In the closing pages of his book American Church, Russell Shaw describes the “New Evangelization”:
“The key to new evangelization as a high priority of a new American Catholic subculture isn’t institutions and programs…Where to begin? It has to start with the idea of vocation: with preaching and teaching and writing and broadcasting in every available forum the message that God intends each of us to play a unique, unrepeatable role in his providential redemptive plan. Every life…is a vocation…Today it is not merely desirable but imperative that Catholics acknowledge the reality of unique personal vocation as preached and taught by such figures as Saint Francis de Sales…
From a Salesian perspective, one could say that there’s really nothing new about the “new” evangelization. Whether we know it as:
- Practicing Devotion
- Living Jesus
- Reprinting the Gospel
- Working for the happiness of others
- Being the best version of yourself
- The universal call to holiness, or
- Embracing the ordinary
evangelization is about imitating Christ’s life and ministry in familiar, ordinary and everyday ways, that is (1) meeting people where they are, (2) helping them to see themselves as God sees them, and (3) inviting them to become more of the people that God wants them to be.
From a Salesian perspective, we know that evangelization begins within each and every one of us. Charity – while not limited to home – begins at home. There is no better foundation for evangelizing others than by trying our level best to meet ourselves where we are, to see ourselves as God sees us and to become more of the people that God longs for us to be.
Note the distinction that Russell Shaw makes: he doesn’t say that every life has a vocation – he says that every life is vocation. The notion of ‘having’ a vocation implies that we can’t play a “unique, unrepeatable role in God’s providential plan” until we find a niche in which to do that. The notion of ‘having’ a vocation suggests that there is something missing in us until we acquire something that gives life meaning. The notion of ‘having’ a vocation seems to imply that in order to serve God and others you need to ‘get a life.’
By contrast, the notion that every life “is” vocation underscores the fact that we already ‘have a life,’ made as we are in the image and likeness of God. Evangelization challenges us be grateful for the gift of life and to make the best possible use of that life in the service of God and others. Whether married, single, divorced, widowed, religious, ordained, young, middle-aged, old, working, and retired or lots of other places in between, every life “is” vocation. Jesus himself said it best in the Gospel of John Chapter 10, verse 10: “I have come that you might have life, and have life in abundance.”
Having life, living life and sharing life with others is our common vocation, our common bond – it is the bond of love. In his Introduction to the Devout Life (which was I suppose was the “New Evangelization” of its day) Francis de Sales wrote:
“Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.”
Almost three centuries later during the annual retreat, Fr. Louis Brisson observed:
“Every individual person represents something great.”
In the Salesian tradition vocation is not equated with doing more; vocation is not about doing extra; vocation is not trying to become someone you’re not. In a letter to the Cure of Gex, Francis de Sales wrote:
“I persist always in telling you that you ought to serve God where you are and do what you are doing. Not that I would wish to hinder the growth of your good works nor the continual purification of your heart, but do what you are doing, and do it better wherever possible. Take my advice and remain where you are. Do faithfully all you honestly can do and you will experience how – if you believe – you will see the glory of God.” (Living Jesus, p. 412)
One can make the case, then, that the clarion call of Salesian evangelization is to preach this message clearly and convincingly to others: “Your life matters. You matter. Do your part in making this world a better place, even if it’s just in your little corner of it. Look for all the God-given goodness – even greatness – in yourself and place it at the service of God and neighbor. Be who you are and be that the best you can.”
As people living a Salesian way of life, what might be the most effective ways of proclaiming this message today?