Leonard DeLorenzo is a professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He recently wrote an article in Church Life Journal entitled, “Evangelization: If We Just Keep Them, We’ll Lose Them.” The “them” he refers to are the young people who are the object of intense concern in the Church. DeLorenzo argues that the Church makes a mistake when framing the issue in negative terms, from a position of fear. “When the goal for evangelization is ‘getting’ and ‘keeping’ people,” he argues, “then we are aiming for too little.” What we need instead is to form people to be “evangelized evangelizers,” which first requires interior renewal. Only interior renewal will provide us with the evangelical courage to share the Gospel with others.
The problem is that current social conditions are not conducive to interior renewal. There’s just too much noise. We are so conditioned to the din of worldly affairs and constant distraction, that it is very hard for us to find rest in quiet. Making things worse, all the electronic media we ingest is fragmented, with no overarching order and no intrinsic meaning. It provides, suggests DeLorenzo, a deeply unserious approach to existence. We see that reality in social media’s “endless scroll” that inundates us with unending tiny soundbites of outrage over everything. Tragically, this has become the normal way we receive information, and it’s harmful to us. “The default mode of formation in the modern world leads to people who are often agitated and rarely discerning. They are incapable of prioritizing, ranking things according to relative importance, and diagnosing what is really going on in a given situation. They react rather than ponder. The interior life is nothing but an echo chamber of the loudest voices.” To counter this, the first pastoral priority must be to create spaces to foster interior renewal. The Church must resist the temptation to counter the freneticism of secular culture with its own frenetic activity. In order to heal a world plagued by noise and distraction, we need people who know how to be quiet, recollected, and attentive.
By seeking out quiet places we are able to discover and confront the noise within us. This is where the interior life is cultivated, in which we learn to be alone with the One who dwells within and who shares His existence with us. To do this, DeLorenzo insists not only on silence but also on the need for the study of our Faith and serious engagement with Sacred Scripture. “To dwell with Him, we must know Him, and to know Him we must learn about Him, and to learn about Him we must read and study Scripture which presents Him to us as the Living Word.” By studying and encountering Him in the Word, we are able to recognize the signs of His presence, to distinguish between good and evil spirits, and to make better determinations of what is truly relevant and urgent. This allows us to see and interpret the world through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of outrage and polemic that distorts our ability to perceive the image of God in our neighbor, in our enemy, and in ourselves. For DeLorenzo, it’s not a membership crisis that we face, as though we were a social club. It is foremost a crisis of the interior life, that requires the cultivation of quiet spaces. It is then a crisis of formation, that requires learning more about the Lord and how He speaks to us in the quiet. When we address these crises in ourselves, we will have something substantive and intensely attractive to offer young people. Then, DeLorenzo argues, numbers and stats will no longer be a concern. For, “if we seek to prepare them and challenge them and then trust them to innovate upon the good formation we give them,” there will be no issue of “keeping them.” For we will have helped them to become “evangelized evangelizers” – real disciples who are prepared and eager to courageously live and share the Gospel.