrine in southwestern France where the Mother of Jesus appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858.
I propose that Lourdes is an arena of the new evangelization.
For one, it is a communal return to the grace of baptism.
At our Blessed Mother’s direction, Bernadette dug in the mud of the grotto of Massabielle and discovered a spring. This ice-cold spring water still flows at Lourdes, as pilgrims take Our Lady’s advice and bathe—the baths of the shrine are renowned, jammed, and, literally, breathtaking—and drink the healing waters.
The ritual of the water reminds us powerfully of the life-giving waters of the Sacrament of Baptism, and pilgrims readily describe their physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal.
The new evangelization calls believers to recover the innocence, purity, and nobility of our baptism!
Two, Lourdes means light! Candles are everywhere. At the evening procession, tens of thousands in the procession hold flames high as they chant Ave Maria and prayerfully recall the transforming mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary as they pray the Rosary in half-a-dozen languages, candles changing the night made even darker by the looming Pyrenees Mountains into noon day brightness.
The new evangelization beckons us to bring the light of Christ to a darkened world.
Three, Lourdes is the scene of conversion, as pilgrims repent of sins and seek the powerful inner healing of the Sacrament of Penance, available hours daily with dozens of confessors in multiple languages.
More than crutches and wheelchairs, sins are left behind at Lourdes.
The new evangelization calls nominal believers, whose own faith has become lackluster, to repent of their sins and follow Jesus unreservedly. The invitation of the gospel —repent!—is ubiquitous at Lourdes!
Four, God’s Holy Word echoes everywhere at the Shrine! Every devotion, every prayer, every procession, is laced with God’s Word, proclaimed, chanted, preached. It’s the Acts of the Apostles all over again, as the saving truths of revelation echo through the square.
The new evangelization invites us to savor the Bible, to meditate on the Sacred Scriptures, to let the “two-edged sword” of God’s Word pierce our sluggish hearts!
Five, Lourdes is about love, as it is the village where the sick, broken, searching, twisted and tortured in soul, mind, and body are embraced and consoled by our spiritual Mother, and are tenderly cared for by thousands of devoted caregivers, who literally wheel the malades around the shrine, dry their tears, change their diapers, cover their shriveling bodies with blankets, and lower them into the waters.
The new evangelization reminds us that love and service of those in need is a more effective sermon than any words.
Six, Lourdes is Eucharistic, as the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to bless the sick, as pilgrims celebrate Mass, as 25,000 cram the underground chapel for Sunday Eucharist, as lines to receive the bread of life go on forever.
The new evangelization takes the Eucharist seriously, realizing that never are we more united to Jesus, our Lord, savior, and best friend, than when we receive Him worthily in Holy Communion.
Finally, Lourdes is all about Jesus. Yes, Mary is so tenderly present there, but, as she is the first to admit, she is only there to bring us to Jesus. Think of her last words, pointing to Him at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you!”
And the new evangelization is about Jesus: to meet Him anew, to express our love for and faith in Him afresh, to let Him live in our souls through a transfusion of His grace, then to let that life spill out to others.
Lourdes: it’s Bethlehem, Cana, Calvary, and Pentecost all in one.
What Yankee Stadium is to baseball, Lourdes is to the New Evangelization.
Maybe this new evangelization is tough to define or explain.
But, you sure know it when you see it!
Now our task is to make every parish, every school, every place of charity and health care, every home, a Lourdes! Then we wouldn’t have to define the New Evangelization, we’d just show it!
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