The Truth Will Make You Free:
The New Evangelization for a Secular Age—A Study in Development
by Robert F. Leavitt
Who’s it for? Though clearly intended for seminarians and/or those in clergy formation programs, this book will be highly informative and useful for anybody who is involved in the work of evangelization in today’s U.S. parishes or dioceses. While the text is very analytical, historically grounded, and does an effective job of synthesizing many sources and authors, it is never far from the pastoral objectives of the New Evangelization.
Why is this book significant? The author has placed the relatively recent phenomenon of an evangelizing focus for the Roman Catholic Church (the past 50-60 years) in a larger historical context, as well as connecting the Church’s evangelizing work with other aspects of its life and ministries. Instead of taking an adversarial opposition to the secular state, the author proposes that it is precisely the emergence of the secular state (going back several centuries) that can provide the way for the Church—freed from the weight and trappings of temporal/worldly power—to truly evangelize.
Why is this book useful? The work of the four post-conciliar popes—Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis—in the area of evangelization is given much attention, and forms the basis of other evangelizing-focused work by synods and national bishops’ conferences. It is unlikely that even those who work regularly in the New Evangelization will know this material as thoroughly as it is presented throughout the book.
This book is not…An easy read. It is rightly placed in the Liturgical Press “Academic” series. A background or familiarity with philosophy and its vocabulary(-ies) will be very helpful. Nevertheless, its main points are effectively supported and clearly presented.
Don’t Expect: Practical tips or hints on how to get young families to come to Mass on Sunday instead of going to soccer games. Though the book does feature a section on the role of the homily in evangelization, clergy should not look for pre-packaged homily ideas or engaging catchphrases. Rather, a larger framework that can be implemented in a variety of situations is offered here.
An Unexpected Best Feature: The occasional surprising guest “philosophers” (David Foster Wallace) and unexpected bridges built (between Evangelii Gaudium and The Joy of Cooking) reinforce the practical/pastoral sense of the work. An extensive bibliography (including sources besides those that appear in the footnotes) covering the various topics is a fascinating read on its own.
Full Disclosure: Fr. Leavitt was my Systematic Theology professor at St. Mary’s Seminary/University (Baltimore). Reading this book made me recall the depth, care, and meticulous thinking that I found so admirable (and a little intimidating) in him as a teacher. Though there can never be such a thing as a completely unbiased review, I can state here with certainty that had this exact book been written by another author, I would still recommend it most highly as an important, perhaps indispensable, text in the ongoing study and implementation of the New Evangelization in our time.
Leavitt, Robert F. PSS. The Truth Will Make You Free: The New Evangelization for a Secular Age–A Study in Development. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press Academic, 2019. 332 pages.
REVIEWER: Alan Hommerding
Alan Hommerding is Senior Liturgy Publications Editor at World Library Publications in Chicago, as well as a pastoral musician, composer, author, and crafter of hymn texts.