Evangelism call us to proclaim Jesus, the Gospel, from the housetops!

      As I promised in last week’s column, I want to dedicate some reflection to the eight fundamental areas of Church life that will form the focus for our entire diocesan synod process; the first one is evangelization. 

      Coming from the Latin word “Evangelium” which means “Gospel,” evangelization simply means proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to others. As St. Paul reminds us, “faith comes through hearing” the witness and testimony of other believers. We could also say that faith comes through seeing the example of committed Christians who act out the Gospel.

      Today, we urgently need this Christian witness more than ever. On any given Sunday in America (with the exception of Easter), only 30 percent of our baptized Catholics are at Mass. Imagine inviting ten guests over for dinner and only three show up. You spend the evening looking at seven empty places. 

      A multitude of reasons exist for this dramatic drop off, but none justify doing nothing about it.  Clearly, fewer young people find Mass compelling enough to participate in it. How we celebrate the liturgy and teach about it, as well as the quality of our preaching and our music matter so much.

      Despite the fact that we are blessed with many wonderful and dedicated catechists and teachers, we must admit that many of our people are poorly catechized. How many Catholics can give cogent answers to the most basic questions about our faith? How many Catholics, for example, even know the most simple things, such as the four evangelists, the seven sacraments, the ten commandments and the four marks of the Church? Most members of our parishes stop learning more about their faith after they are confirmed or graduate from a Catholic high school. Catechism classes and adult formation, done well, both in substance and delivery, are essential.

      The majority of engaged couples coming forward for marriage in the Church are not attending Mass; are cohabiting or sleeping together; are contracepting; and know very little about the faith. On top of this disturbing trend is the downward spiral of people who even want to get married at all. Marriage preparation is an opportune moment to walk with these couples, befriend them, offer them compelling formation on faith, marriage and sexuality and draw them into the community. Post-marriage follow-up is as important as the preparation.

      I cite some of these challenges, not to be negative, not to wring my hands in despair, not to give up, but to show some sober and challenging reasons why sharing our faith with others in a zealous, joyful and evangelizing spirit is so absolutely needed today. I would not want to trade places with any other Catholic in history! The difficulties we face should excite and motivate us to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and go set the world on fire for Christ.

      The new evangelization is the contemporary, robust embrace of Jesus’ Great Commission given to the apostles on the day of his ascension: Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature!  From Pentecost Sunday forward, it is not so much that the Church has had a mission as it is that the mission has a Church and that mission is to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen to every person in the world.

      Without some personal encounter with the Lord, without a deep experience of ongoing conversion as the basis of faith, catechesis can become mere history lessons and the celebration of the sacraments empty rituals. 

      I will never forget a conversation with a young woman struggling with her faith who told me that Mass for her “was just a bunch of people saying a bunch of words.”  With the ardor of the Holy Spirit, all of our recent popes, including Francis, want to summon the vast and varied energies of the world’s Catholics to this central task of witnessing Jesus to the world. How do we do that specifically?  What does it look like?

      Evangelization starts with the integrity and holiness of our own lives. The magnetizing power of a person in love with the Lord, who perseveringly prays every day, profoundly knows the Scripture and the catechism, joyfully celebrates the sacraments and faithfully lives the moral teachings of Christ can be extraordinary. If we practice our faith with fervor and joy, other people will be drawn to us and start asking questions and discussing their problems. Personal holiness is perennially attractive.

Secondly, we need to speak of our faith, witness to our relationship with Jesus, invite others to pray with us, encourage people to go to Mass and parish events, talk about the love of the Lord. We do not have to knock on stranger’s doors (although we probably should); simply start with the people already present in your life: relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Imagine if every one of us brought one other person to the practice of the faith, by loving them and cultivating the movement of the Spirit.

      Thirdly, we need to consider our service to the poor, hungry, sick and suffering, our love for prisoners, children, the aged and women in crisis pregnancy, our efforts to build a world of mercy, justice and peace witness powerfully to the transforming grace of faith embraced and lived.  In all these ways, we make our Catholic faith visible and public because we were never meant to just let our belief in Jesus be a personal and private matter only whispered between God and me. Jesus tells us to proclaim the Gospel from the housetops!

    

+ Donald J. Hying

 

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