The deep reform of the Catholic Church has been underway since the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903), which marked a decisive break with the essentially defensive strategy Pope Pius IX and his immediate predecessors had adopted toward cultural and political modernity. Outlined in vitro in Leo’s extensive magisterium, this reform process was accelerated, not without difficulty, by the great movements of liturgical, biblical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral renewal in mid-twentieth-century Catholicism, and reached a moment of high ecclesiastical drama in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The authoritative interpretation of Vatican II by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI has focused this evolution through the prism of what these two men of the council have called the New Evangelization, which is now the grand strategy of the Catholic Church for the twenty-first century and beyond.
The emergence of Evangelical Catholicism is a Spirit-led development reflecting the cultural contingencies of history, like other such evolutions over the past two millennia: the evolution from the primitive Church to the Church of the Fathers; the evolution from patristic Catholicism to medieval Catholicism; the development of Counter-Reformation Catholicism (the Church in which anyone over sixty today was raised) from medieval Catholicism. Counter-Reformation Catholicism, which arose in response to the challenges of the Protestant Reformation and the first phases of Western modernity, was, in its time, a powerful expression of the faith that is ever ancient and ever new. It was the Catholicism that converted much of the Western Hemisphere and began the modern evangelization of Africa and Asia. It was the form of Catholicism that withstood the onslaught of the French Revolution, giving birth to new religious communities and new missionary energies. It was the Catholicism that successfully met the challenge of twentieth-century totalitarianism, and in its last stages, helped prepare the ground for the Second Vatican Council.
Now, its time has passed. The internal dynamics of the Church itself, attentive to the promptings of the divine Bridegroom and the unique challenges posed to the Great Commission by late modernity and postmodernity, have, together, impelled a new evolution in the Church’s self-understanding and self-expression. The result of that evolution, Evangelical Catholicism, is an expression of the four enduring marks of Christian ecclesial life—unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. It expresses and lives those marks, however, in ways shaped by the deep reform of the Church that began in 1878, and that has now been thrust into the third millennium by the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
Evangelical Catholicism displays ten distinctive characteristics that, taken together, provide a profile of the Catholic Church of the future and suggest standards for the Church’s ongoing reform.
Evangelical Catholicism is friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation asked the people of the Church to know who Jesus Christ is, and, through that knowledge about him, to meet him. Evangelical Catholicism begins with meeting and knowing Christ himself, the primordial sacrament of the human encounter with God.
In friendship with Jesus Christ, we come to know the face of the merciful Father, for whoever experiences the Son’s power to forgive sins sees the merciful Father, who welcomes home the prodigals and reclothes them with the garments of integrity. In friendship with Jesus Christ, we also come to know the full truth about our humanity, for friendship with the Lord Jesus—conforming our lives to the pattern of his life of self-giving love—enables us to live our lives as the gift to others that life is to each of us. Thus friendship with Jesus Christ enables us to gain a glimpse, here and now, of eternal life within the light and life of the Trinity, a communion of radical self-giving and receptivity.
Evangelical Catholicism proclaims the great gift of friendship with Jesus Christ, not as one attractive possibility in a supermarket of spiritualities, but as the God-given and unique means of salvation for everyone. Everyone who is saved, is saved in some fashion because of Jesus Christ, who is no mere moral paragon, no mere teacher of noble truths about righteous living who came to a sad end because of human wickedness. He is the Son of the Most High God, incarnate in the flesh and in history.
Evangelical Catholicism recognizes that, in offering everyone the profoundly countercultural possibility of friendship with the Lord Jesus, it is offering the postmodern world something postmodernity badly needs: an encounter with the divine mercy. As the God of the Bible came into the ancient world as one who liberates humanity from the whims of the Olympian gods or the terrors of Moloch, the gospel liberates postmodern humanity from its cynicism, its skepticism, and its burden of guilt, born of a tacit (if usually inarticulate) understanding of the awfulness that humanity visited upon itself throughout the twentieth century.
This friendship with the Lord Jesus is found in the Word of God recognized as such by the Church in the Bible; in the sacraments; in works of charity and service; and in the fellowship of those who have recognized and embraced the risen one. Despite the sinfulness of its people, the Church is always the privileged place of encounter with the living God, who continually forms his people into the community in which the full truth about humanity is grasped.
All genuinely Catholic reform begins from this truth, just as all genuinely Catholic reform enhances the possibility of men and women entering into friendship with Jesus Christ. Truth and mission are thus the twin criteria of authentic Catholic reform.
Evangelical Catholicism affirms divine revelation and embraces its authority, which continues through history in the teaching authority of the Church.
Accepting Jesus as what he says he is—“the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—is essential to entering into friendship with him. And doing so is profoundly countercultural in postmodernity. If that is true of the gospel’s most counterintuitive claim—that it is through the unjust death of a just man that the world is redeemed—it is also true of his claim to be the truth that is the way to authentic human life, and to eternal life. But having embraced him who is truth as the truth because they have entered into friendship with him, evangelical Catholics are liberated from the epidemic and soul-withering skepticism of postmodernity and are empowered to embrace the authority that Jesus represents and incarnates: the authority of the living God, who reveals himself in deed and word to the people of Israel, and who finally and definitively reveals himself in his Son. That divine authority is what gives both Scripture and the Church their unique authority.
If Jesus Christ is indeed the truth, he would wish to preserve his followers in the truth. That, evangelical Catholics believe, is why the Lord empowered the apostles and gave them the Holy Spirit, who in turn creates throughout history a succession of teachers who teach authoritatively: the college of bishops who are in full communion with the bishop of Rome. An evangelically centered Church, attuned to the Spirit and the times, will thus choose its bishops from among those men who have demonstrated a capacity to mount a countercultural witness by inviting people into friendship with the Lord Jesus—and it will do so knowing that it is calling these men to various forms of martyrdom, of which opprobrium and ridicule are often the least of what may be expected.
The evangelical Catholic will, by necessity, “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” (as those entering the full communion of the Church confess). Evangelical Catholics know what “all that” is by reference to what is taught by the bishops of the Church in full communion with the bishop of Rome, the vital center of the Church’s unity, who bears a special responsibility for preserving the integrity of the truth Christ left to his Church. Thus, as John Henry Newman taught, there is no “private judgment” in Evangelical Catholicism.
Evangelical Catholicism celebrates the seven sacraments as divinely given means of sanctifying life.
Friendship with the Lord Jesus is nourished by the seven sacraments of the New Covenant, which are seven privileged ways in which we deepen our encounter with Jesus, the primordial sacrament, the Holy One who makes God present to us. Evangelical Catholicism lays particular stress on baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
The baptism of infants and its pastoral implications can only be understood by reference to adult baptism. An adult is baptized because he has met the Lord, been converted to friendship with him, and, in faith, seeks incorporation into his body and the forgiveness of sins. Thus in infant baptism the faith of the Church, embodied in the faith of parents and godparents, is crucial. Evangelical Catholicism therefore sees in the pre-baptismal preparation of parents and godparents the opportunity for a deeper evangelization that can no longer be imagined to have already taken place through the ambient culture.
The Holy Eucharist stands at the very center of evangelical Catholic life. It is the sacrament in which the Church is most truly what she is, the people of God being daily formed into the body of Christ through the gift of the Lord’s body and blood. It is the sacrament “for the journey”— viaticum—not only as death approaches, but throughout life: the encounter with Christ himself that empowers Christ’s friends for charity and service, and above all for mission and evangelization.
Regular participation in the Eucharist enables evangelical Catholics to enter more fully into the communion of the saints in glory, whose witness is celebrated throughout the church year, and enables the people of God to plumb more deeply the riches of the Word of God, through the cycles of readings appointed for the liturgy. Evangelical Catholicism also encourages regular Eucharistic adoration, in which the friends of the Lord look upon him and he looks upon them, as this Eucharistic fellowship of believers prays for the Church and its needs.
Evangelical Catholicism is a call to constant conversion of life, which involves both the rejection of evil and active participation in the works of service and charity.
Catholic identity” has been a major issue as Counter-Reformation Catholicism has given way to Evangelical Catholicism. The Church of the New Evangelization affirms the need for rules—for canon law—while understanding that too narrow a focus on the canonical boundaries of membership obscures both real problems of Catholic identity and their possible solutions. The real problem is that some, and perhaps many, Catholics remain within the canonical boundaries of the Church but are not Catholics in any meaningful sense of conviction or expression. This phenomenon of the baptized Catholic pagan is an impediment to the Church’s mission, for it suggests that the Church is not serious about the truths it proposes or the consequences of living (and not living) by those truths.
Thus Evangelical Catholicism, knowing that its being a Church of sinners is another impediment to mission, emphasizes that friendship with the Lord Jesus is a matter of constant conversion of life; that this conversion involves the rejection of evil and sacramental reconciliation with Christ and the Church when we fail; and that there are degrees of communion with the Church that are not identical with the canonical boundaries of the Church. Conversion is thus a lifelong matter for evangelical Catholics, for whom the Christian moral life is one of growing into goodness. The moral law is important, but it is important because the rules it proposes are boundaries that guide the evangelical Catholic’s growth into beatitude.
Thus Evangelical Catholicism challenges the proscription-centered understanding of the moral life into which both Catholic traditionalists (who insist on hard-and-fast rules, and lots of them) and Catholic progressives (who want to loosen the rules, to the point where they often disappear) are stuck. Both of these forms of Counter-Reformation Catholicism think of the moral life as primarily engaging the will, whereas Evangelical Catholicism understands the moral life to be a matter of training minds and hearts, the reason and the will, to make those choices that truly contribute to goodness, human flourishing, and the beatitude that enables the friends of Jesus to live forever within the light and love of the Most Holy Trinity.
That growth in the capacity to choose the good—to choose for beatitude—continues throughout a lifetime, and along the way, even the most deeply converted will fall, and fail. Those failures are no reason to lower the bar of expectation, to foreshorten our aspirations to the goodness needed for eternal life; they are a reason to get up, seek reconciliation, and continue on the journey into the life of blessedness the Holy Spirit, “the Counselor” who brings consolation, makes possible. In Evangelical Catholicism, confession of sins is not just a matter of taking a weekly or monthly spiritual shower, although its effects in relieving burdens of guilt are an important part of the lifelong journey of conversion. It is above all a matter of growth in holiness of life.
In light of all this, Evangelical Catholicism approaches the question of Catholic identity not primarily through the legal question of canonical boundaries, but through the theological reality of different degrees of communion with the Church. The image of “degrees of communion,” drawn from ecumenical theology, can be analogously applied inside the Church. Catholics who deny certain truths taught as certainly true by the Church, or who undertake or support actions that the Church authoritatively teaches to be immoral, may remain Catholics in a formal, canonical sense. But they are leading lives of such spiritual incoherence that their own integrity should compel them to seek reconciliation through the sacrament of penance, and to do so before affirming a fuller communion with the Church than they in fact enjoy by receiving Holy Communion during Mass.
It is a primary duty of bishops, as chief guardians of Catholic truth in their local churches, to call Catholics in a defective state of communion to a fuller communion with the Church. Doing so is not so much a matter of “enforcing the rules” or “showing who’s in charge” as it is a pastoral imperative: the shepherds issuing a call to conversion of life. Pastors share in that responsibility of the bishops, in the parishes given to their care.
This constant conversion is an essential foundation for the works of charity and service, even as those works themselves deepen the evangelical Catholic’s friendship with the Lord Jesus, who commands us to give a cup of water in his name and identifies himself with those whom his people serve.
Evangelical Catholicism is a liturgically centered form of Catholic life that embraces both the ancient traditions of Catholic worship and the authentic renewal of the liturgy according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
Evangelical Catholicism approaches the liturgy through a theologically informed understanding of beauty. Counter-Reformation Catholicism inspired great religious art but paid relatively little attention to beauty as one of the transcendentals that point humanity toward God. Evangelical Catholicism takes with great seriousness the twentieth century’s recovery of beauty as a theological category and a means of apprehending the divine. In a disenchanted world, the enchantment of the beautiful is a rumor of angels, a hint of the transcendent, a pathway to God.
The beautiful and dignified celebration of the liturgy remedies the dulling of Christian and human sensibilities, motivates Christian mission and service, and reminds us that the disciples of the Lord are ambassadors of the King of Glory, who bear witness that the present things are passing away in light of the radical reordering of history and the cosmos by the Paschal Mystery. Thus Evangelical Catholicism’s approach to church architecture, decoration, music, vesture, and all the other tangibles of the Church’s liturgical life proceeds from the question, “Is this beautiful in such a way that it helps disclose the living God in Word and Sacrament?” Moreover, Evangelical Catholicism takes the liturgical laws and rubrics of the Church seriously, as barriers against the deterioration of the liturgy into a communal celebration of ourselves. Thus an evangelical Catholic approach to liturgy is not somewhere “between” the approaches favored by traditionalists and liturgical progressives, but ahead of the curve of the now-tiresome Liturgy Wars.
Evangelical Catholicism seeks to incorporate within the Novus Ordo the richness of the Church’s ancient liturgical traditions. It welcomes the availability of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, in the hope that this will accelerate a reform of the reform of the liturgy by bringing the Novus Ordo to its proper splendor. While recognizing that beauty takes many forms, it is cautious about the capacity of starkly modernist architecture, art, and design to convey rumors of angels in a disenchanted world. Conversely, Evangelical Catholicism is not antiquarian and does not regard the liturgical tangibles popular in the 1940s and 1950s as an aesthetic norm. Although accommodating various musical forms, it, like the Second Vatican Council, sees in Gregorian chant a kind of universal Catholic musical grammar; at the same time, it welcomes more modern chant forms and seeks to incorporate into Catholic worship the great hymn traditions of other Christian communities.
This emphasis on beauty in the liturgical life of the Church is another reason Evangelical Catholicism takes sacramental preparation and adult catechesis so seriously. Absent a true understanding of what the liturgy is, grounded in a firm grasp of what the gospel is, those who “come to church” do not grow in living faith. Liturgy without gospel is superstition, or self-worship, or both.
Evangelical Catholicism is a biblically centered form of Catholic life that reads the Bible as the Word of God for the salvation of souls.
Counter-Reformation Catholicism revered the Bible, but at a distance. The reform of the Church since the pontificate of Leo XIII has involved a return of the Church’s book to the people of the Church as a special means of encounter with the living God. Thus the entire movement from Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus to the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum was a reformist reaffirmation of St. Jerome’s axiom that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, who is the living center of the Word of God read and the Word of God preached.
Yet the biblical renaissance imagined before and during Vatican II has not, in the main, taken place. It is true that more Catholics read the Bible today than did in the mid-1950s. But what many Catholics in the West have learned from modern biblical scholarship is a profound distrust of the Bible: This didn’t happen; that’s just a metaphor; this is a myth. Twenty-first-century biblical literacy and biblical spirituality thus necessarily involve a measure of historical-critical deprogramming, for both Church and world have mistakenly assumed that a dissecting approach to the Bible is the only intellectually mature approach. This has fostered a suspicion of Scripture that must be addressed before the encounter with the Word made flesh can take place through the Word of God in written form.
With Pope Benedict XVI, Evangelical Catholicism recognizes that the essential fruits of a modern historical-critical reading of the Bible have been harvested and that the Church’s task in the twenty-first century is to learn to read the Bible once again through theological lenses, as a book whose center is Jesus Christ, to whom the Old Testament points and with whom the New Testament invites its readers to friendship. It thus reads with new appreciation the allegorical explication of Scripture by Church Fathers of the first millennium and the theological explication of the Bible by medieval commentators, thereby practicing the ecumenism of time in its lectio divina and exegesis.
A truly ecclesial biblical scholarship supports the Church’s evangelical mission by giving new power to Catholic preaching, Catholic catechesis, and Catholic evangelism. Forms of exegesis or biblical interpretation that do not support the homiletic, evangelical, and educational missions of the Church may have their place in the academy, but they are subsets of religious studies, not theology.
No serious evangelical Catholic homilist preaches out of the historical-critical notebook; his preaching is informed by historical-critical study of the Bible, but the substance preached is theological, and the focus is always on the encounter with Jesus Christ through the words of the written Word of God.
Evangelical Catholicism is a hierarchically ordered Catholicism in which a variety of vocations are respected.
If the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the unique savior of the world is the deepest point of conflict between the Catholic Church and postmodernity, the Church’s claim that its hierarchical structure embodies the will of Christ and not ancient social convention is perhaps the next most controversial of Catholic convictions. In a cultural environment where all authority is suspect and the notion of divine authority is thought to be a psychological hangover from the premodern world, the claim that divine authority is transmitted in an unbroken chain of apostolic succession through the bishops of the Church in communion with the bishop of Rome seems literally incredible. Evangelical Catholicism proclaims, explains, and lives this belief by locating the Church’s hierarchical “constitution” within the ambit of God’s call of each Christian to a unique vocation.
Vatican II described the local bishop as a true teacher, governor, and sanctifier in his local Church, and not simply a branch manager of the Catholic Church, Inc. The reform of the episcopate it envisioned will be realized in bishops who follow the model of the great teacher-bishops of the past: Clement, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great; Ambrose and Augustine; Athanasius and John Chrysostom; Charles Borromeo and Francis de Sales; Clemens von Galen and Ildefonso Schuster; Andrey Sheptytsky and Karol Wojtyla. Von Galen, Schuster, and Sheptytsky anticipated Evangelical Catholicism, while Wojtyla defined key elements of the Evangelical Catholic reform through his witness and work as archbishop of Kraków and bishop of Rome.
In Counter-Reformation Catholicism, the priesthood was often understood in primarily functional terms: Priests were men who had been licensed to conduct certain types of ecclesiastical business and who formed a clerical caste. Evangelical Catholicism understands the priesthood in iconic terms: The Catholic priest is a man whose ordination makes him into a living re-presentation of the Lord Jesus. Thus the priest, like the bishop, is first a pastor—a preacher, teacher, catechist, and sanctifier—before he is an administrator.
The lay vocation, as understood by Evangelical Catholicism, is primarily one of evangelism: of the family, the workplace, and the neighborhood, and thus of culture, economics, and politics, bringing the gospel into all of those parts of the world to which the laity have greater access than those who are ordained. Having shared the great grace of baptism and having been appropriately catechized into “the mysteries,” evangelical Catholics understand, appreciate, and live the biblical truth of Christian vocation as given by St. Paul: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4–7).
Evangelical Catholicism is both culture-forming and countercultural.
Evangelical Catholicism creates its own culture. Those who are living in friendship with the risen Lord in the communion of the Church speak a distinctive language (in which, for example, “obedience” and “forgiveness” have richer meanings than in the ambient postmodern culture). They live according to a distinctive temporal rhythm (in which Sunday is not simply a day on which the shopping malls close earlier). They celebrate unique rituals, observe a unique set of laws, cherish and tell a unique set of stories, perceive life (and death) against a unique horizon.
In the waning decades of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, which coincided with the post–World War II period, Catholics in the West experienced a relatively comfortable fit between the Church and the ambient public culture. The public culture was still recognizably Christian in many respects; to be a Christian in the West was not to experience the Church as a counterculture. This experience seems to have shaped the rather optimistic view of the Catholic Church’s dialogue with modern culture found in Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Yet shortly after the council, the high culture of the West took a sharp turn toward an aggressive and hegemonic secularism that now manifests itself as Christophobia: a deep hostility to gospel truth (especially moral truth) and a determination to drive Christians who affirm those truths out of public life and into a privatized existence on the margins of society. A public culture dominated by nihilism and relativism conscripts public authority to impose that nihilism and relativism on others through the coercive use of state power.
Christianity is Christ, not some abstract cluster of “Christian” ideas. It is Christ whom the twenty-first-century Christophobes fear. If the West is to recover from the crisis of civilizational morale in which it has been immolating itself, it is Christ who will help humanize the earthly city through the agency of the City of God, present in an anticipatory way in the counterculture that is the Church. That challenge cannot be met by timid or lukewarm Catholicism. It can only be met by a robustly evangelical Catholicism that proposes the gospel in a compelling and courageous way, and that insists that public authorities permit the Church the free space to be itself, make its gospel proposal, and offer the service of charity to others. Thus Evangelical Catholicism seeks to be a culture-forming counterculture for the sake of the world, its healing, and its conversion.
Evangelical Catholicism enters the public square with the voice of reason, grounded in gospel conviction.
Because it lives under two sovereigns, Evangelical Catholicism is bilingual. The gospel cannot be preached in any other language than its own: a language deeply shaped by the Sacred Scriptures, a language that has been revealed and received and is not to be recast when the culture suggests that the Church do so. Yet in addressing public policy in pluralistic and secular societies, Evangelical Catholicism speaks its second language, which is the language of reason.
The ordained leaders of the Church, and the laity who are Christ’s principal witnesses in the public square, do not enter public life proclaiming, “The Church teaches . . .” When the question at issue is an immoral practice, they enter the debate saying, “This is wicked; it cannot be sanctioned by the law and here is why, as any reasonable person will grasp.” When the issue at hand is the promotion of some good, the first thing they say is, “This is good; it’s a requirement of justice that the law acknowledge it; and here is why it’s both good and just.”
This use of the language of reason is a matter of good democratic manners, of speaking in such a way that our arguments can be engaged by our fellow citizens. It is also a matter of political common sense: If you want an argument to be heard, engaged, and accepted, you make it in a language that those you are seeking to persuade can understand. It is, furthermore, a matter of calling the bluff of those who insist that the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, euthanasia, and marriage is a “sectarian” teaching that cannot be “imposed” on a pluralistic society.
Evangelical Catholicism draws the will, the energy, the strength, and, if necessary, the stubbornness to continue defending and promoting the dignity of the human person from the power of the gospel. It speaks publicly in secular, pluralistic democracies in such a way that its words can be heard and the truths they express can be engaged by everyone. Only religious and secular sectarians will find a contradiction here.
Evangelical Catholicism awaits with eager anticipation the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory, and until that time, Evangelical Catholicism is ordered to mission—to the proclamation of the gospel for the world’s salvation.
The Church does not have a mission, as if “mission” were one among a dozen things the Church does. The Church is a mission, and everything the Church does is ordered to that mission, which is the proclamation of the gospel for the conversion of the world to Christ. Thus mission and mission-effectiveness measure everything and everyone in the Church.
In the sacred liturgy—that part of the Church’s life that seems to be a step back from the world or, better, a step into the real world that is the Kingdom of God in the wedding feast of the lamb—the Church is in fact being equipped by sacramental grace for mission. Even those contemplative vocations that really are cloistered from both the world and the rest of the Church are mission-oriented. For the consecrated life (as John Paul II taught in the 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata) is the spiritual engine of the Church, in which the energies of evangelism are refined and shared in a great exchange of gifts by which the entire Church, the bride of Christ, strives for union with her divine spouse. From an Evangelical Catholic perspective, every Catholic is a missionary, an evangelist, a disciple, commissioned by the Lord to take the gospel to every nation, calling all to be baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity.
Mission is thus the second great criterion of authentic Catholic reform. Those things that need to be changed in the Church, and that can be changed, must be changed for the sake of the mission. Those things in the Church that cannot be changed, because they are of the divinely ordered constitution of the Church, must be reformed when necessary so that they contribute as they ought to the mission. The notion of a Church always in need of purification and reform is drawn not from the Reformation slogan ecclesia semper reformanda, but from within the Church’s deepest inner dynamics: its longing to be joined to its spousal head, Christ the Lord, and its passion to share his love with those to whom it has been commissioned to bring the gospel—that is, everyone.
Thus all the baptized must be constantly formed for mission. Some will do this by the quality of their lives, which, lived openly in fidelity to Christ, will inspire in others the hope for a similar faith and charity. Others will do it by proposing the gospel, in and out of season, in the knowledge that the word, if it truly is formed by the Word of God, does not go forth without effect. But however the mission is lived, all evangelical Catholics are called to live it in the joy, the confidence, and the firm faith that the Lord who has conquered sin and death will complete his victory in the wedding feast of the lamb, in the New Jerusalem where every tear will be wiped away “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
The late French journalist André Frossard was a convert to Catholicism from the fashionable atheism of his class, an atheism that was once a Parisian intellectual fad but that has taken on a much harder, Christophobic edge across the twenty-first-century Western world. When Frossard saw John Paul II at the Mass marking the beginning of the pope’s public ministry, he wired back to his Paris newspaper, “This is not a pope from Poland; this is a pope from Galilee.” It was a brilliant metaphor that illustrates in one rich biblical image the nature and task of Evangelical Catholicism.
The reform that began with Leo XIII and that is now giving birth to Evangelical Catholicism is an invitation from the Lord to come to Galilee—and then to go beyond Galilee. The Catholic Church is being invited to meet the risen Lord in Scripture, the sacraments, and prayer, and to make friendship with him the center of Catholic life. Every Catholic has received this invitation in baptism: the invitation to accept the Great Commission, to act as an evangelist, and to measure the truth of one’s Catholic life by the way in which each member of the Church, through the human love and solidarity that flows from friendship with Christ the Lord, invites others into that friendship.
George Weigelf, a member of the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, is a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. This article is adapted from his new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.