Since 1975 the renewal of the Church on the basis of a new evangelisation has been led by the Popes. A desire for renewal in the Church (in the UK and Europe) has not been particularly evident at all during this time. That part of the Church which has so far best responded to the papal initiatives has been the new ecclesial movements.
On the other hand, we have experienced a call for reform in the Church in recent decades, a movement led by some bishops, priests, religious and lay people, a reform which has desired a secularisation of the Church and her accommodation to the world. This movement, although false in its vision, is still apparent forty years on, and has led sectors of the Church into a self-referential, neo-pelagian, cul-de-sac.
The call to a new evangelisation then, on the part of four successive Popes is not without precedent. The Catholic Reformation required at least half a century of Papal enablement just to begin to turn the Church's vision to her goal during that era.
A growing desire for the Church of the New Evangelisation, by a large part of the baptised in the UK and Europe, is itself an essential element of what presently constitutes the New Evangelisation. The message of Pope Francis in this Exhortation is an important part of the nurturing of this desire.
In my opinion, Chapter 5 is the most important part of the Letter. In paragraph 262 he points to the heart of the New Evangelisation as it currently is: it is prayer and work. What shape the New Evangelisation will have is not yet clear, but it will have at its foundation prayer and work. In the past we have seen monastic and missionary responses from the Church. Today, the response is by a renewal of prayer and work in parishes.
Again, the Holy Father states that the New Evangelisation is not a set of tasks to be carried out, but is the soul of the Church who is called to proclaim the Gospel.
The call of the New Evangelisation is a call to change hearts: we must look beyond our own proposals to the Gospel itself. In order to do this we need a 'new interior space'. And that also we cannot let the prevailing culture set the agenda or the tone for the Church.
Paragraphs 264 - 274 express the concrete reality of evangelisation and time should be given to reading and reflecting on this part.
Then in paragraphs 275 - 280 the Holy Father proposes certain criteria by which, as baptised people, we can genuinely evaluate our attitude.
The Pope then emphasises the place of prayer of intercession and thanksgiving at the centre of the Church today.
Finally, he speaks very beautifully about the Mother of the New Evangelisation, how we need her, how she is our model. The prayer which ends the Exhortation seeks to bring the soul of the Church together with her soul that they might resonate in unison.
The New Evangelisation is the character and ethos of the Church; may we all be formed by the Church, becoming Spirit-filled evangelisers.