To wrap up this series on evangelization, it would be good to review briefly what’s been noted in previous articles in the series and to offer some reflections on both the goal of evangelization and the methods that bring about the fulfillment of that goal.
In the first article I noted that evangelization is often hampered due to the fact that we in the Church at times have the tendency to portray our faith as a reaction against everything. The Faith, it seems, has really nothing to offer but an inward-focused pessimism that sees no joy in life, only dangers.
In the second article I sought to show how we might change that perception. By showing that the Faith, ultimately, is directed towards man’s fulfillment in the life of the Trinity, we can show that the Church’s life and teaching is not simply a reaction against real or perceived evils but is rather a life and teaching that seeks to offer man the answers to all his deepest longings. Man’s happiness and fulfillment is at stake in a world of competing ideas and loyalties, and the Church has a vested interest in showing man where happiness and fulfillment lie.
The goal of evangelization, then, is to show that the hunger within all of us has its fulfillment in God. Not just any ‘god’ as one might wish to conceive him, but in the real God who has revealed himself in history and, in an act of sheer love and mercy, freed man from what keeps him from happiness and fulfillment – his sin.
This is where the difficulty in evangelization comes in. Convincing others that there really is such a thing as sin is not an easy task; convincing others that we’re all guilty of it is harder still. Many of us, in fact, might be tempted to think the world is so far gone that few if any recognize their need for redemption.
To a point this might be true, but what cannot be denied is that man is also chronically restless. Even if the herd has convinced themselves that there is no God, no judgment, no objective moral law, no heaven or hell, everyone still recognizes that what life offers us is maddeningly not enough. The aches and longing for ultimate fulfillment will still be there long after everyone has stopped believing in anything but the here and now. It is that ache that the Church prompts man to take seriously so that it can be healed, and the Church for her part shows man in Whom it can be fulfilled.
The first task of the Catholic evangelist then is to awaken in those around them an acknowledgment of the existence of that ache. Someone has to know they’re injured before they’ll ask for help. Once those around us are willing to acknowledge their brokenness it’s then our job as Catholics to be there for them with a spirit of concern and friendship to offer them the relief found in the Faith.
What is that relief? It is the work of the Holy Spirit within us so that we can have healing from our sins and union with the divine. As was just noted, we all have things within us that keep us separated from God, from each other, and that make us unhappy. In order to be free and happy, these things – whatever they are on an individual level – need to be starved to death.
But, as we all experience, ridding ourselves of these things isn’t as easy as just turning off the switch (Rom. 7:19-25). We need divine grace to change us, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit to root these things out of our lives. (Cf. Gal. 5:19-25; Rom. 8:13; CCC 2541). This healing of sin, and the bringing about of the soul’s union with the divine nature, is the goal of evangelization.
This is where reflection on methods comes in – the methods that propel us towards our goal. We receive the healing life of the Spirit through the life of the Church. Most notably, we receive this healing in the sacraments. All that Christ did for mankind during his earthly life – his miracles, his healing, his acts of merciful love – did not suddenly cease at the Resurrection. Christ continues not only to teach through his word, but he continues to heal as well. The actions of Christ’s life of healing, especially healing from sin, are continued in the sacraments.
St Leo the Great teaches that, “…what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.” (Sermo. 74, 2, as quoted in CCC 1115). Just as the Holy Spirit was active in the person of Christ in his humanity, he now becomes active in Christ’s mystical body which is the Church (I Cor. 12:17-28; Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi). All that Christ did for mankind is made visible and tangible through the sacramental life of the Church, and it is through contact with such that we are made whole and achieve the union with the divine that cleanses and satisfies our hearts.
Focusing our efforts on the necessary in evangelization is not as difficult as it might seem. Simply put, it involves acknowledging our mission as Catholics and as members of the mystical body of Christ to further Christ’s mission. In virtue of our baptism and incorporation into that body we are all blessed with the privilege to continue Christ’s mission of healing and salvation. By keeping our eyes on the goal of continuing Christ’s mission in the world we can more clearly see when and how we are called to do so.