Many of us spend a good part of our adult lives at our places of employment. How can Catholics put the new evangelization to work at work?
Pope John Paul II continues to remind Catholics that the Holy Spirit is summoning the Church to a “new evangelization.” He doesn't mean that the contents of the Gospel message have changed. Instead, since the world continues to change, the way the Gospel message is delivered must change as well.
In the Pope's message for World Communications Day on March 27, the Holy Father stated: “An estimated two thirds of the world's 6 billion people do not in any real sense know Jesus Christ; and many of them live in countries with ancient Christian roots, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live lives far removed from the Lord and his Gospel.”
Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, has explained the meaning of the “new evangelization” by contrasting it with “primary” and “secondary” evangelization. Primary evangelization involves proclaiming the Gospel in lands that have never heard the message that Jesus is Lord. Secondary evangelization, or “reevangelization,” is a call to lapsed Christians to return to Christ and the Church with renewed zeal.
The “new evangelization” is different from both of these. In the contemporary world, there are vast segments of society, once Christian to the core, whose culture is now best described as “post-Christian.” The challenge of the new evangelization is to present the Gospel message, that Jesus is Lord, in a cultural setting where faith is seen as an irrelevant relic of the past.
The new evangelization is the task of every Christian. It is not a matter for foreign missionaries. The new evangelization is directed both to individuals and to whole cultures. It involves not only presenting the basic Gospel message, but also challenging and confronting the widening “culture of death,” as John Paul has called it, as well as working to develop and deepen a culture of life.
The challenge of the new evangelization falls largely to lay Catholics in their everyday lives. Since most of us spend a good part of our adult lives working, that means giving witness to Christ in the offices, factories and other sites where we spend most of our weekday hours.
I asked Tom Lally, a businessman and a committed Catholic, how he gives witness to his faith on the job. Tom is an investment banker at a securities firm. “I don't preach at work,” he told me. “I mostly just try to live my faith and do a good job. The world needs investment bankers, and I try to be good at my job.” Since Tom is a committed Catholic, his co-workers naturally notice little things about his life.
The new evangelization is the task of every Christian.
This “wordless witness” is often the most powerful part of sharing one's faith. Pope Paul VI, in Evangelization in the Modern World , wrote that, “above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.” A life of authentic faith stirs up “irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how the faithful live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?” (Evangelii Nuntiandi , No. 21).
Tom Lally confirms that co-workers sometimes ask questions that provide an opportunity to share his Catholic faith. Tom emphasizes that he works for a great company, and that he agrees with the principles of the company. Further, he really likes his co-workers. Yet, as in almost any contemporary business setting, there are times when Tom's co-workers raise questions that open the door for him to talk about his faith. “When that happens, I feel like I've got to answer them,” he says. “After all, they're the ones who started the conversation.”
He has heard all kinds of questions or comments from co-workers that invite him to share his faith. For example, when his co-workers find out that he is the youngest of six children, he is sometimes asked, “What is it like to know you were probably a mistake?” Or when a coworker has another child, he has heard others comment, “When is that guy going to get fixed?” Casual conversation by his co-workers often raises moral and religious questions. “Why don't we just nuke all those Iraqis?” “Don't those pro-lifers annoy you?” “What's with those right-wing crazies?”
When he hears these and similar comments, Tom follows the instruction of St. Peter: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
For example, when co-workers raise the issue of Catholics with large families, Tom has a ready response: “Have you ever known a couple that wants to have a child but can't? They really want a baby, and they know that every child is a gift from God, not a mistake, since every human being is made in God's image.”
In addition to a wordless witness and then taking the opportunity to explain one's faith in contemporary terms, the new evangelization reaches full development when, with the grace of the Spirit, it arouses genuine adherence in the one who receives the Gospel message. Last year, 171,000 adults entered the Catholic Church. This Easter season, as thousands more Americans are becoming Catholics, we might do well to consider how we, like Tom Lally, can put the new evangelization to work at work.
Gregory R. Beabout is a philosophy professor at Saint Louis University and an adjunct scholar with the Center for Economic Personalism.