There’s an old joke that talks about the angels questioning Jesus about the worldwide evangelization plan after his return to heaven following the Ascension:
Angel: So, Jesus, you’ve just returned to heaven as the victorious Lord of Glory, King of Heaven and Earth, what’s your plan for spreading the news of salvation to the whole world?
Angel: Yes . . .
Jesus: I told them to tell everyone.
Angel: That’s the plan?
Jesus: That’s it.
As it was then, so it is now. The plan for evangelization still resides with us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
And all of us who are baptized into the Church, have been baptized into the Church’s mission, which is our mission too. The call to be evangelizers is at once corporate and personal. Some are called to bring the news of salvation to foreign lands. Most are called to bring it to our next-door neighbor—or, to our next Facebook status.
We’ll soon be hearing more about “the new evangelization”; as 2012 moves along, there are big plans afoot. Deliberate steps are being taken by the Church’s leadership to prepare us in renewing this primary call. Two initiatives worth mentioning are the Year of Faith and the Synod.
Proposed by Pope Benedict XVI last October, the Year of Faith coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It will begin October 11, 2012, and run until November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Its purpose, the pope said, is to give “new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ.”
Simultaneous with the Year of Faith, the pope has called for a gathering of the world’s bishops for an October 2012 Synod on the theme: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the new evangelization has increasingly presented itself as an appropriate, timely tool in addressing the challenges of a rapidly-changing world, and the way to respond to God’s generosity in our being gathered together by the Holy Spirit to experience God as the Father of us all and to bear witness and proclaim to all the Good News—the Gospel—of Jesus Christ. (Lineamenta, Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly, par. 1)
These global initiatives are great, but what might we do personally on a day-to-day basis?
First, we need to orient our thinking toward making evangelization something we do naturally, in response to our baptismal call. Things like this don’t come naturally to most of us, but they can feel natural, in time and with practice.
Describing evangelization as the way to respond to God’s generosity really gets to its heart. To evangelize well is to first be in touch with the generosity of God. To meditate on God’s first generous gift to us is to encounter God desiring a relationship with us—to experience God as our Father, as Jesus taught us pray.
The more deeply we recognize that we are loved and cherished as daughters and sons of God, the deeper our personal response to God’s generosity will be. In that case, our role in the new evangelization is a necessary way we can give thanks to God.
Evangelization, then, might be very much akin to the way we give back to God via my stewardship planning.
What shall I render to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
(Psalm 116:12-14, RSV)
A healthy sense of stewardship means that giving to the Lord, or making a return to the Lord, is not a forced obligation. It is an opportunity to bless someone else, overflowing from the gratitude for blessings we have received. We do this with quiet and regular offerings of a percentage of income in support of the local church and a myriad of charities. We do it by sharing time and talents in volunteering at church and within the community.
Can we do it, also, with evangelization?
In thinking of evangelization as a response to God’s generosity, we notice some of our stewardship practices are already forms of evangelization, albeit “behind the scenes.” There is nothing wrong with that. Good deeds are needed and necessary, but so are our words, and our willingness to stand up for the faith, as the psalmist says, in the presence of all his people. The psalmist encourages us to become more personally invested in telling people about Christ—like Jesus asked the apostles.
Consider the conversations we have online each day. We could add a tithing element to our Facebook status updates and tweets on Twitter, giving 10 percent to the Lord. That means one-in-ten status updates or tweets could be related to God, spirituality, inspiration, prayer, or a link to something church-related.
Something as simply as giving over the first tweet of the day to a #gratefultweet could be another way to evangelize, not to mention setting a good tone for the day. (H/T @MattSwaim.) Some months back I tweeted a series of short selections from St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life as I re-read that classic.
We can join online Facebook pages or websites that communicate religious subject matter, like Patheos, then share what we find inspirational. Or we can invite friends to events at our local churches by posting them on our personal networks.
We can support a local ministry by offering to blog about it or start an online newsletter.
We can be an affirming and encouraging presence in online forums or chats we visit. Or send texts that convey God’s love and prayers for people we know.
What might be God asking you to say for the sake of the new evangelization? What return can you make to the Lord for all he has done for you?
The new evangelization will be most effective when we can communicate—person to person—gratitude for God’s goodness to us. The economy of the new evangelization will grow as we make deposits in the world around us, drawn from what has been given to us already.
This article was originally published on Patheos and is reprinted with permission.