We are born with an eternal hunger, a tremendous need in spirit and soul for the deepest relationship with God. Nothing else will do. Yet, from our earliest days we search and seek out what will satisfy, what will fill the “God-sized hole within.” Over time, this eternal hunger, this profound spiritual need, becomes like a grating piece of sand in the oyster. We take it and cover it over with the things of this world, pearl glaze, but it is never satisfied. We build fortresses to protect ourselves from the pain caused by the hunger and need. We seek the things of this world and lament the hard, cruel taskmasters who have taken the straw we need to make the bricks, forcing us to gather our own straw and still produce the same quota. We die inside a thousand times a day until we hear the Voice of our Eternal Lover who stands “at the door and knocks.”
Then we become like John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, jumping and leaping for joy! Everything turns inside out. We begin to think differently, feel differently, love differently. We have found our Lover and nothing will ever be the same. We are free, and it is the most glorious freedom one could ever want. The gates to the Garden open once again, the Cherubim with the fiery revolving sword have departed. From the edge of the Garden we see the Tree of Life, bursting with eternal fruit, ripe for the picking.
That Voice we hear deep within our spirit comes through the voice of the evangelist, who tells us about Him who loved us before time began. This is the importance of evangelization: it helps us to realize that we have a tremendous inner need for God, a destroying, unquenchable fire within – until touched by the cleansing, cooling, quenching, waters of the Holy Spirit, and the purifying “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2).
Speaking the Truth
God’s plan is that we who have heard the unutterable Voice and have chosen the freedom and the new life it promises should speak to others of the things that are better than what the world provides. When we hear it, we must speak it. Evangelization is preaching the truth about the Fall of Mankind, that it is all-encompassing and that includes every man, woman, and young person. By virtue of being human, every person has sought the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and has come away empty, burdened, sorrowful, and forever hungry.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans tells us that people must hear about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who gave His life for each of us. He died for each person, and rose on the third day. He welcomes us into His fold, His Church. In and through the sacraments, we join ourselves in a deeper way to Him who loves us. How can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone to preach? How can people preach unless they are sent? (cf. Romans 10: 10-17). These questions form the basis of the work of evangelization, and they begin first with “me” and “you.”
The Need for Evangelization
Evangelization begins first with “me.” Unless I first believe in Him, unless I first hear His unutterable Voice in the depths of my soul, I will never be an evangelist. Who can preach about something they do not know or believe in? While we do not have to understand God, we do have to know Him.
We usually tell people about things in our lives that are either tremendous or terrible. Nothing else is worth speaking about. If we believe that a certain cleanser is the best cleaning and polishing compound for our stainless-steel pots, we will tell everyone we know who has stainless steel pots. If we believe that a certain part of town is dangerous and has negative influence, we will tell everyone to avoid the place. But anything that does not impact our lives in a positive or negative way becomes part of the background noise we live with every day – generally not that important and certainly not worth speaking about. The world, in fact, would be very happy if we put our faith in that non-important category and relegated faith and religion to church on Sundays.
However, if my relationship with Christ consists only of a few minutes at Mass, funerals and weddings, or when praying over dinner and even breakfast and lunch, I could never be one to evangelize. Even if I try to live a good and righteous life, that minimalistic kind of relationship with God will not make me an evangelist. In that case, I can only hope that people will see how positive I am and conclude that it must be the Holy Spirit or my attending church that makes a difference. If they ask me about Jesus or my faith, then I will tell them, but I will not take initiative.
Changing the World
That is not evangelization. It is good to live a positive, good-neighborly kind of life that people admire and that causes others to look askance, but there is no change in others. That is your part! As mentioned earlier, evangelization is about “me” and “you” – it is about changing hearts. One shares the tremendous faith of the Church, the other receives what is shared and has a life-changing experience. In his Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI tells us that the proclamation of the Gospel
only reaches full development when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it. An adherence to the truths which the Lord in His mercy has revealed; still more, an adherence to a program of life – a life henceforth transformed – which He proposes. In a word, adherence to the kingdom that is to say to the ‘new world,’ to the new state of things, to the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the Gospel inaugurates. (n. 23)
Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI tells us in his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, that “there exists a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the content to which we give our assent” (n. 10). In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn about the “second conversion,” as an uninterrupted task for the whole Church. “This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a ‘contrite heart,’ drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first” (CCC, 1428). What a tremendous opportunity to love! Evangelization is for everyone, everyday!
Time for a New Evangelization
The “New Evangelization” calls each of us to (1) deepen our faith, (2) believe in the Gospel message, and (3) go forth to proclaim the Gospel, which means that all Catholics are called, first, to be evangelized and, then, to go forth and evangelize.
Secularization is a powerful force, an enemy of the Gospel. Pope St. Pius X called this secularization “Modernity.” Its power is strong and subtle. In some areas, like pop culture and the media, it is often able to defeat the Church without firing a shot. Secularization is one of the enemies we fight with the New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization offers hope – the hope of salvation and eternal life. Unfortunately, few people are interested in the “End” – that is, eschatology, teaching about the “last things.” It is all about now – living in the here-and-now – “Grabbing all you can, canning all you grab, then sitting on the can!”
In a Catholic News Agency/EWTN article from June 14, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI explained that “the effort to renew the evangelization of mankind begins in the human heart.” He stated that “to be effective the proclamation of faith must begin with a heart that believes, hopes, loves, a heart that loves Christ and believes in the power of the Holy Spirit.” The New Evangelization offers the gifts of faith, hope, love, and new life in Christ. It is the responsibility of everyone in the Church to seek these gifts in their own lives: to be filled first, and then to be poured out. Pope Benedict said that St. Peter’s proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection at Pentecost was “not confined to a simple list of facts,” but rather “cut to the heart” of those who heard him.
An Urgent Task
At that same time, the Pope stressed the urgency of evangelizing modern society. “The crisis we are living through carries with it signs of exclusion of God from peoples’ lives, a general indifference to Christian faith, and even the intention of marginalizing it from public life.” The Pope explained that the term “New Evangelization” recalls the need of a new way of evangelizing, “especially for those who live in a situation like today’s, where the development of secularization has left deep marks on even traditional Christian countries” (Vatican Information Service, 5/30/2011).
Pope Benedict XVI noted that there is a growing phenomenon of people in modern society “who wish to belong to the Church but who are strongly determined by a vision of life that is opposed to the faith.” In other words, people may be church-goers for the benefits found in the local church – fellowship or community – but never fully realize the power of salvation. “It is important to make them understand that being Christian is not a type of outfit that one wears in private or on special occasions, but something living and totalizing, capable of taking all that is good in modernity.”
The Mission Has Not Changed
Despite the modern challenges, the Christian mission has not changed – “just as the enthusiasm and courage that motivated the Apostles and first disciples should not change.” Pope Benedict emphasized that the entire Christian community is called to revive its missionary spirit in order to offer the new message for which the people of our times are longing. He insists that the lifestyle of believers needs real credibility. He said Christians should be “much more convincing because the condition of the persons to whom [the Gospel message] is addressed is dramatic.”
Although we speak of evangelization as “new”, it only seems new to our present generation of Catholics. In a letter from Pope Leo XIII to Cardinal Gibbons, in January of 1899, the pontiff stated, “… it is through men, that men are to find out the way to salvation.” Because of the unlimited love of Christ, God has determined to share His work with mankind!
It is time to pick up the torch and run the race that is set before us.