A number of years ago, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis wrote a pastoral letter on evangelization called “Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Here are a few of the key points.

ArchbishopCarlson-Archstl

Archbishop Carlson Source – ArchStl.org

A Church in Decline

In his letter, Archbishop Carlson acknowledges that the Church is greatly suffering: schools lack enrollment, parishes are being closed, and participation in the Sacraments has greatly declined.  He sums up the cause of this decline into three main reasons: Post Vatican II confusion, secularism, and personal choices to follow the world.  He reminds us that the Second Vatican Council did not bring about a time where “anything goes”, but was intended to better equip the Church in carrying our her mission to evangelize the world.  He says, “We need to learn a new way of being in the world, but not of it.”

Prepare to Evangelize

“The first culture we need to transform is not the wider culture of the Church or the world,” says Archbishop Carlson, “but the culture of our own heart.”  In order to evangelize, we must be prepared interiorly for the mission of Christ.  This begins with repentance of our sins and embracing God’s forgiveness for “what we have done and what we have failed to do.”  Then we must strengthen our resolve to follow Christ by spending time with Him in loving prayer.  This includes such practices as the rosary, adoration, and reading the Scripture as well as contemplation so that the heart truly “falls in love” as St. John Paul II said in Novo milennio ineunte.

Ever repenting of our sin and drawing closer to Christ through prayer, we must also draw upon the support of our fellow Christians.  Archbishop Carlson states, “It’s becoming more difficult to follow the Lord as a faithful Catholic in the secular culture in which we live without support…whether it be a parish Bible study, a prayer group, an adult education class…getting connected is a great support to our faith and more and more important.  We need each other not only to carry out our mission together but to support each other in our lives.”

Go Forth and Share the Gospel

“The core definition of evangelization is helping other people come to know Jesus Christ and His Church, or to come back to Jesus and the Church,” states Archbishop Carlson.  By grace of our baptism, it is our duty to share the Gospel whether we be laity, clergy, or religious.  While the broad meaning of evangelization encompasses all that the Church does, Archbishop Carlson stresses “it has a more specific meaning that is focused on its end: Christian conversion.”  Quoting St. John Paul II, he says:

“The ‘good news’ is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.” (Christifideles laici 33)

Sharing the good news must be done both in the traditional sense (of with those who have never heard the Gospel) as well as to “re-evangelize” those who are “in our own families, neighborhoods and parishes who don’t know what it means to live as a disciple of Christ and haven’t committed their lives to follow Him in the life of the Church.”  Sharing the Gospel is not difficult, but should be a simple and natural part of our lives.

Our call to evangelize comes from Christ Himself when we commanded us to proclaim the Gospel and “He is living within us, desiring to reach out through us,” states Archbishop Carlson.  “Many have drifted away because no one cared enough to encourage them back; if we’re going to have parishes, schools and vocations in the future, evangelization is a must.”

Salvation is at Stake

The most important reason to evangelize is not for full pews and active parishes, but for the salvation of “our family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.”  “If we drift along with an aggressively pagan culture,” states Archbishop Carlson, “we are drifting toward destruction, in both this life and in the life to come.”  We must remember Jesus Christ’s words in Matthew when He describes the narrow gate.

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:13-14)

Archbishop Carlson further states, “Not only is the situation of unbelievers precarious, as regards salvation, but so is the situation of nominal Catholics who aren’t living in a relationship of friendship and discipleship with Jesus.”  He reminds us that we all must repent and seek the Lord with all our heart.  He states that we must “embrace the call to share our faith in Jesus and the Church with all we care for and indeed, anyone whose paths we cross, for the sake of their salvation.  There is really a heaven and there is really a hell, and what we believe and how we live is determining our eternal destiny.”