by David Schütz
15th September 2011
“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a stewardship.” (St Paul, 1 Co 9:16–17)
Yesterday was the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Here is a story about another Cross, from Pope John Paul’s first Apostolic Journey to his homeland, Poland, in 1979.
Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man’s salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization that was to continue without break until today. It was with this thought also that the first Cross was raised in Mogila, near Krakow, near Stara Huta.
The new wooden Cross was raised not far from here at the very time we were celebrating the Millennium. With it we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world.” (Blessed John Paul II, Homily at the Sanctuary of the Holy Cross, Mogila, Poland (9 June 1979))
In 2005, at the ad limina visit of the Polish bishops, Pope Benedict said:
“At the time [during his first Pilgrimage to Poland], it was one of the first, if not the first, Interventions of my great Predecessor on the theme of the new evangelization. He spoke of the second millennium, but there is no doubt that he was already thinking of the third.” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Polish Bishops (3 December 2005))
Certainly the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod of Bishops understands that this was the first time the phrase “new evangelisation” had been used. (Lineamenta for 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization, §5). That Synod, which will be held next year, is already being planned now, with a special “Discussion paper” released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, prepared by Bishop Tim Costelloe. Bishop Costelloe, along with Bishops Prowse and Porteous, will be a participant in the Synod, the full title of which is “The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”.
Any of you who have been regular readers of my blog, Sentire Cum Ecclesia (which unfortunately – due to other demands on my time such as giving papers to National Conferences – has been in abeyance for a few months) will know that whenever the question of the future of the Church in Australia (indeed throughout the world) has been raised in discussion, I have always pointed to two essential components of the mission of the Church: evangelisation and catechisation. As I have written many times, it isn’t “rocket science”. The connection between evangelisation and catechisation is intimate: intensive and intentional action on both fronts is required for the fruitful “transmission of the faith”.
But today you have asked me to speak about the first of these two essential ingredients of Christian mission: evangelisation, and specifically about the “new evangelisation”, and so I want to take up where Blessed John Paul began: the situation in Poland in 1979.
When our beloved Holy Father used the phrase “a new evangelization”, almost incidentally, in Poland in 1979, he was very conscience of the fact that at that time a foreign regime was in power in that land. The Poles were under the tyranny of Soviet Communism; and that Tyrant was under no illusions that the visit of the Polish Pope represented a real threat to its power. But he had not come with armies. He had not come with diplomats either. He had not come with any political power of any kind. He had come armed only with a message, a proclamation. He had come as a simple herald – like St Paul – under the compulsion to “preach the Gospel”. He had come as the herald of the true King to announce that the reign of the illegitimate tyrant was over. And within 10 years, in no small part due to the witness of the greatest evangelist of the 20th Century, the power of the Soviet Union had been consigned to the dustbins of history.
But as Pope Benedict pointed out to the Polish bishops in 2005, the Cross was first raised in Poland when another tyranny held sway: the tyranny of paganism. The Kingdom of Poland was first formed in 1025, but as that repository of all knowledge, Wikipedia, points out, “the establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966”. At that time, the Cross was first raised in Poland, at the dawn of the Second Millennium of the Christian faith. A thousand years later, the first Polish Pope in history came proclaiming a “new evangelisation” – a “new evangelisation” which, though it was first declared in Poland, has now – at the dawn of the Third Christian Millenium – been adopted by the universal Catholic Church.
As the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod of Bishops points out (in the Preface), the subject of the timeliness of a “new evangelisation” was raised with particular focus in the lead up to the 2000AD Jubilee Year. Nevertheless, when I became a Catholic in 2001, ten years ago now, the word “evangelisation” was still hardly understood by many Catholics. It has since made its way into titles of various diocesan agencies especially established for the promotion of evangelisation, but , like 1950s mainstream Protestant congregations, we have perhaps been lured into the thinking that if we have established a committee for evangelism then the Church must be fulfilling its mission to evangelise.
Even more, the word “evangelisation” (and its protestant sister “evangelism”) is still regarded with not a little suspicion. On this point, the Lineamenta has something to say.
“Despite the fact that the expression is widely-known in the Church, it has failed to be accepted fully and totally in discussion within both the Church and the world of culture. Some are hesitant to use the term, thinking that it is a negative judgment on the Church’s past and a desire to remove certain pages from the recent history of local Churches. Others, especially among other Christian confessions, are suspicious that a “new evangelization” camouflages the Church’s intention to proselytize. Still others tend to think that the term might lead to a change in the Church’s attitude towards non-believers, turning them into participants in a debate and no longer partners in a dialogue which sees us as sharers in the same humanity in search of the truth about existence.” (Lineamenta for 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization, §2)
The Lineamenta contains an interesting footnote at this point, taken from Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa in 2003. The footnote reads:
“At the same time I wish to assure once more the pastors and our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox Churches that the new evangelization is in no way to be confused with proselytism, without prejudice to the duty of respect for truth, for freedom and for the dignity of every person.” (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (28 June 2003))
The footnote goes on to point out that
A treatment of the necessity of evangelization, the difference between evangelization and proselytism and the subject of evangelization in ecumenism can be found in the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Notes on Certain Aspects of Evangelization (3 December 2007).
This is indeed an issue that we could take up, and, as the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, they are issues that concern me intimately and we could well spend an hour or two exploring them further.
Be all that as it may, it must be said that we will not even begin to fulfill our calling to evangelise until we learn to understand the word itself – which has become so deeply associated today with ideas of forceful proselytisation. (This is in fact the real issue in the controversy surrounding religious education and chaplaincy in public schools – another area which we could profitably reflect upon for an hour or so if we had the time). We need to grasp the real meaning of “evangelisation” and what it means for us ourselves to become “evangelisers”.
These are the two topics that I want to focus on today. There is a third topic that you must explore for yourselves – especially in your roles as leaders in the Catholic Women’s League – the question of how to evangelise. But it is my conviction that if you learn what evangelisation is, and if you come to understand that each of you are called personally to be evangelisers, then the “how” will take care of itself in the creative power of the Spirit – with the caveat that we must never do anything to quench to Spirit’s inspiration and power in this regard.
I might just throw in here, that in the last ten years we have become aware of a whole new label arising from the matrix of ideas surrounding the “new evangelisation”.
Today we sometimes hear about “evangelical Catholicism” and “evangelical Catholics”. This is a term that many credit to John L. Allen Jnr, the Vatican journalist employed by the American magazine “The National Catholic Reporter”. Although the phenomenon he describes in his articles is fairly new – perhaps only ten years or so old – the term is not. I certainly described myself as an “evangelical catholic” (small ‘c’) even before I became a big ‘C’ evangelical Catholic in 2001. At the time, I remember reflecting that many Catholics who belonged to Catholic Charismatic Renewal were in fact not “charismatics” at all, but “evangelicals”, it was just that they didn’t have any other label to identify themselves or any other group to join in which they could express their evangelical spirituality. Things have changed a little since then. With some confidence, I can say that every one of the 2 million or so young Catholics at WYD in Madrid either were or were on their way to becoming “evangelical Catholics”. I hope that, at the end of this reflection, you will all feel comfortable owning the title “evangelical Catholic” as a self-descriptor, but I hope even more that you will have discovered that you are all called to be Catholic evangelisers!
So, what is “evangelisation”? Let’s go back to St Paul, with whose statement (“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”) I began this address.
The Greek word which we variously translate as “Gospel” or “Good News” is “evangelion”. It is in Paul’s writings that we first find this Greek word “euangelion” applied to the proclamation of the Christian message. There might be some doubt as to whether he invented this term, as it appears strongly also in the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, a tradition which is fairly independent of Paul, although it appeared about 20 years later than Paul’s first letters. Possibly it originated with Jesus himself, possibly even with St John the Baptist, as the Gospels tell us that both came proclaiming the ‘good news’, the “evangelion”, that the Kingdom of God had come near.
But the earliest written reference we have to the Christian message as the “Gospel” (the “Good News” or the “Evangel”) is in St Paul. In First Thessalonians – written in the early 50’s AD – St Paul writes:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. (St Paul (1 Th 1:2–5)).
Here he talks about “our gospel”, which in Greek is “our euangelion”. Euangelion is made up of two Greek words, one “eu” (or “ev”) meaning “good”, and the other “angelia” meaning “message”. The latter appears in the New Testament in a couple of places in the Letters of St John, such as in First John 1:5:
This is the message [the angelia] we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 Jn 1:5).
But the far more common occurrence is the word “euangelion”, which appears more than 70 times in the New Testament. You will notice the similarity that “euangelion” and “angelia” have with our English word “angel”. “Angel” comes from the same word, “angellos”. An “angel” is simply a “messenger”, often used in the New Testament for heavenly spirits who bring a message from God to mortals.
So let’s get back to this word “euangelion” which we translate with the Anglo-Saxon word “Gospel” (or “Good Spell”, that is “Good News”). Is this just any sort of “good news”, such as “Geelong has won the football premiership” or “I’ve got a pay rise” or “It’s going to be a fine day for the parish fete tomorrow”? No, the meaning is a lot more specific than that, and unless we understand how St Paul – and the rest of the Apostolic Church – used this term, we won’t begin to grasp what is meant by either “evangelisation” or the “new evangelisation”, and we certainly won’t understand what the word is asking of us when we are called to be “evangelisers”.
Here I will turn to the writings of an Anglican bishop and New Testament historian who is a bit of a favourite of mine, as any of my Anima Education students will tell you. His name is Tom Wright, and he used to be the Bishop of Durham (before taking an early retirement and going back to his historical and biblical studies – a role to which he is perhaps much more suited).
In the glossary in the back of his popular commentary on Romans in the “Paul for Everyone” series, Tom Wright has this definition of the term “Good News”:
The idea of ‘good news’, for which an older English word is ‘gospel’, had two principal meanings for first-century Jews. First, with roots in Isaiah, it meant the news of YHWH’s long awaited victory over evil and rescue of his people. Second, it was used by the Roman world [which, by the way, was predominantly Greek-speaking rather than Latin] of the ascension [the coming to power], or birthday, of the emperor. Since for Jesus and Paul the announcement of God’s inbreaking kingdom was both the fulfillment of prophecy and a challenge to the world’s present rulers, ‘gospel’ became an important shorthand for both the message of Jesus himself and the apostolic message about him. Paul saw this message as itself the vehicle of God’s saving power (Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
The four canonical ‘gospels’ tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to bring out both these aspects… Since in Isaiah this creative, life-giving good news was seen as God’s own powerful word (40:8; 55:11), the early Christians could use ‘word’ or ‘message’ as another shorthand for the basic Christian proclamation.” (Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Part One: Romans 1-8, p168)
This double meaning at the heart of the idea of “euangelion”, “gospel”, is demonstrated by the proclamation “Jesus is Lord”. The Greek word which we translate as “Lord” is “kyrios” (as in “kyrie eleison”). Like the word “euangelion”, this title “Kyrios” also had a double meaning for Jews. They, of course, never used the name “Yahweh” for their God (and neither, by the way, should we), although they knew that this (or something like it) was his “proper name”. But it was too holy to say out loud, and the danger of breaking the second commandment by using it was too great. So First Century Jews regularly used the Aramaic word “Adonai” instead. “Adonai” means “Lord”, and in Greek this was translated into “Kyrios”. Therefore to say that Jesus was “Kyrios” was to identify him in the first place with the God of Israel. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, Caesar – the unquestioned Lord of the Roman Empire – also claimed this title. In the Roman Empire, Caesar was Kyrios, and you had better not forget it. Thus, the proclamation of Jesus as “Kyrios” was deeply – politically – subversive. It didn’t just touch on the announcement of a spiritual revolution. If Jesus was Lord, Caesar wasn’t.
Tom Wright expands upon this overview in his book “Paul: Fresh Perspectives” (2005) when he discusses St Paul’s self-understanding of what it meant to be “called to be an apostle”:
[W]e need to take account of…the way in which Paul saw his apostleship in terms of being a royal emissary. His apostolic authority, about which we hear a good deal when it is challenged, as in Galatians 2 or 2 Corinthians, is rooted not in himself but in the one who called him and sent him, and in his awareness of a vocation to do a specific, unique and irreplaceable job. …Paul clearly sees himself above all as a pioneer. He has the job of going to places which have never heard of Jesus, have never imagined anything so crazy as the story that a young crucified Jew was now the true Lord of the world. …
…What we can be quite sure of is that Paul mapped out his own vocation, and the implicit narrative within which it made the sense it did, on the grid we have described earlier. God’s gospel was the good news that the covenant had been fulfilled and that new creation had begun. The great apocalypse had occurred, revealing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Jesus was therefore Lord of the world, and Caesar was not. This was not just a message which Paul had been given to pass on, like a postman ignorant of the dramatic, life-changing content of the letters he was delivering. It was a message by which his own life was itself defined, shaped and controlled, form the inside as well as on the outside.” (N.T. Wright, “Paul: Fresh Perspectives” (2005), p162-3)
I hope now you can begin to see the connection between Paul’s own understanding of his task as an “evangeliser” and the example of the newly elected Pope John Paul II going to Poland in 1979. The Pope, like Paul, was a messenger of the Gospel, the ‘Good News’ that Jesus had risen from the dead, and was therefore he was the Lord of the world and therefore the Communist authorities in Poland were not. This is what made both Paul’s proclamation of the ‘good news’ of Jesus and Pope John Paul’s proclamation of that same message not just similar, but virtually identical, not only in content, but also in context.
Having outlined what the Gospel, the Evangel, is, and what “evangelisation” implies from a Scriptural viewpoint, let’s now look at the other side of the question: what does the “new evangelisation” ask of us, who are called to be the “new evangelisers”?
Bishop Wright stated that Paul’s “own life was itself defined, shaped and controlled” by the gospel. The Lineamenta tells us that:
[The Church] makes the Person of Jesus Christ and a personal encounter with him central to her thinking, knowing that he will give his Spirit and provide the power to announce and proclaim the Gospel in new ways which can speak to today’s cultures.” (Lineamenta, §5)
This should recall for us Pope Benedict’s opening statement in his first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §1)
Paul indeed had just such a “personal encounter”, an encounter which turned his whole life, his whole world – in particular his world-view – upside down. You sometimes hear critics of Christianity say “If Jesus really rose from the dead, how come he didn’t appear to anyone who didn’t already believe in him?” The fact is he did. He appeared to a self-confessed anti-Christian zealot, intent on persecuting the new Messianic Jewish sect of Jesus-freaks out of existence. His encounter resulted in a true “conversion” – Paul remained a “zealot”, but now he was “zealous” in proclaiming the “good news” he had been commissioned to bring to the Gentiles. He became an evangeliser, announcing the victory of his Kyrios, Jesus. He proclaimed to the world that the person he had personally encountered, Jesus Christ, had risen from the dead. Jesus was Lord. The Kingdom of God had broken into the world. God had begun his reign in Jesus of Nazareth.
Thus, Paul proclaimed as an objective reality that reign which he had subjectively experienced on the road to Damascus. He had been convicted. He had been converted. And now he was committed to a new mission: henceforth he would be a herald of the “evangel” and woe to him if he did not proclaim it.
This then is the heart of what it means to evangelise. It means to be a royal messenger, announcing and proclaiming that a new King has begun his reign.
“Proclamation” is the correct word to use for this way of speaking. Evangelisation requires “preaching”, “proclamation”, the announcement of the Kingdom of God. In other words, “putting it out there” for the world to hear so that the personal encounter with Jesus becomes as real for those who hear the Gospel as it was for St Paul when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
The Greek word for proclamation is “kerygma”, and together with “catechesis” (which is the Greek word for “teaching”) it makes up what we normally call “preaching”. Unfortunately perhaps, many of our preachers have replaced proclamation with catechesis, so that many if not most Sunday homilies are acts of teaching rather than actual preaching. . Teaching the Gospel, however, is not the same as proclaiming it. Both are, of course, necessary, but for the new evangelisation the mode of proclamation is particularly essential. Possibly there are two reasons why parish priests tend teach the gospel rather than proclaim it in their homilies. The first would be that often that 15 minutes per week is the only opportunity the parish priest has to catechesise his parishioners, and since the task of remedial catechisation is today so urgent, he has no other choice than use the homily for this purpose.
But I think at the heart of it there is another reason why Sunday homilies fail to proclaim (rather than teach) the Gospel. There is the common assumption – fatal to the efforts of the new evangelisation – that since those sitting in the pews have all been evangelised already, they don’t need to hear the gospel proclaimed anew. This latter point of view is, of course, a serious error. The whole point of the new evangelisation is that it starts with us. We Catholics need to hear again a new and fresh proclamation of the Gospel. We, as much as the world out there, need that personal encounter with Jesus that only happens when he and his Kingdom is directly proclaimed to us. Teaching, catechesis, gives information. Proclamation, kerygma, on the other hand, calls for a personal response.
While the mode of proclamation calls – by its very nature – for a response, it also respects the freedom and the dignity of the hearer and does not force a response. The act of proclamation does not imply coercion. The “evangel” – as God’s own Word – has its own special power. This is what St Paul meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. Ultimately whether or not people accept this message is immaterial. We have been committed with the task of proclaiming that since Jesus rose from the dead, and woe to us if we do not. There is a new state of affairs in the world. It isn’t business as usual. The old regime has been defeated. There is a new king, and he us coming to establish his reign over your land. Jesus is Lord: of our nations, our cities, our towns, our families, our homes, our hearts.
So, why do we evangelise? Not because it’s our job to convert people. Leave that to the Holy Spirit and the power of the proclamation itself. Like St Paul, and like Pope John Paul II, we must evangelise because the King has made us his heralds. Is it up to us to decide whether or not we will carry out this task? No. Is it up to us to ask if the King can achieve his ends in some other manner? No. So the question of whether or not God can save others by some other means other than the proclamation of the gospel is immaterial. The Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelisation quotes Pope Paul VI’s 1976 Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” on this point:
“It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: through God’s mercy, people can gain salvation in other ways besides our preaching the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation, if through negligence, fear, shame – what St. Paul called ‘shrinking from the Gospel’ – or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?” (Pope Paul VI Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi (8 December 1975))
The Lineamenta also quotes this passage from Pope Paul:
[E]vangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. This task and mission are particularly urgent because of the expansive, penetrating changes in present-day society. In fact, evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to the Church; her utmost identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi (8 December 1975),
Is it not true to say, that as Catholics, we have failed to grasp this fact: that the Church “exists to evangelise”? How is it that we have missed this simple fact, so essential to our identity, so patently obvious to anyone who knows even the smallest bit of our history? For the first three hundred years, the Church was brutally persecuted by the Roman Empire for the simple fact, the single fact, that by its very existence it proposed a rival Kyrios in opposition to Caesar. How can we have forgotten this? How is it that in the 3rd Millenium we have shelved the Cross in mothballs and made peace with Caesar and all the other false Lords of our post-modern world?
I’m going to go out on a limb here in order to take a stab at guessing why we as Catholics are really so uncomfortable with the word “evangelisation” and with the idea that we are all called to be evangelisers. I think that, at the heart of it, the dominant image we have today of the Church is of a flock of sheep being cared for by the Good Shepherd and his junior shepherds. It’s not such a bad picture, and it is a picture that was popular in the early Church too, but in those days they were still very much aware that one of the principal reasons sheep needed shepherds was to guard them against the wolves.
In more technical terms, I think we have swapped the “royal priesthood” picture of the Church – in which the entire community of the Church is focused on representing the King to the world – for a predominantly “pastoral” picture of the Church that views it as a kind of universal chaplaincy. In this picture, the Church exists primarily to provide pastoral care for the needs of its members. Put more specifically, the predominant assumption is that the Church exists to provide me with pastoral care for my needs. Thus, as a member of the Church, I expect to receive spiritual benefits from it, rather than to exert myself in order to bring the royal message it exists to proclaim to the world. Even closer to home, I would guess that another reason for the ineffectiveness of our evangelisation efforts thus far is that we have so spiritualised both the Resurrection and the proclamation that Jesus is therefore Lord, that we have in fact cancelled out any possibility that this proclamation can have any consequence in the hard reality of the world of economics and politics.
On the contrary, the Lineamenta describes just where the Church is to aim her “new evangelisation”:
The new evangelization is a frame-of-mind, a courageous manner of acting and Christianity’s capacity to know how to read and interpret the new situations in human history which, in recent decades, have become the places to proclaim and witness to the Gospel. Delineated and treated on various occasions, these sectors concern society, cultures, economics, civic life and [finally] religion. (Lineamenta, §6)
The problem is that we want to be sheep singing “The Lord’s my shepherd”, rather than warriors singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. We have tried to set up a lounge room with tea and coffee after mass in the middle of a battle ground. We have given people “thoughts for the day” when we should be arming them with the Sword of the Spirit and the Breastplate of Salvation.
Perhaps the emphasis in the Catholic Church on the ministerial priesthood – that is, the servant priesthood – over and above the common priesthood of the baptized is partly responsible for this. For it truly is the task of the bishops and priests to shepherd, teach, and govern the flock of Christ. That’s why we call them our pastors and shepherds.
But beside the ministerial priesthood is the common priesthood of the baptised, which St Peter describes in his letter like this:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (St Peter (1 Pet 2:9)).
We have all been commissioned, like St Paul, by the personal encounter with Christ our King in baptism, to “proclaim the excellencies” of our King to the world around us. This is the “spiritual sacrifice” (1 Pet 2:5) that we offer as proper to our priesthood. In baptism, like St Paul, we encountered Jesus personally. In baptism, like St Paul, we were commissioned to be evangelisers. But this requires that each of us be as committed, as converted, and a convicted as St Paul himself was.
Of course, the words “committed”, “converted” and “convicted” are all passive – they describe something that has been done to us, not something we have done. We cannot convict ourselves, we cannot convert ourselves, we cannot even commit ourselves to the kingdom. Only the announcement of the kingdom itself – and the personal encounter with Jesus that happens in that proclamation – can bring about this transformation.
Have no doubt about it: those who have not been evangelised cannot be evangelisers. The new evangelization requires that we – we Catholics- be newly evangelized. An evangelical Catholic is an evangelised Catholic. You will often have heard the famous dictum of St Francis “preach the gospel always; and, if necessary, use words”. Too often that passage has provided Catholics with an excuse to avoid witnessing to Christ at all. Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi:
[E]ven the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” [1 Pet 3:15] – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. 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 if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. At every new phase of human history, the Church, constantly gripped by the desire to evangelize, has but one preoccupation: whom to send to proclaim the mystery of Jesus? In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed? How can one ensure that it will resound and reach all those who should hear it? (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Nuntiandi, §22)
I have focused today on what the word “evangelisation” means, and what it means to be an “evangeliser”. If we had another couple of hours, we might begin to explore all the practical ways and how to take advantage of the many opportunities which the Holy Spirit is offering us today to proclaim the Kingdom of Jesus – to announce that Jesus is Lord – to the world around us today.
For now, I just want to leave you with a short parable from Jesus. As I read this passage, think about this Church to which we belong. Think about the riches and freedom that God has bestowed upon us. Then think about the poverty and the tyranny in the world around us, which is, as John Donne’s sonnet put it, “like an usurp’d town to another due”.
Think about the light that God has placed in the heart of the Church, and then listen to this parable:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Jesus of Nazareth, Mt 5:13–16)