The Evangelization Station
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The Way, the Truth, and the Life
March 10, 2005
Most Reverend John J. Myers
Archbishop of Newark
I am the way and
the truth and the life.
and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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
Evangelization in Jesus Christ
In and through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection this communion has been made available for humankind. The Church, the community of people in friendship with God, is both a sign and an instrument of this unity. As sign she is called to give witness to the possibility of real loving communion. Our communion with each other and with the Lord in the Church is a foretaste of the heavenly communion for which we yearn. As instrument, the Church, and each of her members, is called to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the entire world.
Our local Church, the Archdiocese of Newark, has the great privilege and the great duty to share with our neighbors, families, and friends the good news of Jesus Christ. This letter is addressed to all the faithful of the Archdiocese as a reflection on our duty to evangelize.
Without in any way diminishing the urgent need for commitment to the mission Ad Gentes, this second, broader mission is of vital importance. John Paul II calls this type of missionary activity the “new evangelization” or “re-evangelization.” Re-evangelization is focused on proclaiming the good news in countries (like our own) with historical Christian roots where “…entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel” (Redemptoris missio, 33).
called to evangelize?
John Paul II has applied this universal mandate to proclaim Christ to Christian communities as well. For from the family, the smallest and most important Christian community, to the parish community, the local church and beyond, all are called to mission. The Holy Father went so far as to state in his message for World Mission Sunday:
All are called to “labor in the Lord’s Vineyard” (cf. Matthew 20:1 ff). By our baptism, we share in the mission of Jesus Christ—to reveal to the world the love of the Father. In Jesus, we all share in his priestly, prophetic, and kingly office. As priests we offer spiritual sacrifice and praise. As kings, we rule over and sanctify that part of God’s kingdom entrusted to our care. As prophets, we proclaim the good news and give witness to God’s saving power at work in us and in the world.
It is Catholic teaching, restated at the Second Vatican Council, that God’s grace—his supernatural help unto salvation—is offered to everyone “in a way known to God alone” (Gaudium et spes, 22). Thus, it is our hope that all men and women cooperate with God’s grace. While God does not limit his love and his grace to those who are formally Christian, the ordinary way for men and women to find salvation is in an explicit faith in Christ Jesus; for it is only in Him that we find the fullness of truth and life. Anyone who is saved, the Scriptures and the Church teach, is saved through Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.
Thus, to fail to evangelize because of the mistaken notion that “everyone is saved” is both presumptuous and uncharitable: presumptuous because it assumes that God will provide salvific grace in extraordinary ways, uncharitable because it leaves people in ignorance and denies them the many sources of grace available in the Church.
The false notions which have caused a very discernable waning of missionary activity, “an identity crisis” and a “lack of motivation” in the Church’s mission, must be dismissed. As the Holy Father wrote in his first encyclical:
To John Paul II, the fundamental function of the Church is missionary. The Church must make her own the urgent cry of Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16).
But, one may wonder, where does one begin in one’s role as missionary?
Evangelization, like charity, begins at home. The “hidden evangelization” that occurs within the family is essential. Parents are the first educators and evangelists for their children. Mothers and fathers who teach their children prayers, who explain the meaning of the Christmas crib and the cross, are true evangelizers. The atmosphere of unconditional merciful love along with the countless sacrifices that parents make everyday gives witness to their children of how God loves them. Thus the home, “the domestic church,” is an indispensable place for sharing the good news.
In addition to the home, there is the Church. Everything in our parish life should be ordered towards sharing the good news. Our schools and educational programs have this as a primary focus. Our programs for adult initiation and education strive to share the Gospel with those inquiring into the mystery of Christ. The life of the parish itself should radiate Jesus Christ in word and sacrament to the entire neighborhood. Particularly, the willingness and openness of the parish community, to serve “the least among us” should give witness to Jesus’ compassionate love.
There is also the workplace, the marketplace, and our various associations and friendships. One of the most effective forms of evangelization today is “the apostolate of like to like.” Who better to share the good news of Jesus Christ than someone who shares a friendship and way of life with another? When we are friends with another, we naturally wish to share with them all the most important aspects of our life. We share our passions and our beliefs. Chief among these should be our relationship with Jesus. The old adage “make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Jesus” is a very effective way of sharing the good news.
This spirituality is expressed first of all by a life of complete docility to the Spirit. It commits us to being molded from within by the Spirit, so that we may become ever more like Christ. It is not possible to bear witness to Christ without reflecting his image, which is made alive in us by grace and the power of the Spirit. This docility then commits us to receive the gifts of fortitude and discernment, which are essential elements of missionary spirituality (Redemptoris missio, 87).
The Gospel must first have permeated our lives before we can pass it on to others.
Jesus Christ is the goal and the means of evangelization. For us to be evangelizers, to authentically be bearers of his message, we first must allow Christ to enter our lives and transform our lives. Christ must be within us before we can dare to bring Him to others. To allow Christ to enter our lives and to transform them requires humility and docility to his message on our part. Building on the words of the Gospel, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it” (Luke 17:33), the Second Vatican Council teaches that “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et spes, 24). Trusting in our faith in Christ, we must surrender our very selves to Him. In this self-surrender to Christ, we offer our selves with Him in the Eucharist. In this radical act of losing ourselves in Christ, we Catholics find our true selves.
As we are transformed by Christ’s love, we desire more and more to share Our Beloved with others. Like St. Paul we are compelled to go forth to bring others to Him. Our first encounters with others will often take the form of dialogue. John Paul II has recommended St. Paul’s speech at the Areopagus (marketplace) in Athens (and at Lystra) as a model of missionary activity (Acts 17:16-34). Here, Paul enters into “dialogue” with the cultural and religious values of the Athenians. He attempts to show them that God is already present in their lives as Creator and Sustainer of all things. But to recognize Him as He really is, the Athenians must abandon their false gods or the false notion of God, which they have made. One can easily see parallels to the false gods of the modern, secular world.
The Holy Father makes reference to many areas in need of evangelization. These he calls modern - day equivalents of the Areopagus. Redemptoris missio lists first and foremost the world of communications. The mass media is quickly establishing the “global village” and in many ways conditioning the way people look at this new world. Other areas cited as forms of the modern Areopagus are the peace movement, the environmental movement, the various liberation movements, the human rights movements, the feminist movements, and the “new age” religious movements. The Holy Father also mentions the “immense Areopagus” of scientific culture and intellectual relations. All these areas are in need of evangelization through dialogue.
Dialogue of this sort brings into contact two or more persons sincerely searching for the truth. The Christian comes to these encounters as a “fellow seeker” of truth. He or she knows that there is much to be learned from the other. But the Christian also knows that he or she has much to share. Having encountered and been encountered by Jesus, Christians bring the light of the Gospel to these discussions. Because the Gospel can never be imposed on another’s freedom, the dialogue provides an opportunity to propose the truth of the Gospel.
Along with dialogue, and perhaps even more important, is witness. There is first the witness of those called to a specific missionary vocation Ad Gentes. As the Second Vatican Council states:
I can think of no better way to spend one’s life than in total dedication to missionary proclamation of the Gospel. If this is your call, follow it! Make a “total gift” of yourself to Christ and his Church. As the Holy Father states:
What of the rest of us who do not receive this call? We are called to be missionaries in our own places and towns. This will mainly take place through the way we live our lives. As St. Francis of Assisi taught: “Preach always! When necessary use words.” Ultimately the most successful form of evangelization and mission is the personal witness of a holy life. As the Holy Father writes, “People today put more trust in witness than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theory” (Redemptoris missio, 42). To put it simply, the true missionary is the saint!
Since each Christian is called to be a missionary, each one of us is also called to be a saint. We must lead others to “the way” by our personal example of a holy, joy-filled life in Christ.
For you who are married and have dedicated yourself to the great vocation of “spouse and parent” you must witness to the truth about conjugal love. You must show the world the joy of Christian motherhood and fatherhood, of fidelity to your spouse, of openness and loving acceptance of the great gift of human life, of dedication to the education and rearing of Christian children, and of holy and good friendships.
For you who are
called into the workplace and the professional world you must strive to sanctify
the world through your work offered to God in union with the Holy Sacrifice of
the Mass. You must witness to Christian values in the marketplace, the academy,
government, the hospitals, and the courts.
Consecrated life is a powerful witness to the truth that the “earthly treasure” of power, wealth, glory, and sensual pleasure are of fleeting importance compared with the “heavenly treasure” of a God-centered life.
priests, religious and deacons are called to preach and teach the whole of the
Gospel. We are to offer the sacraments to feed, heal, and strengthen the pilgrim
people of God as they strive to fight the good fight of faith. In our own lives
we are called to believe what we teach, to practice what we preach.
The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family and of the ecclesial community, which reveal a new way of living. The missionary who despite all his or her human limitations and defects, lives a simple life taking Christ as the model is a sign of God and of transcendent realities. But everyone in the Church striving to imitate the Divine Master can and must bear this kind of witness. (Redemptoris missio, 42).
The task of missionary activity and evangelization is a vast undertaking. It would be impossible, even unthinkable, if Jesus did not promise that He would be with us to the end of time. In this undertaking the laity play an essential role, perhaps the most vital role.
Obstacles to evangelization
Honesty demands of us a sincere recognition of the limits within our communities as well. The divisions among Christians obscure the gospel call to unity. The many failings of our Church and its members have led others astray. In all of this we must as individuals and as a community acknowledge our sinfulness and strive to genuine renewal and transformation. We must be able to say, “Be patient, God is not through with us yet.”
But in addition to internal obstacles, there are external difficulties that we face. Culturally, many recognize that we live in a society that is not fully supportive of the Christian life; in fact, it is in some ways hostile to it. Over recent decades, political and social supports for religion have been eroding and many social policies have been enacted that are antithetical to our Catholic faith and ethics. In our increasingly pluralistic environment, many demand that religion be reduced to a strictly private realm, on the specious ground that it might possibly introduce discord into society. Others believe that all religions are basically the same.
Yet we know that all religions are not equal or compatible. Either Jesus is Lord or He is not. Both cannot be true. To paraphrase St. Augustine: Either He is the Lord of all or He is not the Lord at all. In addition, authentic religion can never be merely a private matter because by nature we are social beings and must live out our lives in community.
The first evangelists, the apostles and the disciples, faced similar difficulties. The Roman Empire, in the name of pluralism and concord, recognized all gods as equal. Early Christians, frequently persecuted by the Roman Empire, were offered the option to recognize Christ as a god among other gods. They recognized that such a “compromise” would deny Christ, who is the unique Savior of the World and the only way to salvation and eternal life. Many often gave witness to their belief through martyrdom.
While respecting the faith of others and recognizing the inviolability of their consciences and their right to religious liberty, we cannot fall into the false trap that considers all religions as equally true. Faithful to the teaching authority of the Church, authentic evangelizers show forth the joy and freedom that comes from a personal relationship with Christ. Reflecting on our Holy Father’s encyclical Redemptoris missio, the instruction Dominus Iesus summarizes this reality well.
When the words and experience of evangelization are ungrounded in the Person of Christ, there is a danger of relativism…As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given.
Encyclical Redemptoris missio calls the Church once again to the task
of announcing the Gospel as the fullness of truth: “In this definitive Word of
his revelation, God has made himself known in the fullest possible way. He has
revealed to mankind who he is. This definitive self-revelation of God is the
fundamental reason why the Church is missionary by her very nature. She cannot
do other than proclaim the Gospel, that is, the full know about himself”
(Redemptoris missio, 5). Only the revelation missio, 5). Only the revelation of
Jesus Christ, therefore, “introduces into our history a universal and ultimate
truth which stirs the human mind to ceaseless effort” (Fides et ratio, 14).
(Dominus Iesus, 4, 5)
Secularization ironically has produced a religious emptiness in many parts of our society, an emptiness that yearns to be filled. The idea that everyone has his or her own “truth” does not satisfy basic human needs. Dissatisfied with such relativism, many realize the foolishness of asserting that contradictory views are equally “true.” Many, especially the young, seek answers to the mystery of life. This gives us Christians the opportunity to show them that Christ is the answer to humanity’s questions, that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). Our culture provides obstacles, but it also provides opportunities. There is much that is good in our culture not the least of which is our dedication to religious liberty.
In the midst of all the discussion about our secularizing society, it is good to remember that our nation has always been a religious nation. While few of our founding fathers were Catholics, they were genuinely religious men. “For [Jefferson] and the other founding fathers, the good of society requires a people who believe in one almighty God, in providence in a divinely given moral code, in a future life, and in divinely administered rewards and punishments” (Avery Cardinal Dulles, “The Deist Minimum” in First Things, January 2005, Number 149, 30). Most Americans share these basic beliefs today, even if it often seems unpopular to articulate them. Perhaps our role as Catholic Christians is to give a clear consistent voice to these gospel values.
Evangelical action within our families and parishes
Family members also are in a unique position to reach out to relatives whose faith has weakened or who have strayed from the Christian life to offer them the support they need once again to encounter the Risen Christ through the ministry of the Church.
The family needs support in this endeavor. The parish is the indispensable source of support for the family and the most important resource for evangelization. The entire range of parish education, schools, religious education, and adult education, can be an enormously effective agent of evangelization. Pastors have a significant role in assisting the teachers and catechists under their care in the transformation of their lives and attitudes, in recognizing their responsibility to engage in the work of spreading the Gospel of Christ. Our parishes must be examples of cooperation and solidarity as they share the many gifts that each possesses for the greater good of the whole. This solidarity extends to cooperation among parishes in evangelization efforts. Solidarity and discipleship together drive evangelization.
The parishioners of the Archdiocese of Newark come from every corner of the globe. Each person should be welcomed and made to feel a part of the life of every parish. When we seek to understand and respect the religious customs and traditions of new immigrants we reaffirm their human dignity, affirm them in their faith, and welcome them into our communion. Our unity does not mean that we are all the same. Our unity is a reflection of the life of the Trinity, three Persons in one God, each separate and distinct, each having a different self-gift, and yet so unified that they form the one Godhead. So, too, it must be with us.
I counsel all evangelizers to respect the manifold forms of authentic popular piety that newcomers bring. “(W)hen hearts are united, the result is a great force for good. To be rooted in what is ancient, strong, profound, and, at the same time, dear to the heart, gives an extraordinary interior energy” (Pope John Paul II, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, p. 180). Our great task, while always open to the future, is to cultivate sound traditions with an affectionate respect for the past.
who have not yet received all the Sacraments of Initiation
To pastors and all evangelizers, I say “Seek out your brothers and sisters who have never received the nourishment of the Eucharist.” To those who have not received the Lord I say “Fill your hearts and your souls with the Eucharistic Lord. Come to the table, your Lord is waiting for you and is expecting you.”
Let us make the experience of coming into Eucharistic unity as joy-filled as possible. In this Year of the Eucharist, our efforts of re-evangelization must focus on Christ present in our celebration and always present in the Sacrament of the Altar. The participation of many Catholics, especially those actively involved in evangelization and re-evangelization, in parish, regional, and archdiocesan observances that celebrate the Year of the Eucharist will be a source of grace for them and witness to those to whom they endeavor to bring the message of the Gospel.
It also is disheartening to realize that even more of our baptized brothers and sisters have never completed the Sacraments of Initiation, have never received the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. A recent study tells us that up to 40 percent of young adult non-Latino Catholics and up to 60 percent of Latino Catholics in this age group have never received the sacrament of Confirmation. The study also shows that confirmed Catholics are more inclined to remain in and grow in the Church (Dean R. Hoge, William D. Dinges, Mary Johnson, S.N.D. de N., and Juan L. Gonzales, Jr., Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice, p. 116).
Thanks be to God, the overwhelming majority of these young people, whether they attend Mass regularly or not, consider themselves Catholics. But it is sad to think how impoverished their spiritual lives as Catholics must be. For most, Confirmation is the completion of the Rites of Initiation into the family of the Church. It is an occasion on which the gifts of the Holy Spirit enter the life of the person confirmed. “The effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1302-1303).
For about half of our young people never to have received the grace of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation is a scandal. Somehow over the last decades, our catechesis, our evangelization, has failed our people. Perhaps we have shown too much concern for the “completion of programs” and not enough concern to allow the Holy Spirit to enter the lives of young people through this sacrament. In any event, we have the opportunity, and all of us have the responsibility, to bring them to the possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Pastors often do not know who the fallen away are. This is one area where the laity have a special obligation. It will most likely be a friend or family member who helps another find the way home. Invite those you know who have fallen away to come back. Invite them to receive the embrace of a loving God in the sacrament of Penance. Even if they have not celebrated this comforting sacrament in many years, encourage them to see it as a vehicle of return to the practice of the faith, a vehicle of renewal and rebirth. Go with them to the sacrament of penance if necessary to help them overcome any hesitation or obstacle.
Last year, here in the Archdiocese of Newark, we established a task force to identify ways to implement evangelization in this local church. As a result of the work of the task force, the Office of Evangelization was established. The task force also recommended that every parish become an evangelizing parish. To assist the parishes in this effort, we chose a program, “Why Catholic?” from RENEW International. Also available is “Disciples in Mission,” from the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association. I join the task force in recommending these programs.
and sacrifice for evangelization
Filled with the Holy Spirit, we Christians should never tire of offering prayer and sacrifices to God and advocating that others do likewise. However, I am afraid that we, including bishops, do not speak enough about the efficacy of prayer and sacrifices offered to God. But Scripture constantly witnesses to its importance. Jesus Himself fasted and prayed. He told his disciples that some demons could only be cast out by fasting and prayer. Paul specifically asked for prayers for his mission.
An excellent modern example of this kind of spiritual cooperation is St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the “Little Flower.” Because of her love and dedication to prayer and suffering offered for the missions, she is rightly proclaimed as co-patroness of the missions although she was never sent to them. I ask all the faithful of the Archdiocese to be men and women of deep prayer and particularly ask you to pray and sacrifice for the successful spread of the Gospel in our local Church and throughout the world.
What a privilege this is! To be with the Lord and one another, to hear His word, to receive Him in the Eucharist, and to worship together as one family.
This privilege demands to be shared. Love compels us to attempt to extend our communion. We might not be successful in our efforts. That is relatively unimportant. Success is not a Gospel term. After all, we follow a crucified Savior. In the words of our Holy Father:
“Let us go forward in hope!...We can count on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who impels us still today to start out anew, sustained by the hope ‘which does not disappoint’” (Romans 5:5). (Novo millennio ineunte, 58) Hope does not disappoint. We will “set out into the deep” with the Lord to bring Him to others.
The Risen Jesus accompanies us on our way and enables us to recognize Him, as the disciples at Emmaus did, “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Their hearts burned with love as they listened to Jesus teaching them the meaning of the Scriptures. May He find us watchful, ready to recognize His face and may we run to our brothers and sisters with the good news: “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25).