New evangelization expert Ralph Martin to speak in Omaha

“I have never seen so many ‘ordinary Catholics’ – who usually never follow or hear about Church news – as deeply troubled as I have seen them in response to the recent revelations about the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C.,” Ralph Martin wrote last year in “Dear Troubled Catholics.”

In the open letter to Catholics in the pews regarding the sex abuse crisis and other signs of decay in the Western church, he acknowledged the shock and sorrow of many people he meets. He also called readers to pray for the church, remain faithful and pursue greater personal conversion as a means to re-evangelize the culture.

On March 9, Martin will sound that call anew at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha.  As part of its John Paul II Lecture Series, he will address the topic, “JPII and the New Evangelization: What is it? Why Bother?”

It is fitting that Martin speak at the Newman Center, which serves area college students, especially those at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His service to the church began in the 1960s, when as a campus ministry leader at Michigan State he brought a group of students to the First International Catholic Charismatic Conference at the University of Notre Dame. He soon rose to become one of the foremost figures in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. 

Martin is the founder and president of Renewal Ministries, an organization dedicated to evangelization and renewal in the church throughout the world. His weekly program on EWTN television and radio, “The Choices We Face,” continues to win fans and facilitate conversion.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Martin as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization, a position he still holds. Having earned a doctorate in systematic theology from the Pontifical Faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome, he is also director of Graduate Theology Programs in Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on the Holy Spirit, the new evangelization and growth in holiness. 

Martin spoke with the Catholic Voice about the significance of the new evangelization, the role of prayer in renewing the church and his upcoming presentation.

Q: You’re maybe best known for your leadership in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. How did you get involved in teaching about the new evangelization?

I certainly have been very involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, but probably for the last 20 years, that hasn’t been the main focus of what I’ve been doing. 

I’ve been really trying to actually implement the vision of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II, particularly with regard to the universal call to holiness and the universal call to evangelization. So even though the Charismatic Renewal has informed my sensitivity to certain things, my focus isn’t promoting a particular movement, but actually promoting the vision of John Paul II.

Q: What’s new about the new evangelization?

The first thing that’s new about it, and this is all according to the teaching of John Paul II, is who it’s directed to. The traditional missionary work of the church has been directed to cultures and countries where people don’t really already have the church established, and the Gospel is being preached perhaps for the first time.

John Paul II said we now have a new situation on our hands, where lots of baptized and confirmed Catholics are no longer living as disciples of Christ, and so we have a huge task of evangelization all around us. The first thing that’s new about the new evangelization is it’s directed to people who are already Catholics, but aren’t living as disciples of Christ.

The second thing that’s new about it is that it isn’t primarily priests and nuns that are supposed to do it, but every single Catholic lay person is supposed to embrace the call to evangelization to share their faith with other people.

A third thing that’s new about it, according to John Paul II, is that he says it needs to be new in ardor, method and expression. We need to be open to the creativity of the Holy Spirit and the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Another thing that’s new about it is the cultural situation that we’re now faced with, which is increasingly hostile to Christ and the church.

Q: Why was the new evangelization so important to John Paul II?

I think he saw that there was really a decline of faith in the church in so many Christian and Catholic countries, and he was very concerned that we needed to really pay attention to that and recognize that there’s a whole new mission field that’s opening up all around us. 

There’s probably hardly a family anymore that doesn’t have members who are baptized but aren’t practicing their faith, so I think he was very concerned about the Christian heartland, the Catholic heartland.

You know, you see things like in Ireland recently, just when they voted to legalize abortion, people were just wildly celebrating in the streets, and that’s a shocking thing in traditionally Catholic countries when you see them abandon their faith. 

So there’s a real need for a new evangelization in traditionally Catholic and Christian countries.

Q:How do you think that the new evangelization can help to renew the church in this time when there’s such a loss of faith and scandal in the church?

Converted people are what the church needs. People who have met Jesus Christ and believe in the church that he founded and are dedicating themselves to lives of holiness and mission, who are really living their vocations in their families and their occupations as Christian witnesses. That’s the only thing that’s going to bring about renewal of the church, renewal of holiness.

Q: What are some ways that the average Catholic lay person can become involved in evangelization?

I think they should take some time to reflect on how God became real to them and why they believe, and what difference it really makes in their life, and then practice sharing that with a friend, with somebody in their family, with a fellow Christian. And what I do in all my seminary classes is I have people practice a little five-minute testimony.

Sort of like when a salesman gives his elevator speech, he only has a short amount of time to share the essence about his product. So we need to practice sharing our faith with other people because a lot of times, people ask us, “Why are you going to church?” Or, “Gee, it seems like you’re a religious person, what’s going on there?” 

We need to get used to talking about it, and Catholics aren’t used to talking about their faith, so we need to practice talking about our faith, telling our story, sharing with others why we believe and why we’re following Jesus. That’s one thing.

Another thing is that we can invite people to all kinds of events. Most dioceses and most parishes periodically have guest speakers or Lenten series or a Scott-Hahn-comes-to-town type of thing. And rather than just think about whether we have time to go or whether we have our interest in this, Catholics need to start thinking about other people that they’re in contact with and being willing to invite them to come to events like this where they can hear things that can maybe wake them up to the fact that there’s more to being a Catholic than they suspected.

Another thing is we can share books and CDs and things like that. We can invite people to watch Catholic television programs, we can share a book or a CD with them and say, “Hey, I really found this meaningful. Why don’t you read it and tell me what you think?” There’s all kinds of things that we can do to share the faith. It isn’t rocket science. It’s not comfortable for many Catholics, but once they start doing it, it becomes kind of natural.

Q: You’ve also taught classes and written a book, “The Fulfillment of All Desire,” on union with God through prayer. What role does prayer play in the new evangelization?

Very important really because the deeper our own relationship with the Lord, the more we’re going to desire to share him with others and the more his presence in us is going to help us be alert to opportunities and give us the courage to do it. There’s a profound link – John Paul II says this – There’s a profound link between the universal call to holiness and the universal call to evangelization. The more we know and love Jesus, the more we experience his love, the more we are in a position where we actually can share and want to share him with other people. The two go really hand in hand.

Q: Do you see a revival in the traditional teaching regarding contemplative prayer? And if so, do you think it’s related to the new evangelization?

I do see a new interest in contemplative prayer. My own book, “The Fulfillment of All Desire,” is being used in quite a few seminaries and universities to pitch the contemplative life, and a lot of ordinary people are using it in study groups and things like that. And then there’s other things like something that Dan Burke of the National Catholic Register is doing called the Avila Institute. They’re providing classes and courses for lay people to grow in prayer. There’s a lot of good initiatives happening.

Q: What can our readers expect to hear from you if they attend your talk at the Newman Center?

I hope that they’re going to experience some fresh insights into John Paul II and his wonderful contribution as a pope to the new evangelization. But I hope they’re going to recognize that this isn’t just an option, but this is something really essential, not just because it’s going to help the church grow stronger or recover the losses, but because it has really something to do with people’s salvation. You know, there really is a heaven and there really is a hell, and it really matters to help people live their lives on what they believe and so, I hope people will come away inspired and informed.

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