“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28: 18-20).
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, I greet you with the love and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ – the same Christ who commands us to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to teach them to obey all he commands and who promises to be with us always, to the very end of the age. In obedience to Christ’s command and total trust in the assurance of his unending presence, the Church takes up the role of evangelization.
Evangelization: Its Meaning
Evangelization is derived from the Greek word euangelizesthaiwhich means ‘to preach the gospel, good news’. This refers to God’s word revealed to us by his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus did bring good news for human salvation. To facilitate the proclamation of this good news, he called people who became his followers to whom he entrusted the task of spreading the good news to all the nations. This is done through the preaching of the word and planting of churches coupled with our Christ-like living.
The Lord Jesus on certain occasions in the course of his ministry sent out his apostles to evangelize others, beginning first with the mission of the twelve to proclaim the good news mainly or solely to the Jewish race as recorded in Mt 10:5-42, and then eventually the commission of the same twelve to preach and baptize persons of other nations. (cf. Mt 28:16-20; Mk. 16:14-20; Lk. 24:47-49). However, Luke out of the three synoptic writers, further highlighted the mission of the seventy two other disciples whom Jesus sent out in pairs to towns and villages that he himself intended to visit (Lk. 10:1-12). This Lukan dimension is of great significance since it demonstrates holistically the involvement of all disciples and baptized Christians in the mission of evangelization received from Christ. This mission should therefore not be thought of as exclusive to the ordained ministers or the successors of the apostles. Thus, all Christians by example of their lives, and testimony of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man (Jesus Christ) which they have put on through their sacramental reception of baptism, and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at confirmation, so that others, seeing their good works might glorify the Father (cf. Mt 5:16) and more perfectly receive the true meaning and goal of human life.
The Holy Spirit is actually the principal agent of Mission and evangelization as made manifest in the early Church in the conversion and spread of the faith. Thus, St. Pope John Paul II (Redemptoris Missio 25)says that “under the impulse of the Spirit, the Christian faith is decisively open to the ‘nations’…it is the Spirit who is the source of the drive to press on and not only geographically but also beyond the frontiers of race and religion for a truly universal mission.” So without the Holy Spirit the evangelization process would be futile.
Evangelization can be a scary word for many Catholics in our culture today. Yet, we don’t have any trouble recommending a restaurant, television shows, movies, or the best coffee place in town. We know the politics of our country even more than the politicians themselves. How is it that something infinitely greater than worldly pleasures is so difficult to discuss with others? Catholics today are not well known for evangelization, unfortunately. St. John Paul II pointed this out in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “one of the most serious reasons for the lack of interest in the missionary task is a widespread indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians” (#32). In addition to indifferentism, I think the Catholic attitude toward evangelization includes ignorance, fear, and misconceptions. But we need to know that every Catholic is obligated to evangelize and there are many different roles and approaches.
We therefore must know that the Church exists primarily to evangelize. That is the task the Master himself left for her. Pope John Paul II calls evangelization the Vocation of the Church. As a vocation, it means it is an everlasting task.
Our Obligation to Evangelize
Of the necessity to evangelize, St. Paul puts it thus, “For as I preach the gospel, that gives me no grounds for boasting, for necessity is laid on me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1Cor. 9:16).Evangelization is something we should be doing all the time, both for ourselves and for others. For ourselves, in working to deepen our own relationship with Jesus and working hard to live out our faith as good disciples. To others, we are called to show them the light of Christ by the way we live our lives. We show we truly believe in our faith by living as our faith calls us to.
Let us remember that the command to evangelize comes from Christ himself as seen in our opening quote. The quote from Matthew 28:18-20 can be taken to be an extension of this one: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus repeats Himself a few verses later for emphasis: “This I command you, love one another” (John 15:17). The surest expression of the love of others is to bring them to the knowledge of the truth; or, more specifically, to knowledge of Him, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
What Catholicism offers is the surest path to that truth and to eternal salvation: in Evangelii Nutiandi,Pope Paul VI explains that “the Gospel entrusted to us is also the word of truth. A truth which liberates and which alone gives peace of heart is what people are looking for when we proclaim the Good News to them” (#78). Charity compels and obliges us to share the gospel with the human race!
Now that the obligation is laid out and good reasons set for it, the next step is for each Catholic to see his/her role in evangelizing. For many of us, that can only begin by clearing up some misconceptions. Sometimes evangelizing is equated with John the Baptist preaching in the desert—that everyone has to go to a street corner and preach. This might be a calling for some, but not for everyone. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that “there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:5-7). In the same chapter, St. Paul goes on to give his famous many parts/one body discourse. The Church needs apostles, but not all are apostles; the Church needs teachers, but not all are teachers. The roles are many, and the Holy Spirit tailors our gifts to our particular roles.
Another mistake in evangelizing is to assume it is the job of someone else, either the clergy, religious, or well-known apologists. In Good News, Bad News, Fr. John McCloskey and Russell Shaw note that many Catholics have been content to leave this particular job more or less exclusively in the hands of the clergy... that attitude was and is a terrible mistake, an abdication of a duty that comes with baptism and membership in the Church. Approximately 98.5% of Catholics in the world are laypersons. Leaving it entirely up to the other 1.5% to proclaim the gospel and lead people to Christ just doesn’t make sense” (pg. 56-57).
On this note, it’s one thing to give a non-believer a CD of Stephen Ray or Scott Hahn, then offer to discuss it with that person—it’s another thing to assume that the CD absolves us of our responsibility.
Inherent in these latter two misconceptions is a foundational flaw: if I’m not a priest/religious or a famous apologist, then I don’t have anything to offer. That’s patently false: every Catholic has something to offer. The Holy Spirit that enlivened the apostles at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that every Catholic received at their baptism and confirmation. The documents of Vatican II stressed this; Lumen Gentium,the dogmatic constitution on the Church, devoted a chapter to the laity. The council fathers also promulgated an entire document devoted to the laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem). Years later in Redemptoris Missio, St. John Paul II reminded us of our history, that “it is clear that from the very origins of Christianity, the laity–as individuals, families, and entire communities–shared in spreading the faith” (#71). His proclamation of the New Evangelization might be a new effort, but the call echoes back two thousand years.
Recommittment To Primary Evangelization
The congregation for the evangelization of peoples in its pastoral guide for the Diocesan priests talks about a having a missionary conscience. This missionary conscience is recommended to all Catholics. This makes us fit and ready to devout ourselves effectively and generously to the preaching of the gospel to those who do not yet profess faith in Christ. For many of us Catholics, formal instruction and any serious effort to deepen our faith ends with the acquisition of the sacraments, baptism, Holy communion, confirmation, matrimony, etc. we do not see these as being armored for evangelization. ‘Life does not end in the catechism class’. No wonder we shy away from bible study, life in the spirit seminars, evangelization programs, because for us, what sacrament are we going to receive from it.
We must know that everything that we learn in the church is not meant just for us alone, we are mandated to go and share. Whatever you have been told in secret, you shall say it publicly for others to hear (cf Matt 10:27).
My dear people of God, it may interest you to know that as lay faithful you have an upper hand in evangelization. The percentage of lay faithful to priest is about 95% to 5%. You have access to all strata of society. It is also your responsibility to carry the gospel message into the very heart of the community where only you have access to – places of work, of businesses, market, house of assembly, home and so on. We must learn never to separate our faith from our work.
Many persons are preaching various versions of the gospel, we are called to preach the authentic gospel, the truth. I hereby charge you beloved in Christ to recommit to evangelizing the authentic gospel so that many may through us learn the right way of living.
May the peace of Christ be with you always. Amen
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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