Evangelization … what a tricky word. As I work with parishes I once had a member of the leadership team comment about the concept as we were working through their 3-year vision plan:
The USCCB defines evangelization as “evangelizing means bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself.” I’d like to know the vision/outcome of this particular milestone. “Evangelization” – can be a polarizing, off-putting, etc.. term for many people. -LC
The milestone in reference was “Develop ongoing formation opportunities in evangelization and service in which all parishioners can take part.” [A Milestone is an action item outlined as part of a 3 Year Parish Vision Plan. Milestones help us outline how we will achieve goals.]
So what is evangelization? Do we have to do it? And can’t I just “preach without words” like St. Francis is always quoted as saying?
Let’s tackle these questions beginning with the last one first.
Let’s start with that quote, we all know it: “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” Well, St. Francis of Assisi probably never said that … who says? Trent Horn in his new book What the Saints Never Said (link). Trent talks about the “subtle heresies” these misattributed quotes teach us. Word matter, especially in our culture today. Words create worlds, and worlds create cultures. Just “assuming everyone will get the message of Christ” by our actions is dismissing the works of Christ. He spoke, He taught, He has more words than could ever be recorded in all of the books in all of the world (John 1:25).
Conclusion: We have to use words. We also have to use our actions. They go hand in hand!
The next question reminds me of something I said a lot as a teenager: “But do I have to?” I was talking about the dishes or laundry or ironing or cleaning up my room – but the answer was always the same as it is here: YES, you have to. Paul VI says in Evangelii Nuntiandi “She [The Church] exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.” (EN 14, emphasis mine)
We, as members of the Church, have a responsibility to do just this. We are the people in the Church of God so it is our responsibility to carry on the work and mission that Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church.
Conclusion: Yes, we have to.
Finally, the first question “what is evangelization?” Many, many things have been written on evangelization, but at its core, it is sharing the message of Christ. How?
Well I don’t believe we are all called to get our soap boxes (not sure where you even buy one of those) and bull horns, carrying them to the nearest street corner, and start shouting. It is about witnessing. Paul VI writes:
Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. […] Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even 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” – 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. (EN 21 & 22 emphasis mine)
At its core evangelization is the spreading of the message of Christ. Do we do this with our actions? Yes. Do we do this with our words? Yes. Are we scared most of the time? Yes.
Is evangelization for the pope, bishops, and priests to do? Yes, but not just them. It’s for everyone. If we have received the message of the love of Christ, we are called to share it with others. Period.
Conclusion: It’s not a ‘hot button’ issue. It’s not a controversy. It doesn’t need a synod or a letter (although there have been both). We don’t need to debate whether it’s the “New Evangelization” or the “Old Evangelization.” We just need to spread the message of the Love of Jesus Christ to all. The world needs us. The world needs Christ, now more than ever.
Share how your parish helps parishioners become better evangelizers (or even first time evangelizers) with their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, cashiers, and strangers!