Before I was introduced to Catholic Theology, the Church Fathers, the Popes, the Councils, the saints, and all of the riches of God’s Wisdom, I was introduced to the Mercy of Jesus. Before I ever picked up a Theology book or pursued a Theology degree, I was introduced to the most powerful, poignant, and transformational event in my life — I met my Unconditionally Merciful Lord, Jesus Christ. I was wallowing in sin and wasting my life when I met Jesus in the simplicity of a compassionate Christian who evangelized me through friendship and inspirational literature about Jesus. From there, the Holy Spirit brought me to the most wonderful thing in my life — the Living Water of Jesus in sacramental confession, and the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. Transformed through undeserved Love, I was finally ready for catechesis. Subsequently, this has changed my view of evangelization. From what I previously thought was ‘bible thumping,’ a new horizon spread out before me in the person of Jesus Christ.
“Christ is the light of nations…”
Evangelization means many things to many people, but the Church views it solely through a Christocentric lens:
“Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 849; Matthew 16:15)
As we can see, the Church’s evangelical mission comes from Christ himself and, therefore, evangelization is done in obedience to Him. Yet it is much, much more than obedience. When we evangelize, we share the ultimate love story, the story of Love Himself. Sharing the Gospel brings about a graced meeting between the person and Jesus — who is Unconditional Love, Divine Mercy, and the Crucified and Risen Agape. It is an encounter with Jesus’ self-sacrificial Love, incarnate in history through His suffering on the Cross and perpetuated sacramentally through His Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Therefore, evangelization must first and foremost be an offering of Jesus Christ from the heart of our personal experience. It must never be an abstract theological presentation — a mere recital of Catholic morality and ethics — nor should it be a dry philosophical presentation of Judeo-Christian humanism.
Robert Cardinal Sarah, from his book ‘God or Nothing,’ offers a saying of the Desert Fathers:
“One monk met another and asked him: ‘Why do so many abandon the monastic life?’ The other monk replied: ‘Monastic life is like a dog chasing a rabbit, barking; many other dogs hearing the bark, join in, and they run together after the rabbit. But after a while, all the dogs that run without seeing the rabbit wonder: Where are we going? Why are we running? They become tired, get lost, and stop running, one after the other. Only the dogs that see the rabbit continue to pursue it to the end, until they catch it.’”
Through our personal sharing, we must help others see the ‘rabbit’ which inspired St. Augustine’s conversion under the fig tree; the ‘rabbit’ on St. Paul’s life altering road trip to Damascus; the Paschal ‘rabbit’ which rose on Easter Sunday; the ‘rabbit’ who is the person of Jesus Christ. For chasing after any other ‘rabbit,’ — even good things like morality, ethics, and philosophy — without a personal encounter with the Unconditional Love of Jesus Christ will prove fruitless both in the long run and in the immediate reaction of those we encounter on the narrow path.
“The Church professes her faith in the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord, the giver of life…’”
What I speak of is not a doctrine-less Jesus divorced from Law. Rather, since evangelization is a theandric process, we are speaking of the Living Jesus who embodies the Law perfectly in Himself. In the Incarnation, Christ divinized human nature and calls us to participate in His mission. But we must not forget that we are merely messengers who are called to plant seeds; it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies souls for the Glory of God the Father.
This reveals a threefold reality in our initial evangelizing efforts. First, the Holy Spirit is the power and the grace behind our evangelization efforts. Moreover, it is the Holy Spirit — through Love manifest as Divine Mercy found in the initial encounter with Jesus Christ — Who changes the orientation of the person encountering Unconditional Love. This change in orientation most certainly will not come from a mere reception of a code of morality and ethics, nor can it be experienced from merely receiving a philosophical presentation of Christian humanism. St. Pope John Paul II, from his encyclical entitled Dominum et Vivificantem, reminds us:
“The Holy Spirit “convinces concerning sin” in relation to the mystery of man’s origins, showing the fact that man is a created being, and therefore in complete ontological and ethical dependence upon the Creator. The Holy Spirit reminds us, at the same time, of the hereditary sinfulness of human nature. But the Holy Spirit the Counselor “convinces concerning sin” always in relation to the Cross of Christ.”
Secondly, evangelization involves the constant conversion, the metanoia, of the one who evangelizes. If we are to be the messengers of such a lofty truth and planters of such grace filled seed, we must also be recipients of the ‘new evangelization’ on a daily basis. Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5, opens with this reminder:
“The Church, whose mystery is being set forth by this Sacred Synod, is believed to be indefectibly holy. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as ‘uniquely holy,’ loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her. He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.’”
Thirdly, the Church, as the Body of Christ and as the sacred instrument of evangelization, must undergo a similar daily reform in the Holy Spirit. Robert Cardinal Sarah, from his book ‘God or Nothing’, adds:
“Reform is an ongoing necessity. We are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. St. Paul called all baptized persons ‘the saints.’ If we really read the gospel, we find that one saying recurs constantly: ‘Convert, and believe the Good News!’ It is also the first thing Jesus calls for in the gospel of Mark. Reform, therefore, is this interior work that everyone must accomplish, at both the personal level and the ecclesial level, in order to correspond better to what Christ expects of us.”
The Crux of our mission…
Up until now one can get the false impression that I am promoting a doctrine-less evangelization, void of responsibility, and resembling a relativistic presentation of Christianity. But what is presented above is only the initial engagement, prompted by the Holy Spirit, meant to lead the evangelized person to the great treasury of God’s Truth stewarded by the Catholic Church; truth which includes dogma, doctrine, morality and ethics. For only after an inner conviction of the heart, found solely in the Love of Jesus, will the human person be receptive to catechesis, apologetics, peaceful ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue, all of which are directed to the ‘source and summit’ of all religion in the Triune God of Judeo-Christian revelation.
With that stated, we must now address the ‘passion’ of the new evangelization.Participating in Christ’s Mission of Mercy, we find ourselves in the lion’s den. Pope Benedict XVI describes for us the hostile environment in which we enter to share the gospel of Jesus Christ:
“In this totalitarian yoke (relativism), the Church loses her absolute character; her dogmas, her teaching, and her sacraments are practically prohibited or else diminished in their rigor and their demands. The Bride of the Son of God is marginalized, in a disdain that engenders hatred of Christianity, because it is a permanent obstacle. The Church becomes one among others, and the final objective of philosophical relativism still is her death by gradual dilution; relativists, along with the prince of this world, impatiently await that great dusk. They work for the coming of the kingdom of darkness.” (Excerpt from an address during the Missa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice)
Subsequently, spiritual warfare is the hostile environment in which we enter. Our enemies, as mentioned by St Paul, are not the numerous victims of worldly lies, but the ‘principalities and powers’ which execute the diabolical plan of Satan. Consequently, our evangelization must constantly be fed through Eucharistic faith ever vigilant of the beneficial paradox of the Cross of Jesus Christ; this faith, moreover, must be united in prayer and sacrament to the many daily obstacles which become our cross in witnessing to Jesus Christ.
In effect, our evangelization becomes fully immersed in the glory of historical Christian martyrdom; fully immersed in the true meaning of suffering as illuminated by our Savior; fully immersed in the many personal slivers of mystery found in the Paschal Mystery; and, finally, fully immersed in the Will of God the Father in our transformation in His Son.
The Will of ‘Our Father’…
Ultimately, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out when he addressed the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, we must unite our ‘confessio (profession of faith) with our caritas (Love from and for Christ). Only in this divinely graced unity can we hope to overcome the many worldly obstacles which become our cross and faithfully share the Gospel. For in this unity, Christ Jesus carries us forward on His Cross, perpetuated in the Sacrament of His Love, fulfilling the Will of ‘Our Father.’