“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” This is the opening line of Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). The heart of this exhortation is the New Evangelization.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the New Evangelization as follows: “The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize.” (https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization)
The New Evangelization takes place in different settings. One obvious setting is that of proclaiming the Gospel to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ or who have never accepted him. Since Apostolic times, missionaries have been going out into the world to proclaim Jesus Christ to the nations.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus gathers his disciples in Galilee to give to them the Great Commission to make disciples of all people: “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.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
From its very beginnings, the Church was charged with carrying out the mission Christ had begun. The Apostles went far and wide to preach the Good News of Christ crucified and risen, and to bring people to faith. Missionaries today continue this activity, understanding that everyone, without exception, has the right to receive the Good News.
Another setting of the New Evangelization is to baptized individuals, whose lives do not reflect their baptismal commitment and lack a meaningful connection to the Church. Evangelization in this setting means helping them to experience a conversion in their lives that will open their hearts to a life of faith and a commitment to Gospel values.
A third setting in which the New Evangelization takes place is the area of ordinary pastoral ministry. Priests, deacons, directors of religious formation, catechists, youth leaders, volunteers leading Bible study and prayer groups all engage the New Evangelization, helping people to grow in the ways of faith.
Our mission as Church is the same today as it was in the time of the Apostles — to proclaim the Good News. Who are those commissioned to undertake the work of evangelization?
In “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis wrote, “In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 119) He went on to say that by virtue of their baptism, all members of the Church are “missionary disciples.” (EG, 120) Evangelization is not to be carried out solely by “professionals.” The New Evangelization requires the involvement of each baptized individual.
Pope Francis stated, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples.’” (EG, 120) Once we have experienced the saving love of Christ, we must spread the Good News to others. There is no reason to wait. The Scriptures narrate many examples of individuals, who after encountering Jesus, immediately go forth to proclaim him with joy:
- Andrew, after his encounter with Jesus goes to his brother Simon with the message, “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41)
- The Samaritan woman at the well, after conversing with Jesus, testifies among her people, saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:39)
- Paul, after regaining his sight following an encounter with Christ that left him temporarily blind, was baptized and at once began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)
While all are called to mature as evangelizers with learning and training, there is no reason to put evangelization on hold. Each person is called to give an explicit witness to the love of Jesus. While everyone is a sinner and imperfect, this is no excuse to be idle. (EG, 121) Pope Francis referred to St. Paul, who, although he understood that he had not yet attained perfect maturity in his life of faith, continued his evangelizing mission with zeal. (Philippians 3:12-13)
There is so much need for evangelization in our parishes today. There are adolescents and youth who feel distant from the life of the Church. There are young adults who, in the busyness of life, have a hard time deepening their faith. There are people who had fallen out of the practice of participating in parish life during the COVID-19 pandemic and have not returned. There are senior citizens who are no longer able to come to Mass and parish activities because they are homebound or in nursing homes. All are in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We, the baptized, who have experienced the love and mercy of Jesus Christ are called to be messengers of the Gospel for them. What are we waiting for? We have the power to reach out to individuals where they are at and reflect the light and love of Christ through our care and concern. We are missionary disciples.