Written by Joe Waters
I have been pondering a question for the past several days: what is the "engine" of evangelization? I suppose the root of this question is some recent reading I have done about the Benedictine evangelization of Europe and reform of the Church in the early Middle Ages. Why was it that the monastic movement was so successful in evangelizing Europe? First, I think it is because Benedictines propose the whole pattern of Christian life in microcosm through their prayer, work, and community life. Secondly, at the heart of monastic life was (and is) prayer and contemplation. What efforts do we make in our parishes and dioceses, even when we have the best intentions for evangelization, at prayer, which is the engine of evangelization? This brings me to my proposal: what if every parish and diocese that wanted to take evangelization seriously started with two basic, but essential steps.
1) Establish Eucharistic adoration at the heart of the parish or diocese and formed adorers to intercede not simply for personal needs, but for "kingdom" needs. What if they prayed before Jesus-Host for the pope, bishop, priests, deacons, religious, and laity and their role in the mission of the Church? What if they interceded for Catholic newspapers, radio, television, for other organizations committed to the "New Evangelization," for seminarians, seminaries, seminary professors, and religious formators? But most importantly, what if they prayed for all of those who don't know Jesus? What if they interceded, when possible by name, for those who don't practice the faith or for those who have become lukewarm? What if we took before the Eucharistic Emmanuel those in the public eye who don't know Jesus, the imprisoned of our communities, the addicted, the abused and their abusers, the unloved, those involved in grave sin, and those whom we hurt by our sin? Finally, what if we prayed for God to prepare the hearts of the ignorant and soften the hearts of the obstinate to receive an encounter with our Lord? Establishing disciples in this sort of prayer life before the Eucharistic Lord not only forms them into apostles of prayer, but makes fertile the soil for the preaching of the Gospel in the diocese or parish. This would be a great first step in implementing any comprehensive program of evangelization at any level of the Church's life.
2) We must engage all consecrated men and women, but especially contemplatives, in the task of evangelization according to their charism and state of life. What if we began our efforts in evangelization by first going to those who have been consecrated in a unique and intense way to the love of God and invited their unique contributions and participation in evangelizing the diocese or parish? What if we were intentional in calling upon them as partners in our apostolate? And can we not also call upon God to raise up new forms of life and more men and women to join us in this task according to the various charisms and states of life God has given the Church? Would we pray for God to raise up consecrated hermits and virgins from within our parish?
As I have thought about these things I have come to renewed conviction that prayer and contemplation is the "engine" of evangelization. The most successful evangelical movements within the life of the Universal Church testify to this. The Benedictines are one ancient example, the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity a more recent example, and let us not forget that St Dominic established a monastery of contemplative nuns at Prouille some years before the first Friars gathered in Toulouse. The chronological priority of the contemplative nuns underlines the spiritual priority of contemplation and prayer in the mission of the Order. However, the same truth applies to the preaching of the Universal Church: our preaching is made fruitful by prayer and contemplation. I propose that we rediscover the heart of the contemplative life as a gift to Mother Church for the sake of her mission.