September 25, 2020

Archdiocesan priest’s manual notes new evangelization ‘starts in the pews’

By Natalie Hoefer

The Heart of the New Evangelization: A Parish Manual to the New EvangelizationGrowing up in Indianapolis, Father Guy Roberts hoped to minister there one day. The Baptist turned Missouri Synod Lutheran seminarian never imagined he would fulfill his desire as a Catholic priest.

“The Lutheran church that’s right next to St. Simon [the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis]—I helped start that one when I was going through college,” he says. “It was my goal to be a church planter.”

But Father Roberts says that he “had been looking at the Catholic Church for a long time. Right before I got ordained as a Lutheran minister, I became Catholic.”

Two years later, in 1998, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Sante Fe, N.M., where his Lutheran seminary had been.

He began ministering for the Church in central and southern Indiana in 2005 and was incardinated into the archdiocese in 2009.

Father Roberts, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, still recalls the joy—and confusion—he experienced as a new Catholic in 1996.

“As a Protestant coming into the Church, I was floored by how Catholics weren’t as excited as I was,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘Don’t you Catholics realize what you have?’ ”

Father Roberts developed a desire to spark in Catholics a fire for their faith. It was a desire that led him to take a sabbatical in 2015 to study the “new evangelization.”

It was the same desire that led him to compile his findings in The Heart of the New Evangelization: A Parish Manual to the New Evangelization, a tool designed to help parishes become evangelizing faith communities.

And it is now his desire to see his manual help “create a culture of evangelization in the Church, parish by parish.”

‘It is living out your faith’

To fulfill his desire to set Catholics on fire for their faith, Father Roberts turned to what Pope John Paul II in 1983 called the “new evangelization.”

“When I started studying the new evangelization, it became much more apparent it’s not so much a technical process as it is living out your faith,” says the priest. “The popes over the decades, especially after Vatican II, had talked about a new evangelization, beginning with a re-evangelization of the Catholic Church.”

The manual Father Roberts wrote after his 2015 sabbatical takes “the writings of the new evangelization,” and puts them “in a tangible form that parishes could implement in measurable ways,” he says.

As Father Roberts uses the manual in his own parish, he says he is fine-tuning it as he learns “what works and what maybe needs some tweaking.”

The priest is quick to note that his manual is not intended to create a program.

“Programs get done and put away,” he says. “We’re trying to create a culture, and that takes time.

“One of my staff looked at the manual and said, ‘Father Guy, this will take months.’ And I said, ‘No, it’ll take years.’

“But trying to create a culture of evangelization one parish at a time, maybe that will become a larger Catholic culture.”

‘This is a conversion experience’

Creating such a culture begins with understanding what Father Roberts outlines in his manual as the four principles of evangelization: encountering Christ, embracing his call, embarking on a lifelong journey of formation, and going out on mission.

“Before we can share our faith, we have to really … know the Lord himself,” Father Roberts explains. “It’s much more the person-to-person faith sharing, and that opens the door to someone saying, ‘Hey, I want to learn more about your faith. You seem to be living it.’ ”

Once one has personally encountered Christ, the next crucial step is embracing the call to follow Christ, he says.

“This is a conversion experience. Jesus is offering this [call] not in a generic way, but personally. We have to buy into it, otherwise evangelization goes no further.”

Once a person fully embraces the call to follow Christ, they begin a lifetime of “ongoing formation,” the priest says, noting that “the formation has to be more than catechetical. It’s the spiritual formation, lived out throughout our lives, leading to transformation.”

The final principle, he says, is to then be sent, to go out on mission as a witness to the Gospel message, which is now known, embraced, lived and continually nurtured by the one being sent.

The four principles are depicted in Father Roberts’ manual as a circle.

“The steps are cyclical,” he says. “Anytime you have a disjointedness in those four principles, one [step] can’t lead to the other properly.”

Once the circle is completed, he says, it naturally starts again as the witness leads others to encounter Christ.

“It’s not so scary as knocking on a door and you don’t know what’s on the other side,” Father Roberts assures. “People you work with, people you live with, your neighbors—you start with them.”

A three-fold ‘litmus test’

The same is true of the mission field of parish evangelization efforts, which seek to evangelize all people within a parish’s boundaries.

For current and future parish evangelization efforts to be fruitful, Father Roberts outlines in his manual a three-fold “litmus test” of essential components: faith, service and community.

These three aspects “form a triangle within the circle of the four evangelization principles,” says Father Roberts. “It’s like three legs of a stool—if one leg is missing, the stool falls over.”

He suggests parishes look at their current evangelization efforts and ask, “Is there a faith-building component, a service component, a community-building component—and not just getting people together, but building the communion of saints, the inviting-in to be a part of the family of God.

“The new evangelization manual isn’t meant for parishes to add more to what they’re already doing. It’s to try to help parishes look at the activities they already have going on and say, ‘How can we be more focused and deliberate so it becomes evangelization that’s going to bear fruit?’ ”

If a parish follows the four principles for evangelizing individuals, and if its outward-focusing evangelization activities meet the criteria of the triangle, “Then you know you’re doing evangelization that will be fruitful,” says Father Roberts.

‘Stuck at that encounter’

Evangelizing “out in the world” flows naturally from the Mass, says Father Roberts. He encourages Catholics to reflect on the fact that the word “Mass” comes from the Latin word missa, meaning “sent.”

“We’re all sent out by virtue of our baptism,” he explains. “Our very life should be a witnessing.”

But such witnessing will falter unless all four principles—encountering, embracing, forming, sending—have been fulfilled in a person. As a former Protestant, Father Roberts sees a breakdown in the four-principle cycle among Catholics.

“I think a lot of Catholics are stuck at that encounter, where they’ve had the sacraments, attended Mass,” he says. “And I think they get a lot of the catechetical formation, … but [they] may not have bought into the faith personally, saying, ‘Wow, look what I have here!’ ”

Yet he also sees Catholics and parishes “thinking, ‘Let’s go out there and evangelize.’ ”

If Catholics haven’t moved beyond the encounter, he says, such efforts will not bear fruit. Therefore, he suggests that, before seeking to evangelize the world, Catholics need to “focus on ourselves first.”

“It has to start with the people in the pews,” he emphasizes. “Evangelization is never just about ‘those other folks.’ It’s also about me: Am I encountering Jesus? Am I answering the call [to embrace the faith] every day? It’s like marriage—if you just say ‘I do’ once, you’re going to be in trouble. It has to be every day.

“And am I being formed daily? Am I answering the call to be sent daily? Am I witnessing daily?

“I think the beauty of the new evangelization is that it’s not an activity so much as it’s a very personal relationship with Christ.”

(To view or download Father Roberts’ parish manual for the new evangelization, go to To order a copy of the manual, call the St. Joan of Arc Parish office at 317-283-5508.)


Related story: Catholic Radio Indy presents Evangelist of the Year award to Father Guy Roberts

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