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Catholics on the Evangelical Trail
Catholics on the Evangelical Trail

The words "Evangelical Catholic" may sound like a novel concept or a peculiar combination to some Protestants, but the phrase signifies a movement that reaches back more than a century in time. It is only in more recent years, however, that Catholicism's "evangelical" turn has acquired definite form and substance. Since Pope John Paul II articulated a new vision of lay evangelization in encyclicals such as Redemptoris Missio (1990), Evangelical Catholicism has captured the hearts and imaginations of faithful Catholics around the globe, spawning radio and television networks, colleges, a myriad of lay-led apostolates ("ministries" in Protestant parlance), and many other fresh initiatives. In Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (Basic Books), George Weigel reflects on how this movement came about and how it promises to transform both the Catholic Church and the surrounding society. Chris Castaldo, director of the Ministry for Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center, spoke with Weigel about obstacles facing Evangelical Catholicism, from secular hostility to challenges inside the church.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Evangelical Catholicism?

The biggest challenge facing Evangelical Catholicism in the West is an aggressive secularism that has closed its ears to any "rumors of angels," to recall Peter Berger's metaphor for the hints and traces of God's presence in the world. So the Evangelical Catholicism of the 21st century must devise ways to break through that deafness. That's one reason why Benedict XVI so stressed the beauty of the liturgy, and the need to worship God liturgically in a dignified and beautiful way. Beauty can be a window into a larger world for cynical postmoderns. If you experience something as beautiful, that can open up the possibility of exploring truth and goodness. Another challenge is the Gnosticism that has become rampant in the postmodern West—the notion that everything in the human condition is plastic, malleable, and subject to change by human willfulness. Things like maleness and femaleness. Or marriage. Evangelical Catholicism's defense and promotion of biblical realism and, in public life, of the truths of the natural moral law—the moral truths built into the world and into us—has to contend with this cultural tsunami, which finds its most powerful expression in the sexual revolution. That's why John Paul II's theology of the body and Benedict XVI's notion of a "grammar of the human" or "human ecology" are essential parts of the evangelical Catholic proposal.

Besides Father Robert Barron, which Catholic leaders in the post-Vatican II church are models of preaching for cultural change?

Certainly Benedict XVI, who's arguably the greatest papal preacher since the reign, over 14 centuries ago, of Pope Gregory the Great. Father William Joensen at Loras College in Iowa is another master-preacher. The recently named Cardinal James Harvey is a superb preacher. I could name many more. But let's also look back at the Church Fathers, whose expository preaching is a model for Catholic homilists today, and let's not forget that preaching is a form of teaching. Contemporary Catholic liturgists turn pale and start making choking noises when they hear this, and so do many preaching gurus; but that's too bad. John Chrysostom didn't tell jokes and funny anecdotes in his homilies: He unpacked the Scriptures through the tradition of the Church. And that's what Catholic preaching must do more of today. In Evangelical Catholicism, I suggest that deacons, priests, and bishops prepare their homilies with a good Biblical commentary (often Protestant in origin) in one hand, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the other, always keeping in mind what they've read from the Fathers that day in the Office of Reading in the Liturgy of the Hours, the breviary.

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Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church
Basic Books
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Catholics on the Evangelical Trail