Someone left a comment recently to the effect that ever since the Second Vatican Council we have been talking endlessly about evangelisation but in practice doing very little, in fact it could be said we have been 'counter evangelising', at least in the North we have lost far more than we have gained: empty churches, empty seminaries, empty convents are a testimony to our success.
On the eve of the Council ordination years of 60 plus were not uncommon in seminaries in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, even France, religious sister often had similar numbers of professions. The bitter truth is that seminaries and novitiates that trained these young men and women have now closed, Trads blame the changes brought in by the Council, liberals blame the changes not brought in after the Council, Conservatives blame 'sociological factors', though no-one seems to have done a serious study on what are these factors.
Most Catholics, including priests and therefore one might also suggest bishops too, I would suggest are unconvinced about the need for Evangelisation, the notion of universal salvation, an empty Hell, have taken hold so tightly that there is no reason to Evangelise. It simply doesn't have a supernatural, salvific or teleological purpose. Universalism means that really evangelising people just ties burdens on people, alienating them from their culture and imposing unnecessary moral burdens on them.
A second not unconnected reason is that we do not know how to evangelise. We do not know what needs to be communicated. Do we actually dare to say that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and without him no-one can know the Father? Are we not more likely to suggest that Evangelisation is about joining a hand-holding, feel good community, with few moral or faith demands. Our problem is that there is so much confusion about what Catholics actually believe and how Catholics are expected to live.
Despite Vatican II urging everyone to Evangelise; a very characteristic trend of pre-Concilliar spirituality seen in such movements as wide ranging as the Liturgical Movement, Opus Dei, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Evidence Guild, not to mention such publications as the CTS the Tablet and the work many significant Catholic authors, Evangelisation has become like so many things in the Church an area of specialisation. Teachers or catechists not mothers and fathers are expected to evangelise children. The idea that a work of mercy incumbent on all to teach the ignorant has so slipped far from Catholic consciousness to the point where it seems many 'small group meetings', RCIA groups seem to be sharing and compounding rather than dispelling ignorance. Such discussion only serves to spread confusion. As the previous Pope said to our own Bishops:
In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.
Evangelisation can only possibly work
- if the members of the Church recognise the need to do it
- if they are confident in doing it
- if they know what message needs to be communicated
- if there is no confusion about the message
- if we have a leadership that actually practices it (rather than merely talks about it)
Ultimately it is possible only if we believe in it