Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the New Evangelization
Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life
is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to
fruition and realized. Each man's fundamental question is: How will this
be realized—becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which
is the path toward happiness?
To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living. At
the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize
the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to your
fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward
happiness—rather: I am that path.
The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life
considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today,
in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor
countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability
to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the
life of individuals and of the world.
This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of
living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the
object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has
life—he who is the Gospel personified.
I. Structure and method in new evangelization
1. The structure
Before speaking about the fundamental contents
of new evangelization, I would like to say a few words about its
structure and on the correct method.
The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of
evangelization. She celebrates the eucharistic mystery every day,
administers the sacraments, proclaims the word of life—the Word of
God, and commits herself to the causes of justice and charity. And this
evangelization bears fruit: It gives light and joy, it gives the path of
life to many people; many others live, often unknowingly, of the light
and the warmth that radiate from this permanent evangelization.
However, we can see a progressive process of de-Christianization and a
loss of the essential human values, which is worrisome. A large part of
today's humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent
evangelization of the Church: That is to say, the convincing response to
the question: How to live?
This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and uninterrupted
and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new evangelization,
capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to
"classic" evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel; the
Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is
why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.
Yet another temptation lies hidden beneath this—the temptation of
impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in
finding large numbers. But this is not God's way. For the Kingdom of God
as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom
of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see
The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New
evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that
have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined
methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises.
New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that from
the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal Church grew;
never thinking that the fact that different birds may find place among
its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare, once again and with
the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it
will grow (Mark 4:26-29).
Large things always begin from the small seed, and the mass movements
are always ephemeral. In his vision of the evolutionary process,
Teilhard de Chardin mentions the "white of the origins" (le
blanc des origines): The beginning of a new species is invisible and
cannot be found by scientific research. The sources are hidden—they
are too small. In other words: The large realities begin in humility.
Let us put to one side whether Teilhard is right in his evolutionary
theories; the law on invisible origins does say a truth—a truth
present in the very actions of God in history: "The Lord did not
set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous
than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was
because the Lord loved you." God says [this] to the People of
Israel in the Old Testament and thus expresses the fundamental paradox
of the history of salvation: certainly, God does not count in large
numbers; exterior power is not the sign of his presence.
Most of Jesus' parables indicate this structure of divine intervention
and thus answer the disciples' worries, who were expecting other kinds
of success and signs from the Messiah—successes of the kind offered by
Satan to the Lord: All these—the kingdoms of the world—I will give
to you ... (Matthew 4:9).
Of course, at the end of his life Paul believed that he had proclaimed
the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, but the Christians were small
communities dispersed throughout the world, insignificant according to
the secular criteria. In reality, they were the leaven that penetrates
the meal from within and they carried within themselves the future of
the world (see Matthew 13:33).
An old proverb says: "Success is not one of the names of God."
New evangelization must surrender to the mystery of the grain of mustard
seed and not be so pretentious as to believe to immediately produce a
large tree. We either live too much in the security of the already
existing large tree or in the impatience of having a greater, more vital
tree—instead we must accept the mystery that the Church is at the same
time a large tree and a very small grain. In the history of salvation it
is always Good Friday and Easter Sunday at the same time ....
2. The method
The correct method derives from this structure of new evangelization. Of
course we must use the modern methods of making ourselves be heard in a
reasonable way—or better yet: of making the voice of the Lord
accessible and comprehensible. ... We are not looking for listening for
ourselves—we do not want to increase the power and the spreading of
our institutions, but we wish to serve for the good of the people and
humanity giving room to he who is Life.
This expropriation of one's person, offering it to Christ for the
salvation of men, is the fundamental condition of the true commitment
for the Gospel. "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not
receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will
receive," says the Lord (John 5:43). The mark of the Antichrist is
the fact that he speaks in his own name.
The sign of the Son is his communion with the Father. The Son introduces
us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of eternal love,
whose persons are "pure relations," the pure act of giving
oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan—visible in the Son, who
does not speak in his name—shows the form of life of the true
evangelizer—rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but
a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the
Father. "He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he
hears he will speak," says the Lord about the Holy Spirit (John
This Christological and pneumatological form of evangelization is also,
at the same time, an ecclesiological form: The Lord and the Spirit build
the Church, communicate through the Church. The proclamation of Christ,
the proclamation of the Kingdom of God presupposes listening to his
voice in the voice of the Church. "Not speak on his own
authority" means: to speak in the mission of the Church ....
Many practical consequences come from this law of expropriation. All
reasonable and morally acceptable methods should be studied—to use
these possibilities of communication is a duty. But words and the whole
art of communication cannot reach the human person to such depths as the
Gospel must reach.
A few years ago, I was reading the biography of a very good priest of
our century, Don Didimo, the parish priest of Bassano del Grappa. In his
notes, golden words can be found, the fruit of a life of prayer and of
meditation. About us, Don Didimo says, for example: "Jesus preached
by day, by night he prayed."
With these few words, he wished to say: Jesus had to acquire the
disciples from God. The same is always true. We ourselves cannot gather
men. We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without
the foundation of prayer. The word of the announcement must always be
drenched in an intense life of prayer.
We must add another step. Jesus preached by day, by night he
prayed—this is not all. His entire life was—as demonstrated in a
beautiful way by the Gospel according to St. Luke—a path toward the
cross, ascension toward Jerusalem. Jesus did not redeem the world with
beautiful words but with his suffering and his death. His Passion is the
inexhaustible source of life for the world; the Passion gives power to
The Lord himself—extending and amplifying the parable of the grain of
mustard seed—formulated this law of fruitfulness in the word of the
grain of seed that dies, fallen to earth (John 12:24). This law too is
valid until the end of the world and is—along with the mystery of the
grain of seed—fundamental for new evangelization. All of history
It is very easy to demonstrate this in the history of Christianity.
Here, I would like to recall only the beginning of evangelization in the
life of St. Paul. The success of his mission was not the fruit of great
rhetorical art or pastoral prudence; the fruitfulness was tied to the
suffering, to the communion in the passion with Christ (see 1
Corinthians 2:1-5; ... 2 Corinthians 11:30; Galatians 4:12-14).
"But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet
Jonah," said the Lord. The sign of Jonah is the crucified
Christ—they are the witnesses that complete "what is lacking in
Christ's afflictions" (Colossians 1:24). Throughout all the periods
of history, the words of Tertullian have always been verified: The blood
of martyrs is a seed.
St. Augustine says the same thing in a much more beautiful way,
interpreting John 21, where the prophesy of Peter's martyrdom and the
mandate to tend, that is to say, the institution of his primacy, are
St. Augustine comments [on] the text John 21:16 in the following way:
"Tend my sheep," this means suffer for my sheep.... A mother
cannot give life to a child without suffering. Each birth requires
suffering, is suffering, and becoming a Christian is a birth. Let us say
this once again in the words of the Lord: The Kingdom of heaven has
suffered violence (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), but the violence of God
is suffering, it is the cross. We cannot give life to others without
giving up our own lives.
The process of expropriation indicated above is the concrete form
(expressed in many different ways) of giving one's life. And let us
think about the words of the Savior: "Whoever loses his life for my
sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35).
II. The contents essential for new evangelization
As for the contents of new evangelization, first of all we must keep in
mind the inseparability of the Old and the New Testaments. The
fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the message by
John the Baptist: metanoeìte—Convert! There is no access to Jesus
without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching Jesus without
answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus took up the message
of John in the synthesis of his own preaching: metanoeìte kaì pisteúete
èn tù eùaggelíu (Mark 1:15).
The Greek word for converting means: to rethink—to question one's own
and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of
one's life; to not merely judge according to the current opinions.
Thereby, to convert means: not to live as all the others live, not do
what all do, not feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just
because others do the same; begin to see one's life through the eyes of
God; thereby looking for the good, even if uncomfortable; not aiming at
the judgment of the majority, of men, but on the justice of God—in
other words: to look for a new style of life, a new life.
All of this does not imply moralism; reducing
Christianity to morality loses sight of the essence of Christ's message:
the gift of a new friendship, the gift of communion with Jesus and
thereby with God. Whoever converts to Christ does not mean to create his
own moral autarchy for himself, does not intend to build his own
goodness through his own strengths.
"Conversion" (metanoia) means exactly the opposite: to come
out of self-sufficiency to discover and accept our indigence—the
indigence of others and of the Other, his forgiveness, his friendship.
Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the others);
conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the Other, a
love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my own life.
Here we must also bear in mind the social aspect of conversion.
Certainly, conversion is above all a very personal act, it is
personalization. I separate myself from the formula "to live as all
others" (I do not feel justified anymore by the fact that everyone
does what I do) and I find my own person in front of God, my own
But true personalization is always also a new and more profound
socialization. The "I" opens itself once again to the
"you," in all its depths, and thus a new "We" is
born. If the lifestyle spread throughout the world implies the danger of
de-personalization, of not living one's own life but the life of all the
others, in conversion a new "We," of the common path of God,
must be achieved.
In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a
common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words
alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress; a
merely individual conversion has no consistency....
2. The Kingdom of God
In the appeal to conversion the proclamation of the Living God is
implicit—as its fundamental condition. Theocentrism is fundamental in
the message of Jesus and must also be at the heart of new
The keyword of the proclamation of Jesus is: the Kingdom of God. But the
Kingdom of God is not a thing, a social or political structure, a
utopia. The Kingdom of God is God. Kingdom of God means: God exists. God
is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our—in my life.
God is not a faraway "ultimate cause," God is not the
"great architect" of deism, who created the machine of the
world and is no longer part of it—on the contrary: God is the most
present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each
and every moment of history.
In his conference when leaving the University of Münster, the
theologian J.B. Metz said some unexpected things for him. In the past,
Metz taught us anthropocentrism—the true occurrence of Christianity
was the anthropological turning point, the secularization, the discovery
of the secularity of the world. Then he taught us political
theology—the political characteristic of faith; then the
"dangerous memory"; and finally narrative theology.
After this long and difficult path, today he tells us: The true problem
of our times is the "Crisis of God," the absence of God,
disguised by an empty religiosity. Theology must go back to being truly
theo-logy, speaking about and with God.
Metz is right: the unum necessarium to man is God. Everything
changes, whether God exists or not. Unfortunately—we Christians also
often live as if God did not exist (si Deus non daretur). We live
according to the slogan: God does not exist, and if he exists, he does
Therefore, evangelization must, first of all, speak about God, proclaim
the only true God: the Creator—the Sanctifier—the Judge (see Catechism
of the Catholic Church).
Here too we must keep the practical aspect in mind. God cannot be made
known with words alone. One does not really know a person if one knows
about this person secondhandedly. To proclaim God is to introduce to the
relation with God: to teach how to pray. Prayer is faith in action. And
only by experiencing life with God does the evidence of his existence
This is why schools of prayer, communities of prayer, are so important.
There is a complementarity between personal prayer ("in one's
room," alone in front of God's eyes), "para-liturgical"
prayer in common ("popular religiosity") and liturgical
Yes, the liturgy is, first of all, prayer; its specificity consists in
the fact that its primary project is not ourselves (as in private prayer
and in popular religiosity), but God himself—the liturgy is actio
divina, God acts and we respond to this divine action.
Speaking about God and speaking with God must always go together. The
proclamation of God is the guide to communion with God in fraternal
communion, founded and vivified by Christ. This is why the liturgy (the
sacraments) are not a secondary theme next to the preaching of the
living God, but the realization of our relationship with God.
While on this subject, may I be allowed to make a general observation on
the liturgical question. Our way of celebrating the liturgy is very
often too rationalistic. The liturgy becomes teaching, whose criteria
is: making ourselves understood—often the consequence of this is
making the mystery a banality, the prevalence of our words, the
repetition of phrases that might seem more accessible and more pleasant
for the people.
But this is not only a theological error but also a psychological and
pastoral one. The wave of esoterism, the spreading of Asian techniques
of relaxation and self-emptying demonstrate that something is lacking in
our liturgies. It is in our world of today that we are in need of
silence, of the super-individual mystery, of beauty.
The liturgy is not an invention of the celebrating priest or of a group
of specialists; the liturgy (the "rite") came about via an
organic process throughout the centuries, it bears with it the fruit of
the experience of faith of all the generations.
Even if the participants do not perhaps understand each single word,
they perceive the profound meaning, the presence of the mystery, which
transcends all words. The celebrant is not the center of liturgical
action; the celebrant is not in front of the people in his own name—he
does not speak by himself or for himself, but in persona Christi.
The personal abilities of the celebrant do not count, only his faith
counts, by which Christ becomes transparent. "He must increase, but
I must decrease" (John 3:30).
3. Jesus Christ
With this reflection, the theme of God has already expanded and been
achieved in the theme of Jesus Christ: Only in Christ and through Christ
does the theme God become truly concrete: Christ is Emmanuel, the
God-with-us—the concretization of the "I am," the response
Today, the temptation is great to diminish Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
into a merely historical Jesus, into a pure man. One does not
necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus, but by using certain methods one
distills from the Bible a Jesus to our size, a Jesus possible and
comprehensible within the parameters of our historiography.
But this "historical Jesus" is an artifact, the image of his
authors rather than the image of the living God (see 2 Corinthians
4:4ff; Colossians 1:15). The Christ of faith is not a myth; the
so-called historical Jesus is a mythological figure, self-invented by
various interpreters. The 200 years of history of the "historical
Jesus" faithfully reflect the history of philosophies and
ideologies of this period.
Within the limits of this conference, I cannot go into the contents of
the proclamation of the Savior. I would only like to briefly mention two
The first one is the Sequela of Christ—Christ offers himself as
the path of my life. Sequela of Christ does not mean: imitating
the man Jesus. This type of attempt would necessarily fail—it would be
an anachronism. The Sequela of Christ has a much higher goal: to
be assimilated into Christ, that is to attain union with God. Such a
word might sound strange to the ears of modern man. But, in truth, we
all thirst for the infinite: for an infinite freedom, for happiness
The entire history of revolutions during the last two centuries can only
be explained this way. Drugs can only be explained this way. Man is not
satisfied with solutions beneath the level of divinization. But all the
roads offered by the "serpent" (Genesis 3:5), that is to say,
by mundane knowledge, fail. The only path is communion with Christ,
achieved in sacramental life. The Sequela of Christ is not a
question of morality, but a "mysteric" theme—an ensemble of
divine action and our response.
Thus, in the theme on the sequela we find the presence of the
other center of Christology, which I wished to mention: the Paschal
Mystery—the cross and the Resurrection. In the reconstruction of the
"historical Jesus," usually the theme of the cross is without
meaning. In a bourgeois interpretation it becomes an incident per se
evitable, without theological value; in a revolutionary
interpretation it becomes the heroic death of a rebel.
The truth is quite different. The cross belongs to the divine
mystery—it is the expression of his love to the end (John 13:1). The Sequela
of Christ is participation in the cross, uniting oneself to his love, to
the transformation of our life, which becomes the birth of the new man,
created according to God (see Ephesians 4:24). Whoever omits the cross,
omits the essence of Christianity (see 1 Corinthians 2:2).
4. Eternal life
A last central element of every true evangelization is eternal life.
Today we must proclaim our faith with new vigor in daily life. Here, I
would only like to mention one aspect of the preaching Jesus, which is
often omitted today: The proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the
proclamation of the God present, the God that knows us, listen to us;
the God that enters into history to do justice. Therefore, this
preaching is also the proclamation of justice, the proclamation of our
Man cannot do or avoid doing what he wants to. He will be judged. He
must account for things. This certitude is of value both for the
powerful as well as the simple ones. Where this is honored, the
limitations of every power in this world are traced. God renders
justice, and only he may ultimately do this.
We will be able to do this better the more we are able to live under the
eyes of God and to communicate the truth of justice to the world. Thus
the article of faith in justice, its force in the formation of
consciences, is a central theme of the Gospel and is truly good news. It
is for all those suffering the injustices of the world and who are
looking for justice.
This is also how we can understand the connection between the Kingdom of
God and the "poor," the suffering and all those spoken about
in the Beatitudes in the Speech on the Mountain. They are protected by
the certainty of judgment, by the certitude, that there is a justice.
This is the true content of the article on justice, about God as judge:
Justice exists. The injustices of the world are not the final word of
history. Justice exists. Only whoever does not want there to be justice
can oppose this truth.
If we seriously consider the judgment and the seriousness of the
responsibility for us that emerges from this, we will be able to
understand full well the other aspect of this proclamation, that is
redemption, the fact that Jesus, in the cross, takes on our sins; God
himself, in the passion of the Son, becomes the advocate for us sinners,
and thus making penance possible, the hope for the repentant sinner,
hope expressed in a marvelous way by the words of St. John: Before God,
we will reassure our heart, whatever he reproves us for.
"For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything"
(1 John 3:19ff). God's goodness is infinite, but we should not diminish
this to goodness to mawkish affectation without truth. Only by believing
in the just judgment of God, only by hungering and thirsting for justice
(see Matthew 5:6) will we open up our hearts, our life to divine mercy.
This can be seen: It isn't true that faith in eternal life makes earthly
life insignificant. To the contrary: only if the measure of our life is
eternity, then also this life of ours on earth is great and its value
immense. God is not the competitor in our life, but the guarantor of our
greatness. This way we return to the starting point: God.
If we take the Christian message into well-thought-out consideration, we
are not speaking about a whole lot of things. In reality, the Christian
message is very simple: We speak about God and man, and this way we say
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers
Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000