Few of us are ever really tested in our faith. Many are blessed to live in communities where the freedom to practice our faith is taken for granted. For many, years of family tradition grounds them in our faith.
My father and mother were Catholic, as were their parents and generations that went back decades. It wasn’t until college or our first experiences in the workforce that our thoughts and ideas about our religion were challenged. Sometimes it was professors in classes; other times it was fellow students or co-workers that we encountered who questioned our beliefs.
At those moments, we suddenly realized we were “on” for our faith. Not everyone in the world knows Jesus and his church. This is true, not only in foreign countries, but even in U.S. society where the influence of secularism is growing. With this realization, some respond to the challenge by sharing what they know and others realize they need to learn more about the faith.
In any event, we cannot assume that everyone understands the Catholic faith and its teachings. I have noticed that those responsible for the faith have an appetite to learn more about the church and her teachings. The more we know about the church and understand her relationship to our salvation, the more we want to share it with others.
This idea of introducing people to Christ and his church was the motivating factor which compelled the missionaries to leave the comfort of their surroundings and set off to strange territories to present Christ and his church to peoples throughout the world.
Historically, many of the nations from which the ethnic and racial populations of the archdiocese came were evangelized by missionaries burning with the desire to share the faith. Of course, this has been the practice from the very beginning of the church herself. At the Ascension of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20), he gives the great commissioning: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
This commissioning was meant for all disciples of the Lord. Blessed John Paul II stated in his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” (the church’s missionary mandate) 3.4 “God is opening before the church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ‘ad gentes’ (to the nations). No believer in Christ, no institution of the church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
St. Paul would have been using every technological means possible to proclaim the message of Jesus. He would have agreed with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI viewing this moment as a new opportunity to use every means available to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.
There are men and women spreading the message of Jesus among the nations of the globe. However, we don’t have to travel around the world as missionaries to fulfill our responsibility to spread the Word. It’s imperative that we understand our obligation to do it, here and now.
Just examine the statistics of how many people refer to themselves as Catholic yet never attend church on Sunday. We find our churches half-filled. There is no excitement about Jesus or the church because they simply don’t know Jesus and his church.
The new evangelization is an opportunity to bring the message of Jesus and his church to the people of our society who are living in a post-Christian era. These are our co-workers, our neighbors and even our family and friends. Evangelization is an interior conversion that affects not only the person, but the whole culture, resulting in a change of culture and institutions to make them more Christian.
Therefore, there are three areas of evangelization:
- first, to proclaim the person of Christ to those who do not know the Lord;
- second, to proclaim the Lord to those who have been baptized but have grown lax or indifferent to Christ and his church; and
- third to continue the ongoing conversion in our own personal life deepening our relationship with Christ.
I want to increase our efforts of evangelization in the archdiocese. You have heard of my three priorities: Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship.
This Saturday, May 5, we will conduct an evangelization summit at the Cousins Center, bringing together parish representatives in order to begin a process of how best we can evangelize in our communities. We will discuss the meaning of new evangelization and the obligation we have as Catholics from our reception of baptism to proclaim the Lord to our brothers and sisters. In sharing sessions we will examine some of the practices and initiatives already in use by our parish staffs.
Our “faith” is a cherished gift. Pope Benedict has declared the year of faith beginning on Oct. 11. Hopefully, our evangelization summit will assist us in understanding our obligation to spread the Gospel and produce in us zeal to spread the faith.