The New Evangelization: A Special Forces' Approach

Authored by Todd Amick in Issue #35.3 of The Sower

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Photo of A Flight Medic being hoisted into a helicopter.

A former military advisor illustrates how a small, highly motivated, highly trained group of evangelist "advisors" can affect a disproportionate change in the promotion of the goals of the New Evangelization.

What do you think of when you hear “Special Forces”? Most people think about an elite military team conducting an operation deep in unfriendly territory, appearing from and melting into the dark, still water of some jungle river. Or perhaps they think of a team conducting a hostage rescue in a desert environment with a HALO infiltration, utilizing night vision technology. These images represent only one aspect of Special Operations capabilities, which is direct action. However, another role of Special Forces, and one you might not think of, is that of highly trained advisors that facilitate the work of others, resulting in force-multiplication. Special Operations and the “quiet” professionals who carry them out are particularly suited to this role and its “work yourself out of job” methodology. Earlier in my life, I had the honor of working with men who demonstrated this methodology with profound professionalism, discipline, and humility—true quiet professionals.

But what does the advisor role of Special Forces have to do with the New Evangelization? Special Forces advisors are a small, highly trained, highly motivated, well-equipped cadre of teachers who act as force-multipliers by forming the next formators. This role is utilized whether training personnel in small unit tactics, land navigation or combat casualty care. It is extremely effective because in addition to training the first generation of students, the team also establishes the infrastructure for this first generation to form the next ones.

This role is suited to the work of the New Evangelization for three reasons: (1) the limited resources that many dioceses and parishes have at their disposal, (2) our natural reluctance to change, and (3) the dynamic nature of the New Evangelization. Regarding limited resources, it is often easier to support a small group of incarnate-advisors who can multiply their effectiveness, especially in the “ad intra” phase of the New Evangelization. When it comes to the natural reluctance to change, advisors first act as incarnate examples of the change that they are encouraging, allowing a “bottom-up” example that can complement the “top-down” encouragement of the bishop or pastor. And finally, he dynamic nature of the New Evangelization (which parallels the dynamic nature of personal conversion) requires quicker assessment of needs and opportunities. Paired with diocesan structures that are already in place, advisors can be an efficient and effective leaven for them, responding quickly and allowing the mission of the New Evangelization to grow in present structures.

To explicate this approach, I will offer specific examples from my work, as well as best practices from other ecclesial situations. These examples fall into three general categories, which I call the “three P’s”: partnerships, parishes-schools, and projects. These parallel the three dimensions of the Special Forces advisor: the subject matter expert, the force-multiplier, and the incarnate example.

Partnerships at the Diocesan Level

Special Forces advisors act as subject matter experts to their trainees. They have received extensive training in medicine, demolitions, and engineering, weapons or communications. And they bring their training to bear as organic, imbedded resources, living with those that they train. This dimension of the advisor—the organic subject matter expert—corresponds to the first “P”, partnerships.

In the context of a diocesan office, it is important that strategic partnerships be formed with the other offices in the chancery. This phase has two initial goals. Each office/person should know what the New Evangelization is, and how his office, and his particular role in it is related to the proclamation of the love of Christ in the diocese. To do this, it is helpful to meet with each of the different curial offices and all staff and explore two questions:

  1. How does the work of the New Evangelization open the door to your work?
  2. How is your work oriented towards the New Evangelization?

And just as the Special Forces advisor offers guidance and direction, so also the New Evangelization advisor offers best practices and forms associations that unlock the potentials of others.

Some specific examples may be helpful. When I met with the staff of one of our social apostolates, which provides housing for the disabled and elderly, I learned that their mission statement contained the phrase “because of the Gospel”. However, many of the people who worked for the association could not explain what the Gospel was, or how their work was related to it. An additional challenge and opportunity occurred because only about half of the personnel were Catholic (but all were Christian). Our approach was to give them a retreat centered on the healing mission of Christ, made incarnate in the Corporal Works of Mercy. Love formed the central theme of the day with alternating small group discussion oriented around the mission statement. By the end of the day, each person was able to explain what the Gospel is, how his work is related to the Gospel (from changing a light bulb to offering counseling) and how, through prayer, to seek for the strength to offer his work with love and joy.

For the Religious Education Office, we began with an already present venue where the parish directors met twice a year. In conjunction with the diocesan director, we offered “Catechizing for the New Evangelization”, a program designed to focus the work of catechesis (in its initial movement) on the often assumed work of evangelization. Utilizing love as the theme, we explored the relation of catechesis (an echoing of the invitation of Christ in the ministry and life of His Church) to the challenge and opportunity of the New Evangelization.

Similarly, for the Catholic Schools Office, we offered “Educating for the New Evangelization.” This program explored how schools must be “centers of evangelization,” especially due to the lack of parish association (as demonstrated by low mass attendance) by a majority of the parents of Catholic school children. I offered that “Catholic identity” in the 21st Century is the work of the New Evangelization. At workshops for the principals of elementary and high schools, I asked each of them if they would be willing to excuse their teachers for workshops that would explore the place of each subject within the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the relation of each subject to the work of the New Evangelization. The almost unanimous answer was “Yes…if you will give the workshops.” This provides an excellent opportunity for integration in the work of the New Evangelization, as well as a unification of the school around a shared mission-but only if the advisor is willing to provide the training.

When it comes to parish worship, there is a tendency to fall into the cliché of asking how the Liturgy can be more “welcoming”, independent of a deep reflection on the nature of the Liturgy. This can potentially obscure the fuller sign of the communion that occurs in the Liturgy, with God, as well as with each other. However, the best practice of a different diocese exhibited a surprising practical example of this fuller communion.

There was an older group of women who wanted to engage in “evangelization.” Their first impulse was to go door-to-door, which would not necessarily have been the best use of their gifts. However, the Rite of Anointing of the Sick suggests that an altar with a white cloth be set up, with Sacred Scripture available for readings, thus uniting Anointing to the Mass. Common experience dictates that this rarely occurs, and our priests are overtaxed to be able to provide this preparatory step and fuller sign of the rite. However, imagine a lay person arriving at the house of a person preparing to receive Anointing an hour before the priest, and gently preparing an altar: “Dear, do you have a white cloth? That’s OK. We can use mine. Do you have a copy of Sacred Scripture? That’s OK, I have a copy for you, and you can keep this as a gift from the Archbishop. I’ve tabbed the sections that you and your family may want to read over the next few days. And in the front cover is my phone number if you need anything.” The New Evangelization calls us to the creative joining of gifts to opportunities.

In our own diocese a meeting with Human Resources resulted in an orientation for all employees that centers on the mission of the New Evangelization and each person’s role in it.

Priest and deacon formation can provide an excellent opportunity for formation in the New Evangelization. Each of the specialties on a Special Forces A Team (weapons, medicine, communications, demolitions, and engineering) has an extended training that the leadership element does not receive. However, each officer, in his training spends enough time at each of the specialties’ trainings to understand the capabilities of the professionals under his command. This allows the commander to have great confidence in his team’s proficiency. The same should happen for priests and deacons with regard to catechesis and education. How much training do priests and deacons get in catechesis or in education? And yet, their roles in the prophetic office of Christ means that they will be doing this work, and deciding who will lead this work for them. Furthermore, many of them will be deciding whether it is really worth it to send someone for serious formation in these areas. If a priest (and future bishop) does not realize that catechesis is a science and an art, worthy of formation, then he may be more apt to settle for a cookie-cutter, peer-sharing resource that begins and ends with subjective experience, rather than a formation that teaches how to inculturate the essential sources of the Faith, thus uniting Reveleation with experience. A formation in the New Evangelization offers them a glimpse into the richness that each of these specialties offers, and the possible fruits of further formation.

Parishes-Schools

Special Forces advisors are force-multipliers. Each A Team is able to train a battalion-sized element. As a smaller group, meant to be leaven for a larger group, the teams can be highly trained themselves. This level of trainining  allows the advisor to be a particularly effective incarnate example of what can be achieved to the indigenous people that are being formed. This witness and proximity establishes an instant rapport, and engenders trust and motivation. The advisors' first communication with the people that they will train is “themselves” as examples. And with these examples as goals, the teams can begin the deliberate work of force-multiplication. They are a small, highly trained, and capable cadre of individuals whose job is to “work themselves out of a job.” They utilize rapport and diplomacy, and a tried and effective “crawl, walk, run” method. And because they are highly trained and smaller, they employ a greater flexibility in their work and have better equipment.

What does the advisor role look like in the area of the second “P”, parishes-schools? The first thing to notice is that parishes and schools are considered as a single unit. As an advisor in the parishes, we implemented a four-part Formation for the New Evangelization. By the end of the training, each person was capable of leading the small groups for the parents of Catholic School children. Each was able to fulfill our four goals corresponding to the four phases:

  1. Compelling Proclamation: Each person could finish the statement, “I am a Catholic because…”
  2. Conversion: Each person understood the habit of prayer and how to grow in virtue.
  3. Formation: Each person could articulate how each of the four pillars of catechesis is an expression of God’s love.
  4. Mobilization: Each person could demonstrate the ability to share the faith in all dimensions: personal, family, parish-school, social, professional, and cultural. Each achieved a competency in what I cal the "CCC" approach: exploring how culture, Christ, and Church are related in the work of evangelization. 

These four phases could then be transferred from the parish (with a newly-trained cadre) to the school, as the new leaders act as mentors and small group instructors for the parents’ formation in what I call “Domestic Church Academies”, where the faith is learned and parents learn how to pass the faith on to their children.

Projects

Special Forces advisors live and work alongside the people whom they train. There is a personal investment in the people who are being trained, and an opportunity for on-the-spot advisement for the indigenous people, who have passed through the crawl phase (to see), to the walk phase (to do), to the run phase (to teach). At the point at which someone can teach what he has learned, he demonstrates a much deeper level of formation.

What does the advisor role look like in the third “P”, projects? Anytime one is doing something new, one of the first steps after establishing rapport is sharing a vision for what can be achieved. The New Evangelization, by definition, has elements that are “new.” These new elements might appear to be beyond perceived limitations. Special Forces teams are rarely told “how” to accomplish missions, only what the objectives are. Teams then go into isolation to determine “how” to achieve the objective, often with ways that others may not have thought of. Examples of this type of work in the New Evangelization include the “Light of Faith” CD sets that we produced, to promulgate Pope Francis’s first encyclical. Knowing that few would read an encyclical, we received permission to audio record the encyclical, and distributed 3,000 audio copies to the faithful, as well as to every priest, deacon and religious in the diocese. We also scheduled "The Gospel in Brick and Stone," a formation given by an architectural theologian that equips volunteers to lead tours of New Orleans’ Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, and to share the Gospel utilizing the art and architecture that they see.

Additional examples include scheduling events, such as “Night Fever”, a world-wide movement that locally provides outreach from the Cathedral, where teams of missionaries with lanterns invite passers-by into the Cathedral, where music, Eucharistic adoration, and reconciliation are occurring. Or one might choose to sponsor “Christ in the City,” a young adult event that integrates the social dimension of fellowship with Eucharistic adoration and Reconciliation. An advisor can collect best practices from other locales and facilitate these with the disparate groups, which can then take the lead on them. Just as an advisor is an incarnate example of the Good News for those whom he is training, so too are select projects examples of the work of the New Evangelization for the dioceses and parishes. Additionally, we convened “The New Evangelization Advisory Board” representing key constituencies and competencies from around the diocese to continue to unlock others’ potentials for the work.

Special Forces Advisors are the best at what they do: training for force multiplication. They are subject matter experts and incarnate examples of what they are training others to be. They demonstrate a humility and professionalism that allows them to form others and fade away, so that these others can become the trainers of still others. I believe that the New Evangelization calls us to this same degree of humility and professionalism. We are called to provide incarnate examples of lives that make no sense, unless the Gospel is true. From this example, we can “work ourselves out of a job,” training others to share the Gospel effectively, as can be understood concretely in the Three P’s. This approach is much more difficult than providing a simple parish program. But I believe that the call of the New Evangelization is worth the work. And perhaps love even demands it.

This article was originally on pages 13-16 of the printed edition.

Photo by Spc. K. Young, USASOC News Service at Flickr.com. Creative Commons License.


This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

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