Author’s Note: I read with interest Mary Kochan’s article on the Catholic Lane website, “Catholics, Please Say Something about Jesus!” I was somewhat surprised by the passionate responses, both pro and con, to her article. As I said in my own response to Mary’s article: “I think the argument should not be over what you think about the centrality of Christ in our salvation and in evangelization, but what the Church teaches – which is very clear.” I also thought I would join in on the debate with this article that describes some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, and tries to remove the myth that Catholics in general are not called to evangelize.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:37).
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name (John 1:12) .
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him (John 3:34-36).
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that though this belief you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42).
Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent (Acts 18:9).
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!” (Romans 10:13-15).
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16).
If someone were to tell you that you, as a Catholic, need to evangelize others, what would be your reaction? Perhaps, it might be, “I evangelize by example not with words. That’s what priests and deacons do.” Or maybe, it would be, “I would like to, but I’m not trained or knowledgeable enough to do it.” Or maybe, “That’s something Evangelical Protestants do, not Catholics.” We as Catholics have to get over the notion that evangelism is for Protestants. This notion is totally untrue – evangelization is the “essential Catholic mission.”
Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told the apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Beginning on Pentecost, the apostles did just that, and the work of evangelization continues to this day. It is a calling that has not changed over the years, as Pope Paul VI affirmed in his letter on “Evangelization in the Modern World.”
We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.
Evangelization is not an optional add-on. It is at the very heart of what it means to be Catholic followers of the Lord. Yet, in spite of this clear mandate, we may still be tempted to respond to this call to evangelization by saying that “Catholics evangelize with how they live their lives, not by our words.” We may even quote the words attributed to St. Francis ofAssisi: “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” But this doesn’t mean that we can choose between proclaiming and living the gospel, as if they both accomplish the same thing. Paul VI went on to explain in “Evangelization in the Modern World” the important interplay between word and witness in this way:
The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.
Perhaps the resistance of Catholics to the call to evangelization is due to conjuring up images of street preachers and television evangelists shouting “Repent” or talking about the “wages of sin.” Or maybe we think of saints or missionaries or gifted Catholic priests. But true evangelization — whatever form it takes — is born from a love for people and a desire that everyone on earth come to know the love of Christ and the blessings of living in his kingdom. AsSt.Paul once told the Corinthians: “The love of Christ impels us” to proclaim Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Perhaps, the resistance to this call is because we believe that it is not a teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a disciple in this way: “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it.”
Here are some additional words from Pope Paul VI and John Paul II
Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, Evangelii, Nuntiando
- “Evangelism will always contain – as the foundation, center, and at the same time the summit of its dynamism – a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ…salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy”
John Paul II, “The Mission of Christ the Redeemer, Redemtoris Missio
- “The moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelism [a reevangelization of Christian communities that have lost their original vigor]and to the mission ad gentes (the Church’s mission “to the nations,” regions not yet touched by Christianity).”
- “The new evangelism is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine, but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.”
- “The Kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or program subject to free interpretation, but is before all else a person with the face of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the Kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed…”
- “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
- “An essential characteristic of this missionary spirituality is intimate communion with Christ.”
- “It is not possible to bear witness to Christ without reflecting his image, which is made alive in us by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Lord Jesus, I ask for a heart open and willing to respond to the “essential mission” of the Church to evangelize others. Jesus, give me a heart like yours that longs for all God’s children to return to your Father. Holy Spirit, I am nothing without you. Fill me with your power and give me the Father’s heart for those who need to know Jesus, and the courage to reach out to them with his love.