We, who are the Church, all claim responsibility for evangelization
During this past week, the priests of our diocese spent time together in prayer and reflection on the theme of the New Evangelization. One of our presenters was Ralph Martin, a leader in renewal movements in the Church and author of many books. He is currently Director of Graduate Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI appointed him as a Consulter to The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Evangelization means the proclamation of the basic Christian message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. The Church has always evangelized. St. John Paul II began using the term New Evangelization to convey our challenge to proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord with new ardor, methods, and expression. He also wanted to emphasize that all of us who are the Church, the Body of Christ in our world today through Baptism, are co-responsible for evangelization.
In his encyclical, “Mission of the Redeemer,” St. John Paul II makes the point that the Church is a mission. It isn’t just that the Church has a mission. Everything we are should be weighed and measured in regard to our living in with Jesus and proclaiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior. This mission belongs to all of us.
In speaking to bishops from the United States in 1998, St. John Paul II put it this way: “The New Evangelization that can make the 21st Century a springtime of the Gospel…will depend in a decisive way on the lay faithful being fully aware of their baptismal vocation and their responsibility for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to their culture and society.”
None of us and none of our parishes can be satisfied with maintenance, or put another way with our status quo. We are all called to live in with Jesus and to go out to others to bring them the love of Christ and His Gospel of hope, peace, and reconciliation. It is not just what we do, but who we are as baptized members of Jesus’ living Body.
Evangelization has a four-fold dimension. First, ourselves. Through Baptism, we are called to grow deeper in our loving relationship with Jesus. Love is not static. It grows or it wanes, depending upon the energy and effort we bring to the relationship. We are sinners and distracted by many things in our lives. We need ongoing conversion, an ongoing effort to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus so that we will keep Him as Lord in our hearts and Lord in our lives. It is only when we are bathed in His love, when we remain in His love, that we can joyfully bring that love to others. For lovers, ongoing communication is essential. Thus, the indispensability of keeping time for prayer in our daily lives.
The second dimension of evangelization is our outreach to those who no longer consciously live in relationship with Jesus – those who no longer come to Mass on Sunday, receive the sacraments, or even share their faith with their children. Here, the words of St. Francis of Assisi might be helpful: “Preach always, sometimes use words.” Very often we affect others in a positive way by joyfully living in relationship with Jesus and in accordance with His Gospel. I have often been told by converts or returning Catholics that they were brought to the practice of the faith through the example of a dedicated Catholic spouse or friend. At times an encouraging word or invitation might be helpful. The admonition of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is important: “We propose but never impose.”
The third dimension of evangelization includes our outreach in similar ways as above to the unchurched, to those who have never belonged to a church or heard the Good News of Jesus and His Gospel.
The fourth dimension of the New Evangelization addresses our secularized culture. Each one of us is responsible to help transform our culture by the way we live the Gospel values. The New Evangelization challenges us to take the Gospel of Life and hope to the various dimensions of our entertainment, economic, and political world. It challenges us to take our faith values into account when we exercise our responsibility to vote. We are to live integrated lives and not compartmentalize our faith from the rest of life.
Pope Francis challenges us to live with Jesus as Lord in our heart and to live by His Gospel values joyfully. No one can escape challenges and suffering. However, even such crosses don’t turn us to pessimism or cynicism. Why? We really believe that Jesus remains with us always and empowers us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus truly loves us and remains with us always, there is no reason for hopelessness or fear.
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has already conquered sin and death. His power carries our meager efforts to meet the challenges of the New Evangelization. We remain a people of enthusiasm, sustained by our own personal experience of Jesus’ love and friendship. Our enthusiasm for evangelization is at once our passion for Jesus and our passion for His people. One passion serves the other. As every person is an object of God’s infinite tenderness, so every person is worthy of our tenderness, love, and respect.
May Mary, the model of a Spirit-filled disciple and the star of the New Evangelization, intercede for us in our efforts to bring the love of her Son to those whose lives we are blessed to touch.