Weigel outlines challenges, opportunities for today’s Church

| February 28, 2013 | 0 Comments
George Weigel

George Weigel

In his latest book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., presents a wide-reaching look at the current challenges and opportunities confronting the Catholic Church. He shows how Counter-Reformation Catholicism is giving way to a new era in the Church that will challenge Catholics to live lives of greater integrity and passion and enter into mission territory daily.

Weigel talked about the challenges and opportunities facing the Church today in a recent email interview with The Catholic Spirit.

What is “evangelical Catholicism”?

It’s the Church of the New Evangelization: A Church that understands itself as a communion of disciples in mission, and in which every disciple understands himself or herself to have been baptized into a missionary vocation.

Why does the Church need this approach? What’s so different about the world and the Church today compared to past generations?

Fifty years ago, the Church could maintain itself and grow by sheer momentum: People were baptized into the Church and remained in the Church because there was no real tension between the Church and the culture, and the corrosive powers of secularism had not begun to cause massive doubt about fundamental truths of the Catholic faith. All that has changed. The culture is hostile and the Church has to be pro-active: it has to respond to John Paul II’s call at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000 to “put out into the deep” — to become a Church of evangelical intensity in which every Catholic is a missionary who enters mission territory every day.

On many levels, evangelical Catholicism seems to resemble the reality and dynamics of the early Church — is that a correct way to view it?

It’s certainly a recovery of certain dynamics of the early Church, which heard the Lord’s Great Commission and set about fulfilling it.

What new responsibilities does evangelical Catholicism place on Church leaders? On Catholics in the pews?

Bishops must be ever more effective evangelists themselves if their priests and people are going to be filled with evangelical zeal. And the evangelical intensity of this 21st-century way of being Catholic will require radically converted lay apostles-to-the-world who are formed by a regular reception of the sacraments and by a regular encounter with the Word of God in the Bible.

You talk about having a friendship with Jesus Christ as a key part of evangelical Catholicism. Why is this missing from so many Catholics’ lives today? Why is this friendship so important, and how does one enter into this friendship to begin with?

Well, when Jesus says “Follow me,” he invites us into friendship with him, and that’s an invitation that ought not be disdained. The Catholic embrace of the Church — which is Christ’s mystical body in the world — begins with the Catholic embrace of the Lord Jesus and is sustained by a deep personal relationship with him, again, through the sacraments and the Bible.

How can individual Catholics, families and parishes best nurture what evangelical Catholicism demands in light of a modern society that is often hostile to religion and Catholicism in particular?

Adult faith formation is essential. The Church is full of a lot of what I call, in the book, “baptized pagans:” men and women who think of themselves as “Catholic” but for whom that identifier doesn’t mean much in terms of religious practice, manner of life, or action as a citizen. There is no Catholicism that can withstand the assault of aggressive secularism that is not well-formed, sacramentally enriched, and biblically literate Catholicism.

How did Pope Benedict bring the need for this new approach into sharper focus during his pontificate? What must the next pope do to sharpen the focus even further, particularly in the near term?

Benedict XVI’s signature phrase, in his catechesis and preaching, has been “friendship with Jesus Christ,” which he has put squarely at the heart of the New Evangelization. If the next pope manifests a radical and transparent discipleship based on a deep personal friendship with Christ, the answer to the question that is every human life, the New Evangelization will move [to] . . . an even higher gear.

Among the necessary reforms that you outline in the book, are there some more urgent and needed in the short term than others?

I would think that the most urgent need at the moment is the acceleration of the appointment of evangelically assertive and compelling bishops throughout the Church.

In your opinion, what will be the fruits of evangelical Catholicism over the next several decades and further into the future?

Evangelical Catholicism aims at nothing less than the conversion of culture. If it succeeds in that, the Church will grow and a badly wounded culture will begin to be healed, with important and positive effects in American public life.

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