I've just been watching an EWTN programme called The New Evangelization, featuring Scott Hahn and Ralph Martin, two American theologians. They were talking about Pope Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, which, though it did not use the phrase "New Evangelization, was really the genesis of the idea. (Watching it, I learned something interesting about Pope Paul; it was him, and not John Paul II, who was the first Pope to make pastoral visits to other continents. Indeed, this is why he took the name "Paul", which had not been used by a Pope for centuries.)
The show included a discussion about the oft-quoted words of St. Francis of Assisi (although he probably never spoke them): "Proclaim the Gospel ceaselessly. If necessary, use words." This is often used as a justification for not proclaiming our Faith.
The two theologians explained pretty succinctly why this is a cop-out, by making three points.
First point: Few of us are so holy that the mere witness of our lives is an effective form of evangelization.
Second point: St. Francis himself was a preacher, despite the deep holiness of his life. The same is true of Our Lord.
Third point: Pope Paul dismissed this idea in the encyclical they were discussing. He wrote:
...even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified-- what Peter called always having "your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have"-- and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. At every new phase of human history, the Church, constantly gripped by the desire to evangelize, has but one preoccupation: whom to send to proclaim the mystery of Jesus? In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed? How can one ensure that it will resound and reach all those who should hear it?
So there it is.
I myself fall painfully short of this ideal. I am a very shy person in many ways and walking up to a stranger and addressing them about anything, never mind evangelizing them, is something I can hardly even imagine doing. Not that this is the only way to evangelize, of course. But I feel a boundless admiration for those who do it.
I recall the time Michelle and myself visited King's Dominion, an amusement park in Virginia. I have many memories of that day, but the one that comes to me now is the time towards the end of the day when we were queuing to enter the "Eiffel Tower", a replica of the real Eiffel Tower. A young man, who seemed quite shy and awkward, approached us to ask us if we had Jesus in our lives, or something like that. I think he was a Jehovah's Witness. I almost wanted to hug him, I admired him so much for what he was doing, even if he was in thrall to a heresy.
We are so used to Christianity being "on the ropes" in our modern society, it's always refreshing to see Christians taking the initiative. I just wish it was Catholics doing it more often. I wish it was me doing it more often. And I pray I get better at it.