Ralph Martin Reflects on Mission of the New Evangelization

Author: ZENIT


Ralph Martin Reflects on Mission of the New Evangelization

Synod Expert Sheds Light on Call of Christians to Spread the Gospel

By Ann Schneible

Every Baptized Catholic is called to evangelization, says Dr. Ralph Martin Consultor for the synod on New Evangelization.

President of Renewal Ministries, Dr. Martin was appointed as one of five experts from the United States to participate in the synod on New Evangelization. He is the author of Will Many Be Saved: What Vatican II Actually Teaches, and its Implications for the New Evangelization. He is also director of Graduate Theology Programs in New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he is also an associate professor of theology. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Dr. Martin as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

Speaking in the context of the synod on New Evangelization, which is currently underway in Rome, Dr. Martin spoke with ZENIT about the synod, and the call of Christians everywhere to evangelize:

ZENIT: What have been your overall impressions of the synod thus far?

Martin: It gives you a tremendous feel for the challenges that the Church is facing in many different countries, and some of the approaches in responding to those challenges that are happening. [Yesterday], we heard pretty devastating news from some countries where the social fabric is just disintegrating, and the fabric of Catholic life is disintegrating. It's very sobering. Another thing that's been really a big issue is the pressure from Islam in many countries. We haven't gotten to defining solutions yet or approaches, although there is a lot of stress on the family, a lot of stress on catechesis, and on small communities.

ZENIT: We've been hearing this term "New Evangelization" for decades now. However, as Catholics we have always been called to evangelization. What characterizes this New Evangelization as "new"?

Martin: I think John Paul II really gives a very clear definition in Redemptoris Missio, section 33, where he makes a threefold distinction:

Primary evangelization is preaching the Gospel to people who have never heard it before, like un-evangelized tribes or peoples or cultures, and that has traditionally been the mission work of the Church, what we have understood as evangelization.

We also have something called "pastoral care" that's addressed to people who are already living in some relationship with Christ.

But now, we're facing a new situation which is becoming increasingly widespread that we need to respond to, where people who have some Catholic background or they're baptized perhaps, or they're Irish Catholic or German Catholic or Hispanic Catholic, but they're not living as disciples of Christ. These people need to be told the Gospel again, or maybe even for the first time.

One of the things that's "new" about the New Evangelization is who it's directed to: our fellow Catholics. Another thing that's new about the New Evangelization is who does it: not just missionary orders, but every single Baptized Catholic is really called to say "yes" to their call to evangelization.

ZENIT: Could you tell us about your new book – Will Many Be Saved: What Vatican II Actually Teaches, and its Implications for the New Evangelization?

Martin: One of the reasons I got invited to the Synod is because I did my doctoral dissertation last year on an issue very key to the New Evangelization. I have a real concern that the Instrumentum Laboris talks about a silent apostasy. And I think there's also a silent heresy – in that, cloaked in the apostasy there's a presumption about universal salvation: "just be a good person and you'll be saved." The Synod's going to come out with some strong calls for evangelization, but the average Catholic in the back of their mind is thinking: "everybody's a good person. God's so merciful, does it really matter?"

I wrote the book trying to clarify what the teaching of the Church really is on this very important point. The last three sentences of Lumen Gentium 16 say: even though it's possible under certain circumstances to find salvation through Christ in the Church, even if you don't know Christ in the Church through the working of God's grace and mysterious way, the last three sentences which are almost completely ignored, say: very often, human beings exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship the creature rather than the creator. And therefore, for the sake of people's salvation, it is urgent that we carry out evangelization.

Even though it's theoretically possible for people to be saved in certain circumstances without hearing the Gospel, we're not living in a neutral environment in the world in the flesh and the devil at work powerfully in people's lives. Many people aren't seeking God, they aren't living in accord to the light of their conscience, aren't responding to the grace that God's giving us, so they really need to hear the good news that, in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins is possible, and resurrection is possible.

I think this book can make a contribution to clearing up some of this fog of universalism, and restore an urgency to the work of evangelization.

ZENIT: Could you talk about your work at Sacred Heart Seminary?

Martin: Right now, I'm director of theology programs in New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit. We've been granted the right by the Congregation for Catholic Education in seminaries in conjunction with the Angelicum to offer a pontifical licentiate in Sacred Theology, focused on the New Evangelization. As far as I know, it's the only pontifical licentiate focused on New Evangelization, and we're happy to have priests from eight different countries in the program. We're hoping to make a contribution through our seminary and our licentiate program to the New Evangelization.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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