Dr. Ralph Martin’s book, The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call, is a very poignant and important book on evangelization specifically because it discuss the salvific weight evangelization carries. As Dr. Martin rightly identifies, salvation is no trivial affair and should be our primary consideration of the New Evangelization. The Catholic faith is not just a better way to live, though it is that as well. It is the way to live eternally as it fulfills that which Christ promised in John 6, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
Perhaps the crux of Dr. Martin’s book is how Lumen gentium (Light of Nations) is interpreted, specifically article sixteen (referred to henceforth as LG, 16). As Dr. Martin states,
“[LG, 16] clearly teaches that it is possible – under certain specific circumstances – for people to possibly be saved if they haven’t heard the Gospel…What are the conditions? First, that their ignorance of the gospel is not their own fault. Secondly, that nevertheless, they are sincerely seeking God and desiring to know his will, and third, that they are living in conformity with the light and grace that God is giving them…When people hear that Vatican II taught that it is possible under certain very specific circumstances for people who have never heard the Gospel to be saved, they often go on to make a huge leap of logic – passing from a “possibility” to a presumed certainty, believing that for the most part people in this situation are saved.” (p. 26)
He goes on to develop this thought briefly and succinctly, that salvation is the narrow and difficult path that few follow. A more detailed examination of this subject is covered in his book, Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.
If salvation is indeed difficult and should not be presumed, then our role matters a great deal. In chapter two, Dr. Martin points out that “the pastor of the parish is responsible for all those who live within its boundaries, not just the ‘practicing Catholics.’” (p. 29) And, we cannot evangelize without the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and guiding our actions which is discussed in chapter three.
Finally, in chapters four and five, Dr. Martin stresses that the message of the Gospel is “Repent, and trust in the Lord.” Our repentance is necessary because sin does matter and denying our guilt keeps us from embracing God’s loving Mercy. According to St. Catherine of Siena, “as each person dies they actually rush to where they want to be. In a very real way each person chooses their own destiny over the course of a lifetime and at the moment of death embraces what has truly become their choice.” (p.71) While this seems terrible, in it we can see God’s great Mercy because “repentance isn’t something at root ‘negative’ but profoundly positive. Scripture calls it ‘life-giving repentance’ (Acts 11:18).” (p.85) If we don’t share God’s truth with others, than neither are we sharing His life-giving mercy. And, as Dr. Martin points out, we will be held responsible if we neglect our duty.
I highly recommend this book to all faithful, but especially for those who do not feel “called” to evangelize or think that it is something someone else is supposed to do.