XVI- Writings as Cardinal
The New Evangelization, building the civilization of love
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers
Jubilee of Catechists
December 12, 2000 (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)
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?
To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living.
At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to
evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to
your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the
path toward happiness—rather: I am that path.
The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a
life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread
today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the
poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the
inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that
devastate the life of individuals and of the world.
This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of
living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not
the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one]
who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.
I. Structure and method in new evangelization
1. The structure
Before speaking about the fundamental contents of new
evangelization, I would like to say a few words about its structure
and on the correct method.
The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of
evangelization. She celebrates the eucharistic mystery every day,
administers the sacraments, proclaims the word of life—the Word of
God, and commits herself to the causes of justice and charity. And
this evangelization bears fruit: It gives light and joy, it gives
the path of life to many people; many others live, often
unknowingly, of the light and the warmth that radiate from this
However, we can see a progressive process of de-Christianization and
a loss of the essential human values, which is worrisome. A large
part of today's humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent
evangelization of the Church: That is to say, the convincing
response to the question: How to live?
This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and
uninterrupted and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new
evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not
find access to "classic" evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel;
the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and
this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the
Gospel to all.
Yet another temptation lies hidden beneath this—the temptation of
impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success,
in finding large numbers. But this is not God's way. For the Kingdom
of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of
the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is
always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).
The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New
evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses
that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more
refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises.
New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that
from the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal
Church grew; never thinking that the fact that different birds may
find place among its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare,
once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to
God the when and how it will grow (Mark 4:26-29).
Large things always begin from the small seed, and the mass
movements are always ephemeral. In his vision of the evolutionary
process, Teilhard de Chardin mentions the "white of the origins" (le
blanc des origines): The beginning of a new species is invisible and
cannot be found by scientific research. The sources are hidden—they
are too small. In other words: The large realities begin in
Let us put to one side whether Teilhard is right in his evolutionary
theories; the law on invisible origins does say a truth—a truth
present in the very actions of God in history: "The Lord did not set
his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous
than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it
was because the Lord loved you." God says [this] to the People of
Israel in the Old Testament and thus expresses the fundamental
paradox of the history of salvation: certainly, God does not count
in large numbers; exterior power is not the sign of his presence.
Most of Jesus' parables indicate this structure of divine
intervention and thus answer the disciples' worries, who were
expecting other kinds of success and signs from the
Messiah—successes of the kind offered by Satan to the Lord: All
these—the kingdoms of the world—I will give to you ... (Matthew
Of course, at the end of his life Paul believed that he had
proclaimed the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, but the
Christians were small communities dispersed throughout the world,
insignificant according to the secular criteria. In reality, they
were the leaven that penetrates the meal from within and they
carried within themselves the future of the world (see Matthew
An old proverb says: "Success is not one of the names of God." New
evangelization must surrender to the mystery of the grain of mustard
seed and not be so pretentious as to believe to immediately produce
a large tree. We either live too much in the security of the already
existing large tree or in the impatience of having a greater, more
vital tree—instead we must accept the mystery that the Church is at
the same time a large tree and a very small grain. In the history of
salvation it is always Good Friday and Easter Sunday at the same
2. The method
The correct method derives from this structure of new
evangelization. Of course we must use the modern methods of making
ourselves be heard in a reasonable way—or better yet: of making the
voice of the Lord accessible and comprehensible. ... We are not
looking for listening for ourselves—we do not want to increase the
power and the spreading of our institutions, but we wish to serve
for the good of the people and humanity giving room to he who is
This expropriation of one's person, offering it to Christ for the
salvation of men, is the fundamental condition of the true
commitment for the Gospel. "I have come in my Father's name, and you
do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will
receive," says the Lord (John 5:43). The mark of the Antichrist is
the fact that he speaks in his own name.
The sign of the Son is his communion with the Father. The Son
introduces us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of
eternal love, whose persons are "pure relations," the pure act of
giving oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan—visible in the
Son, who does not speak in his name—shows the form of life of the
true evangelizer—rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of
speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving
voice to the Father. "He will not speak on his own authority, but
whatever he hears he will speak," says the Lord about the Holy
Spirit (John 16:13).
This Christological and pneumatological form of evangelization is
also, at the same time, an ecclesiological form: The Lord and the
Spirit build the Church, communicate through the Church. The
proclamation of Christ, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God
presupposes listening to his voice in the voice of the Church. "Not
speak on his own authority" means: to speak in the mission of the
Many practical consequences come from this law of expropriation. All
reasonable and morally acceptable methods should be studied—to use
these possibilities of communication is a duty. But words and the
whole art of communication cannot reach the human person to such
depths as the Gospel must reach.
A few years ago, I was reading the biography of a very good priest
of our century, Don Didimo, the parish priest of Bassano del Grappa.
In his notes, golden words can be found, the fruit of a life of
prayer and of meditation. About us, Don Didimo says, for example:
"Jesus preached by day, by night he prayed."
With these few words, he wished to say: Jesus had to acquire the
disciples from God. The same is always true. We ourselves cannot
gather men. We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are
empty without the foundation of prayer. The word of the announcement
must always be drenched in an intense life of prayer.
We must add another step. Jesus preached by day, by night he
prayed—this is not all. His entire life was—as demonstrated in a
beautiful way by the Gospel according to St. Luke—a path toward the
cross, ascension toward Jerusalem. Jesus did not redeem the world
with beautiful words but with his suffering and his death. His
Passion is the inexhaustible source of life for the world; the
Passion gives power to his words.
The Lord himself—extending and amplifying the parable of the grain
of mustard seed—formulated this law of fruitfulness in the word of
the grain of seed that dies, fallen to earth (John 12:24). This law
too is valid until the end of the world and is—along with the
mystery of the grain of seed—fundamental for new evangelization. All
of history demonstrates this.
It is very easy to demonstrate this in the history of Christianity.
Here, I would like to recall only the beginning of evangelization in
the life of St. Paul. The success of his mission was not the fruit
of great rhetorical art or pastoral prudence; the fruitfulness was
tied to the suffering, to the communion in the passion with Christ
(see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; ... 2 Corinthians 11:30; Galatians
"But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah,"
said the Lord. The sign of Jonah is the crucified Christ—they are
the witnesses that complete "what is lacking in Christ's
afflictions" (Colossians 1:24). Throughout all the periods of
history, the words of Tertullian have always been verified: The
blood of martyrs is a seed.
St. Augustine says the same thing in a much more beautiful way,
interpreting John 21, where the prophesy of Peter's martyrdom and
the mandate to tend, that is to say, the institution of his primacy,
are intimately connected.
St. Augustine comments [on] the text John 21:16 in the following
way: "Tend my sheep," this means suffer for my sheep.... A mother
cannot give life to a child without suffering. Each birth requires
suffering, is suffering, and becoming a Christian is a birth. Let us
say this once again in the words of the Lord: The Kingdom of heaven
has suffered violence (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), but the violence
of God is suffering, it is the cross. We cannot give life to others
without giving up our own lives.
The process of expropriation indicated above is the concrete form
(expressed in many different ways) of giving one's life. And let us
think about the words of the Savior: "Whoever loses his life for my
sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35).
II. The contents essential for new evangelization
As for the contents of new evangelization, first of all we must
keep in mind the inseparability of the Old and the New Testaments.
The fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the
message by John the Baptist: metanoeìte—Convert! There is no access
to Jesus without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching
Jesus without answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus
took up the message of John in the synthesis of his own preaching:
metanoeìte kaì pisteúete èn tù eùaggelíu (Mark 1:15).
The Greek word for converting means: to rethink—to question one's
own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the
criteria of one's life; to not merely judge according to the current
opinions. Thereby, to convert means: not to live as all the others
live, not do what all do, not feel justified in dubious, ambiguous,
evil actions just because others do the same; begin to see one's
life through the eyes of God; thereby looking for the good, even if
uncomfortable; not aiming at the judgment of the majority, of men,
but on the justice of God—in other words: to look for a new style of
life, a new life.
All of this does not imply moralism; reducing Christianity to
morality loses sight of the essence of Christ's message: the gift of
a new friendship, the gift of communion with Jesus and thereby with
God. Whoever converts to Christ does not mean to create his own
moral autarchy for himself, does not intend to build his own
goodness through his own strengths.
"Conversion" (metanoia) means exactly the opposite: to come out of
self-sufficiency to discover and accept our indigence—the indigence
of others and of the Other, his forgiveness, his friendship.
Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the
others); conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of
the Other, a love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my
Here we must also bear in mind the social aspect of conversion.
Certainly, conversion is above all a very personal act, it is
personalization. I separate myself from the formula "to live as all
others" (I do not feel justified anymore by the fact that everyone
does what I do) and I find my own person in front of God, my own
But true personalization is always also a new and more profound
socialization. The "I" opens itself once again to the "you," in all
its depths, and thus a new "We" is born. If the lifestyle spread
throughout the world implies the danger of de-personalization, of
not living one's own life but the life of all the others, in
conversion a new "We," of the common path of God, must be achieved.
In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a
common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with
words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of
progress; a merely individual conversion has no consistency....
2. The Kingdom of God
In the appeal to conversion the proclamation of the Living God is
implicit—as its fundamental condition. Theocentrism is fundamental
in the message of Jesus and must also be at the heart of new
The keyword of the proclamation of Jesus is: the Kingdom of God. But
the Kingdom of God is not a thing, a social or political structure,
a utopia. The Kingdom of God is God. Kingdom of God means: God
exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in
our—in my life.
God is not a faraway "ultimate cause," God is not the "great
architect" of deism, who created the machine of the world and is no
longer part of it—on the contrary: God is the most present and
decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each and every
moment of history
In his conference when leaving the University of Münster, the
theologian J.B. Metz said some unexpected things for him. In the
past, Metz taught us anthropocentrism—the true occurrence of
Christianity was the anthropological turning point, the
secularization, the discovery of the secularity of the world. Then
he taught us political theology—the political characteristic of
faith; then the "dangerous memory"; and finally narrative theology.
After this long and difficult path, today he tells us: The true
problem of our times is the "Crisis of God," the absence of God,
disguised by an empty religiosity. Theology must go back to being
truly theo-logy, speaking about and with God.
Metz is right: the unum necessarium to man is God. Everything
changes, whether God exists or not. Unfortunately—we Christians also
often live as if God did not exist (si Deus non daretur). We live
according to the slogan: God does not exist, and if he exists, he
does not belong.
Therefore, evangelization must, first of all, speak about God,
proclaim the only true God: the Creator—the Sanctifier—the Judge
(see Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Here too we must keep the practical aspect in mind. God cannot be
made known with words alone. One does not really know a person if
one knows about this person secondhandedly. To proclaim God is to
introduce to the relation with God: to teach how to pray. Prayer is
faith in action. And only by experiencing life with God does the
evidence of his existence appear.
This is why schools of prayer, communities of prayer, are so
important. There is a complementarity between personal prayer ("in
one's room," alone in front of God's eyes), "para-liturgical" prayer
in common ("popular religiosity") and liturgical prayer.
Yes, the liturgy is, first of all, prayer; its specificity consists
in the fact that its primary project is not ourselves (as in private
prayer and in popular religiosity), but God himself—the liturgy is
actio divina, God acts and we respond to this divine action.
Speaking about God and speaking with God must always go together.
The proclamation of God is the guide to communion with God in
fraternal communion, founded and vivified by Christ. This is why the
liturgy (the sacraments) are not a secondary theme next to the
preaching of the living God, but the realization of our relationship
While on this subject, may I be allowed to make a general
observation on the liturgical question. Our way of celebrating the
liturgy is very often too rationalistic. The liturgy becomes
teaching, whose criteria is: making ourselves understood—often the
consequence of this is making the mystery a banality, the prevalence
of our words, the repetition of phrases that might seem more
accessible and more pleasant for the people.
But this is not only a theological error but also a psychological
and pastoral one. The wave of esoterism, the spreading of Asian
techniques of relaxation and self-emptying demonstrate that
something is lacking in our liturgies. It is in our world of today
that we are in need of silence, of the super-individual mystery, of
The liturgy is not an invention of the celebrating priest or of a
group of specialists; the liturgy (the "rite") came about via an
organic process throughout the centuries, it bears with it the fruit
of the experience of faith of all the generations.
Even if the participants do not perhaps understand each single word,
they perceive the profound meaning, the presence of the mystery,
which transcends all words. The celebrant is not the center of
liturgical action; the celebrant is not in front of the people in
his own name—he does not speak by himself or for himself, but in
persona Christi. The personal abilities of the celebrant do not
count, only his faith counts, by which Christ becomes transparent.
"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
3. Jesus Christ
With this reflection, the theme of God has already expanded and been
achieved in the theme of Jesus Christ: Only in Christ and through
Christ does the theme God become truly concrete: Christ is Emmanuel,
the God-with-us—the concretization of the "I am," the response to
Today, the temptation is great to diminish Jesus Christ, the Son of
God, into a merely historical Jesus, into a pure man. One does not
necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus, but by using certain methods
one distills from the Bible a Jesus to our size, a Jesus possible
and comprehensible within the parameters of our historiography.
But this "historical Jesus" is an artifact, the image of his authors
rather than the image of the living God (see 2 Corinthians 4:4ff;
Colossians 1:15). The Christ of faith is not a myth; the so-called
historical Jesus is a mythological figure, self-invented by various
interpreters. The 200 years of history of the "historical Jesus"
faithfully reflect the history of philosophies and ideologies of
Within the limits of this conference, I cannot go into the contents
of the proclamation of the Savior. I would only like to briefly
mention two important aspects.
The first one is the Sequela of Christ—Christ offers himself as the
path of my life. Sequela of Christ does not mean: imitating the man
Jesus. This type of attempt would necessarily fail—it would be an
anachronism. The Sequela of Christ has a much higher goal: to be
assimilated into Christ, that is to attain union with God. Such a
word might sound strange to the ears of modern man. But, in truth,
we all thirst for the infinite: for an infinite freedom, for
happiness without limits.
The entire history of revolutions during the last two centuries can
only be explained this way. Drugs can only be explained this way.
Man is not satisfied with solutions beneath the level of
divinization. But all the roads offered by the "serpent" (Genesis
3:5), that is to say, by mundane knowledge, fail. The only path is
communion with Christ, achieved in sacramental life. The Sequela of
Christ is not a question of morality, but a "mysteric" theme—an
ensemble of divine action and our response.
Thus, in the theme on the sequela we find the presence of the other
center of Christology, which I wished to mention: the Paschal
Mystery—the cross and the Resurrection. In the reconstruction of the
"historical Jesus," usually the theme of the cross is without
meaning. In a bourgeois interpretation it becomes an incident per se
evitable, without theological value; in a revolutionary
interpretation it becomes the heroic death of a rebel.
The truth is quite different. The cross belongs to the divine
mystery—it is the expression of his love to the end (John 13:1). The
Sequela of Christ is participation in the cross, uniting oneself to
his love, to the transformation of our life, which becomes the birth
of the new man, created according to God (see Ephesians 4:24).
Whoever omits the cross, omits the essence of Christianity (see 1
4. Eternal life
A last central element of every true evangelization is eternal life.
Today we must proclaim our faith with new vigor in daily life. Here,
I would only like to mention one aspect of the preaching Jesus,
which is often omitted today: The proclamation of the Kingdom of God
is the proclamation of the God present, the God that knows us,
listen to us; the God that enters into history to do justice.
Therefore, this preaching is also the proclamation of justice, the
proclamation of our responsibility.
Man cannot do or avoid doing what he wants to. He will be judged. He
must account for things. This certitude is of value both for the
powerful as well as the simple ones. Where this is honored, the
limitations of every power in this world are traced. God renders
justice, and only he may ultimately do this.
We will be able to do this better the more we are able to live under
the eyes of God and to communicate the truth of justice to the
world. Thus the article of faith in justice, its force in the
formation of consciences, is a central theme of the Gospel and is
truly good news. It is for all those suffering the injustices of the
world and who are looking for justice.
This is also how we can understand the connection between the
Kingdom of God and the "poor," the suffering and all those spoken
about in the Beatitudes in the Speech on the Mountain. They are
protected by the certainty of judgment, by the certitude, that there
is a justice.
This is the true content of the article on justice, about God as
judge: Justice exists. The injustices of the world are not the final
word of history. Justice exists. Only whoever does not want there to
be justice can oppose this truth.
If we seriously consider the judgment and the seriousness of the
responsibility for us that emerges from this, we will be able to
understand full well the other aspect of this proclamation, that is
redemption, the fact that Jesus, in the cross, takes on our sins;
God himself, in the passion of the Son, becomes the advocate for us
sinners, and thus making penance possible, the hope for the
repentant sinner, hope expressed in a marvelous way by the words of
St. John: Before God, we will reassure our heart, whatever he
reproves us for.
"For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (1
John 3:19ff). God's goodness is infinite, but we should not diminish
this to goodness to mawkish affectation without truth. Only by
believing in the just judgment of God, only by hungering and
thirsting for justice (see Matthew 5:6) will we open up our hearts,
our life to divine mercy.
This can be seen: It isn't true that faith in eternal life makes
earthly life insignificant. To the contrary: only if the measure of
our life is eternity, then also this life of ours on earth is great
and its value immense. God is not the competitor in our life, but
the guarantor of our greatness. This way we return to the starting
If we take the Christian message into well-thought-out
consideration, we are not speaking about a whole lot of things. In
reality, the Christian message is very simple: We speak about God
and man, and this way we say everything.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers
Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000