A priest living in Seoul recalls going to his grandmother's house in the country; it was a great joy to him in his early years. In an article written for priests he remembers the days of net-fishing with friends. A couple of them would hold the net, and one would scare the fish into the net by splashing water. It wasn't easy, for they had to be careful not to have the net hit bottom and losing the fish. He recalls the recriminations for not doing a good job and allowing the fish to escape.
Reflecting on those early years of fishing, he remembers when evangelization was easy. Korea was a golden fish pond then and there was not much searching necessary; they were often coming into the Church on their own accord. However, evangelization is now difficult and the number of tepid Christians is increasing. Many parishes have tried street preaching and various programs to increase the numbers of the catechumens. In his own parish, the priest mentions that they tried prayer, fasting, and other approaches but with little success.
He tells us that without too much wisdom, he reproached the parish council, the Legion of Mary and all those who were responsible for the efforts. The community took it very hard as if it was their problem for the lack of results. However, with the passage of time he realized that it was not the problem of the Catholics. The pastor was comparing it to the time as a child when he went fishing with the net and let the fish escape. He was blaming the Christians for something that was not in their hands to accomplish. He felt like the Pharasee in the parable of the tax collector and Pharasee: self-righteous.
The fruitful years of evangelization have ended so the efforts have to change. Over the years, we have heard theologians tell us that we have to do more in evangelizing ourselves before we can bring our message to others. Here in Korea we talk about the new evangelization, re-evangelization, and the evangelization of the culture. But it all begins with ourselves.
Pope Benedict said in a talk ten years ago to catechists from around the world: "Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man’s fundamental question is: how will this be realized – becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? In a word, the new evangelization should be introducing the art of living a path towards happiness."
The concern and the joy of seeing so many coming out to the Church will be less, and thus there should be a greater interest in building up our communities to be signs of people on fire with love, and more time spent in evangelizing ourselves to understand and be open to God's love in our hearts. This should show itself in the way we interact with others in the communities we live in. It should also stimulate us to go out to those not of our community, with a desire to make all of society more human in every way. This new evangelization begins with us. It means presenting the art of living given to us by the example supreme, who is himself the path, by living that life ourselves.
At the beginning of his public life, Jesus says, I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18)--meaning, I have the response to your fundamental question. I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness. I am that path.
It's helpful to remember that the deepest poverty is the lack of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, both in the materially rich and poor countries. The inability to experience joy presupposes the inability to love, leading to jealousy and avarice--all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.
This is the reason for the new evangelization; if the art of living remains unknown, nothing else will work. This art can be communicated only by the one who brings to us the true fullness of life--he who is the gospel personified. To show this fullness in our own life is to teach this gospel, this art of living. This is the new evangelization.