All Catholics Must Be Evangelized and then Evangelize Others
By Frank Summers
The Second Vatican Council has launched the Catholic laity into a new era of participation in the life and mission of the Church, and the mission of Jesus in our world. We must each live a HOLY life and engage in the APOSTOLATE, to evangelize and sanctify the world. Following the Council, Pope Paul VI published Evangelii Nuntiandi, reminding us of the centrality of the work of EVANGELIZATION. The Church exists to evangelize – that is the principal ministry which the Church owes to mankind.
“…[T]he mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism.” Verbum Domini, 94. “…[A] member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and to himself.” Vat. II, “Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People,” 2.
It is not enough to live silent religious lives. We must give vocal witness, we must proclaim the Gospel, even shout it from the roof tops:
“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 unless the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are proclaimed.” Evangelii Nuntiandi, 33.
The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God….
This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fervent life….” Vat. II, Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 6. “The principal duty of both men and women is to bear witness to Christ, and this they are obliged to do by their life and their words…. Indeed wherever possible and needed lay people should be ready to carry out the special mission of preaching the Gospel and teaching Catholic doctrine….” Vat. II, Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, 21.
So, we evangelize by living holy lives, according to the Gospel, and we also speak the Gospel Word into the Church and into the world. We undertake the works proposed by the Gospel: we show love and charity to our neighbors, especially the poor; we struggle for social justice (peace, women’s rights, civil rights, economic justice, church renewal, care for the environment, freedom, pro-life, cultural decency, etc.).
Of course, in order to evangelize or “gospelize” the Church and the world, we ourselves must be students (“disciples”) of the Gospel. We have received God’s Word as it comes to us in the life and liturgy of the Church and through the witness of others. We become disciples (“students”) of Jesus; He is our Teacher. We pay prayerful, careful attention to His words: we listen, we accept them into our hearts and minds, we ponder and come to understand as we put them into practice, we live the Word – then the Lord Jesus teaches us more. We dedicate ourselves to the study of Church teaching and Sacred Scripture. Westerners are inundated by words, words, words….God’s Word and wisdom is different from the world’s words and “wisdom”. The world thinks God’s wisdom is foolish, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Cor. 1:25.
The Church has been saying for years that we need a new evangelization, a springtime of evangelism. Benedict XVI has just declared 2012 to be the “Year of Faith” and urges all Catholics to appreciate and proclaim our faith – Catholics are summoned to stand forth to actually be evangelized, and to evangelize our world today.
“Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Romans 12:17. Well, if faith comes by hearing the word of God, and if we are entering the “Year of Faith”, then it is very right that Benedict XVI has also recently published an apostolic exhortation titled Verbum Domini: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. He points to the centrality of the Word of God in the Church, and the irreplaceable importance of Scripture in the life of Catholics.
Benedict says the time has come,
“to renew the Church’s faith in the word of God.” Verbum Domini, 27. “I wish once more to encourage all the People of God, pastors, consecrated persons and the laity, to become increasingly familiar with the Sacred Scripture. We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church.” Verbum Domini, 121. “May the Holy Spirit awaken a hunger and thirst for the word of God, and raise up zealous heralds and witnesses of the Gospel.” Id., 122. Pope Benedict urges us to practice Lectio Divina, which draws us into a personal and intimate dialogue with God, through daily private prayer and Bible reading. The synod of world bishops that met to review the place of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church “frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer.” Id., 86. It is so clear: the Lord and the popes are urging us to become very Evangelistic, to read and study God’s Word, to prayerfully read the Bible, and to speak God’s Word to others, everywhere. We must sow the indestructible seed of God’s Word, it will not return empty, it accomplishes God’s purpose. “It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received.” Id., 91.
“Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.” 1 Cor. 9:16.
– Frank Summers – August 2012