by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Michael J. Sanem believes that the Catholic Church is living in a “new moment of evangelization.” He also believes that evangelization is not a program. Rather, it is the response and witness of individuals and parishes to the love of God as revealed in the person of Jesus.
Hence, the title of Sanem’s new book, published this spring by Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minnesota — “Becoming the Good News: A New Approach to Parish Evangelization.”
Sanem writes from the breadth of his experience, the depth of his theological background and the expanse of his love of the church. His 122-page book is a well-grounded and practical resource for parish leaders. It is part of the “Contemporary Topics in Parish Leadership” series offered by Liturgical Press.
Since August 2021, Sanem has served as minister of evangelization at Church of the Nativity in Leawood. New to the position, he initially struggled to find resources on evangelization focused on the parish at a grassroots level.
Over time, Sanem heard Father Mike Hawken, Nativity pastor, profess: “Everything we do is a touchpoint of evangelization.” That vision became the pivotal springboard for the new book.
It is also the first of three principles around which Sanem organizes the sections and short, engaging chapters of his text. The other two major themes encompass evangelization as discovering the radical goodness of God and as a radical and credible witness to God’s love for all people.
In “Becoming the Good News,” Sanem synthesizes profound theology, church tradition and life lessons as foundational to his concept of a “new evangelization.” As he read through the chapters, Father Hawken was inspired by the insights that draw upon a broad range of sources: Scripture, the Blessed Mother and the saints, Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, popes, retreat masters, stories of encounter with the poor, etc.
“I think what Michael conveys in ‘Becoming the Good News,’ said Father Hawken, “is that evangelization is the call of a lifetime that began at our baptism. Evangelization is our mission that is nourished and affirmed at every Eucharist as we receive Christ in holy Communion and are sent to be his presence in the world around us.”
Sanem’s dream is that Catholics and parishes strive not only to proclaim but to become the good news by following Christ in both his message and his way of life. The author identifies this as evangelization in its most authentic form. This emulates the early Christians who created community for the sake of sharing Jesus’ mission and who gave radical witness to the pattern of life Christ modeled for them.
Sanem notes that adopting this approach today “requires a shift in both practice and perception of how we look at both evangelization and the relationship between the church, the world and the culture.” It necessitates the involvement of clergy, religious and laity.
Sanem suggests a process in which leaders examine what gives their parish community joy; what are the diverse and unique gifts of parishioners; and what needs exist both internal and external to the parish.
He advocates considering these questions in the context of prayer, reading the signs of the times and listening to the Holy Spirit.
Sanem believes that from this process opportunities will surface for parishioners to give of themselves and share their gifts, and for new evangelization to emerge and flourish.
John Kyler, general editor for parish resources at Liturgical Press, says that Sanem reminds readers that evangelization is about far more than knowledge.
“Evangelization involves accompaniment and encounter, invitation and embrace,” said Kyler. “It requires the humility and vulnerability modeled by Christ and a willingness to re-imagine our current way of doing things. Michael outlines, in practical steps, how we as a community might better embody God’s love for us and for others.”
“The reflection questions at the end of each chapter,” added Father Hawken, “provide a means of evaluating how your parish is evangelizing, as well as ideas for evangelizing that are within reach of most parish communities.”
Sanem and Kyler describe the book as a conversation starter.
“This book and others in our parish leadership series offer fodder for discussion and discernment for each parish community,” said Kyler. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to evangelization or hospitality or any contemporary parish reality.”