“The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Notice Pope Paul VI does not say evangelization is “an” important mission. Nor does he say that evangelization is “a key” mission. He says it is “the essential” mission of the Church.
For some reason, the phrase “the essential mission” struck me profoundly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why hadn’t I heard more about it if it was “the” essential mission?
Although, I had been on a deepening encounter with Christ for around two decades I never saw evangelization as something for me personally. I always thought that evangelization was the “job” of the priests and religious.
I was talking with an acquaintance about my activities in Catholic evangelization when she, sensing I was going to ask her to join in our evangelizing work, headed off the inevitable question and said, “Oh, I couldn’t evangelize. I don’t feel comfortable with that”. This came from a devout Catholic who is deeply prayerful. She didn’t realize that prayer itself is a form of evangelization. Yet, people do not associate prayer with evangelization.
I think the word “evangelization” itself scares people. Perhaps they think of Evangelists only as the “knocking on doors” variety. Maybe they have visions of street preachers shouting at pedestrians walking by.
However, Pope Paul VI reminds us in Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) while quoting from the Second Vatican Council that “the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God.”
So there I was with this new recognition of evangelization as the essential mission of the Church and the work of evangelizing as my own personal duty. Yet, where do I begin?
I was active in my parish, so I knew that we did not have an evangelization team. Neither did several nearby parishes. But, I was stunned to find out my diocese had no Evangelization department to provide guidance.
As I was exploring ways to approach this mission, I was contacted by a local Catholic radio station and asked to speak at an upcoming conference they were sponsoring. “What would you like me to speak about” I asked? Wouldn’t you know, they said, “evangelization”. It is sometimes quite surprising how the Holy Spirit winds His way into our lives.
After some prayer, I agreed to talk about evangelization. Ever since then, I have been speaking to different groups on this critical topic.
One of the first questions I ask in my talks is, “How many people in the audience have evangelized in the last month”? Rarely, does anyone ever raise their hand. Yet, they come to learn about evangelization. Why? Perhaps, it is because there is a deepening chasm in our society between those that have a moral standard and those who have none. I think more Catholics are beginning to see their faith as an important part of their own lives. It helps sustain us in difficult times and we are beginning to recognize that we can transform society by simply sharing what we have been given.
Perhaps that is why Pope John Paul II declared in his encyclical Redemptoris missio: “I sense the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization”.
The mission is clear. Evangelization is the duty of all Catholics. There is nothing left for us to do, except get started. So, let us begin, as we should begin all things, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, set my heart ablaze with the desire to live my faith fully and share it freely with others.
As the two disciples on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning through the presence of Jesus, enkindle in me that same burning fire of Love.
Fill the heart of each Catholic with this burning desire so that through the power of God’s Spirit, we bring about a renewal in the Church and a transformation in the world. Amen.
1 Evangelii Nuntiandi – Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi On Evangelization in the Modern World – December 8, 1975