If you are like me the thought of Catholic Evangelization is a somewhat foreign notion. I went through 12 years of Parochial education and never once was the topic of Evangelization addressed in the classroom. Pope Paul VI addressed the need for Evangelization after I graduated from High School and used the term “Essential Mission” to describe the need for Catholics to Evangelize and spread the “Good News”. Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World) is an apostolic exhortation issued on 8 December 1975 by Pope Paul VI on the theme of Catholic evangelization. Pope Paul VI tells us;
- “The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church”
- “The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself.”
- “She (the Church) has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel. “
Every Pope since Pope Paul VI has put their weight behind the need for evangelization exercising tongue and pen to exhort the faithful to advance The Essential Mission. Evangelii Nuntiandi (Pope Paul VI, 1975), Redemptoris Misio (Pope John Paul II, December 7, 1990) My personal Favorite “The Art of Living” (Then Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a National Plan and Strategy described by the book “Go and Make Disciples”. But the sparks of Evangelization have not been able to catch fire and rise to the desired level of Blaze. My point here is that the church has recognized the need and has encouraged the faithful to embrace Evangelization but somehow the faithful have not embraced the message.
Conversion is defined in “Go Make Disciples” as, “ The change of our lives that comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit. All who accept the Gospel undergo change as we continually put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples of his church.” It goes on to state that , “We must continue to be converted. ……. If our faith is alive it will be aroused again and again as we mature as disciples.”
Once we have secured the message then we are in a position to share it with others. And for those who associate Evangelization with someone standing on a street corner witnessing and reciting versus from the bible……fear not. I like Pope Benedict’s characterization that Evangelization is nothing more than “Teaching the Art of Living”. Furthermore, we the faithful who have already heard and accepted the Gospel should seek continual conversion and experience Evangelization as individuals first.
By reading Go Make Disciples we get a sense of what the USCCB attempts to communicate. But further examination and consideration is required to fully understand how we can advance the Essential Mission from our starting position in the Pews.
Who must Evangelize:
- The USCCB states the strategy applies to all Catholics in our country.”
- “Although everyone will pursue these goals with different gifts, no one can claim exemption from them.”
What is Evangelization: “Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man's fundamental question is: How will this be …? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living.”
(Cardinal Ratzinger: Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000)
When: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization“
(Pope John Paul II)
- “We must evangelize because the Lord Jesus commanded us to do so.”
- “in order to bring enlightenment and lift people from error.”
- “Unless people know the grandeur for which they are made, they cannot reach fulfillment and their lives will be incomplete.”
- “We evangelize so that the salvation of Christ Jesus, which transforms our human lives even now, will bring as many as possible to the promised life of unending happiness in heaven.”
There are three Goals outlined by the National Strategy which I characterize as phases of Evangelization: 1.) Individual; 2.) Community; 3.) Society. Each Goal lists a series of potential strategies or actions an individual or a faith community could employ to Evangelize. But as with many scholarly plans the National Strategy is light on the “How to” aspect of Catholic Evangelization. Upon realization of that deficiency we (who is we?) attempted to quantify an end state associated with Catholic Evangelization and to work our way backwards from there. A reasonable end state might look like this: An Evangelization effort starting with an examination of what the faithful and Parish itself does well already and what can be done to enrich and enhance individual and collective efforts.
An Evangelization Team can act as the engine of Evangelization within the Parish by conducting an analysis of what is already being done and what can be done to enrich and enhance the efforts in the Parish. This could be done by examining each goal individually and selecting strategies that best suit the faithful and the Parish.
Posters can be created to outline specific Goals and Strategies to be employed, an annual calendar based on the liturgical calendar can be developed to outline the Parish plan, and the Parish Mission Statement can be updated to incorporate Evangelization as an element of what the Parish does.
But let’s remember that Evangelization begins with the individual who undergoes change by continually putting on the mind of Christ, rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples of his church. And we begin with prayer.
In summary let me emphasize that the need for and means to Evangelize are not my idea(s). But by continually converting myself through prayer, study, and meditation I enrich my faith and I feel more comfortable in my skin as I attempt to move further away from sin. Being more mindful and observant of the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church and the Sacraments puts me in a position to be a more effective as disciple of “His Church”. If all I do is pray for Evangelists, I am Evangelizing. It is for me a fact that the more I put myself forward in His work the more I receive in return.