The New Evangelisation and the Desert
Well, readers, I’m aware I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for a while now, without any blogging. To tell you the truth, I’ve been working on an exciting project that I hope to tell you all about before long. It has been taking up my every spare moment. But for now, I wanted just to break the silence with some thoughts on evangelisation…
But, first! Just to keep you up to speed – a couple of things I’ve been up to… I graduated! Here I am with three truly amazing ladies, all working in different fields for the new evangelisation, on our graduation day…
And here I am with a certain Jeff Cavins, who gave a wonderful talk at Portsmouth Cathedral last week, which was exciting for so many reasons. He gave us a pot of his own ‘Cavins’ Blend’ English Breakfast tea!
So – back to the topic. ‘The New Evangelisation and the Desert’. It is something I’ve reflected on a lot recently. I believe it is also the experience of many, many ‘intentional disciple’ Catholics living in the UK. We are hearing, reading, talking a lot about the new evangelisation. But our daily reality, the communities we are living in, are more like a spiritual desert.
As many of you know, I used to belong to a parish where there was a ‘higher-proportion-than-usual’ of truly intentional disciples – people who had ‘dropped their nets’, who were intentionally living for the Lord and raising their families that way. Many people moved to live in the parish precisely because of this vibrant, community life. There was also a high proportion of young adults living real discipleship. Shortly after I moved to Portsmouth, I discovered that I’d been living in some kind of ‘Catholic Disney World’ (or Rivendell, as we used to joke). I guess I already ‘knew’ the reality of other ordinary parishes in this country. But now, I really knew it. And I admit it has been a struggle. I feel I can now really empathise with the majority of lay Catholic real disciples who struggle on in their parishes.
The reality in most of our parishes – let’s be honest – is that “personal discipleship” – where we earnestly try to commit our whole lives, our decisions, our will, to Jesus – is treated as a kind of “optional accessory” (in the words of Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples). You’re looked on as slightly eccentric if you express a passion for the Lord, or for evangelisation. Being a ‘good Catholic’ means going to Mass on Sundays, Confession once a year, being involved with a charity, making a lasagne for the parish social. It rarely means ‘discipleship’. It’s why increasing numbers of young, committed Catholics are – understandably – finding more formation for discipleship in evangelical churches.
There are many issues here, but what I wanted to focus on in this post, is ‘survival tactics’ – how we cope with being in this desert, and how God can use us to make it a place which is eventually life-giving. These are just some thoughts from my experience over the last nine months:
- Open your heart more attentively in prayer: In Scripture, the desert is repeatedly the symbol of where God leads us to (indeed, seduces us) in order to “speak to our heart”. Just because no one arounds us seems to be committed to prayer doesn’t mean we should not be – in fact, all the more reason to be deeply committed to daily prayer! Only with a solid foundation of prayer and sacrifice can God begin to grow new life. There will be many more reasons to surrender ourselves completely to God in the desert – discouragements, setbacks, disappointment… As we give ourselves more completely to God in all of this, he is actually using the situation to help us grow in holiness, so that we can be more effective evangelists for him.
- Pray for ‘kindred spirits’, like-minded friends: Three or four intentional disciples can be so much more effective than one. For one thing, you can encourage each other – your stamina will be far greater in a small group than alone. Discern together where you can start. Remember you need no one’s “permission” to start a prayer group or a Bible study in your own homes. I truly believe, if we ask God earnestly enough, he will never leave one of his ‘intentional disciples’ alone… he is good, and will always gather two or three together in the same place – even if in a way we don’t expect.
- Evangelists go out in search of the lost: Have an open heart in all your encounters and conversations with people. Even in the places you’re least likely to expect. You’ll be amazed at the people he will bring into your path. Be proactive in inviting people to things, keeping in touch. Before long, you’ll realise the large numbers of people the Lord has ‘gathered’.
- Disciples need formation: Ensure you’re receiving regular formation, nourishment of your mind and heart. In the desert analogy, we need continually to return to the ‘springs’ of water that refresh us and set us on our way again. Perhaps we might need to travel a long distance for this. But it’s vital if we’re going to keep on track.
- Discouragement does not come from the Lord: If you’re feeling you’re losing hope in your particular situation, this cannot be “of God”. This is why regular Confession, spiritual direction, and formation helps – it helps us dispel discouragement quite quickly. The worst thing we can do is let it weaken our focus and determination.
- Discern the initial plans God has for your area: For me, it seemed quite simple when a friend phoned up and asked if we wanted to host Jeff Cavins at the cathedral. “YES!” was the clear answer. This event will now (with God’s grace) kick-start some adult formation in our parish.
- Nurturing new disciples: Emerging disciples and new, growing communities of people seeking to be fed require wise pastoral leadership. Sooner or later, you will need the help of a priest to cultivate the initial work you’ve been doing. The parish (or a new movement) will need to offer opportunities for ongoing deeper formation, for works of service and charity, opportunities for more evangelisation and outreach. Pastoral guidance is needed to cultivate the initial signs of growth, help this new life grow strong, and then equip these new disciples to go out to evangelise others.
A few thoughts. Do you have any ideas to add? How do you survive in the ‘new evangelisation desert’?