What Do We Say When We Evangelize?

We all have reason to be grateful to Father Robert Barron of the Mundelein Seminary theology faculty for the series of talks he gave in the parishes of the Archdiocese in recent months, the last given in the Cathedral on Palm Sunday evening. His work was part of "Mission Chicago," an important moment in the Year of Evangelization. He traced the way grace transforms our lives when we open our hearts and minds, our very selves, to the mysteries of faith.

A great obstacle to our becoming an evangelizing Church is fear of knowing what to say and how to respond to questions we might be asked. We don't have to know Holy Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church by heart, however, before we dare open our mouths. First of all, we preach by our actions, by the countless acts of charity and concern for others that fill people's days and construct lifetimes marked by generosity. Catholics I come to know in the Archdiocese are often quiet but effective witnesses to Christ's love. Still, evangelizing means introducing people to Christ, speaking about him. What should we say?

We should say that Christ is risen from the dead. Everything follows from this, as the Church's celebration of Easter makes clear. At Easter, the Church goes back to her origins in order to experience the divine truth and life that is what she is really about. The Last Supper, the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection are the events, both human and divine, that brought the Church into being and that energize her today. They are the foundations of her identity, the source of the grace that comes through her and the guarantee of her authority to speak to the world and to guide and shape the lives of her members. Had Christ not risen, there would have been neither faith nor Church.

There is an approach to the mysteries of faith that begins by filtering them through our own experience. Obviously, the faith shapes our experience; but proclamation of who Christ is should begin with Christ, not ourselves. We take our identity from him, not vice versa. By making connections with ordinary life too quickly, by speaking only of values like peace or even love, we risk losing the distinctiveness, the challenge of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. The preaching of the apostles, given in the Easter readings each Sunday, starts with Christ, moves to condemnation of the sin that killed Him and then points to the hope and healing that come into our lives with the grace that Christ personally won for us. If we get caught in our own experience and use the mysteries of faith only to confirm our own religious proclivities, we will not be converted. And conversion to Christ is what evangelization is all about. Christ's resurrection brings us new life on his terms, not a confirmation of our old ways.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Church growing in her understanding of Jesus' resurrection. He goes no longer to the crowds but to those chosen to be his witnesses to the world. The Church is born a hierarchical communion, to use the words of Vatican II. Jesus confirms the choice of the Twelve, reduced to eleven by the betrayal of Judas, gathers them and sends them out with authority to teach and with power to rule and sanctify. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (Jn. 20:21). The risen Lord opens the full meaning of Holy Scripture and seals its significance in the memory of the Church, which offers it from generation to generation to those called to live in the obedience of faith.

To the crowds in Jerusalem, Peter proclaimed: "This Jesus you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men " but God raised him up" (Acts 2:23). Each year on Easter Day in St. Peter's Square in Rome, the Pope, successor of Peter, announces to the city of Rome and to the world the life-giving truth that is at the heart of the Gospel: "Christ is risen, Alleluia!" When he makes this proclamation, the Pope carries on, with authority and certainty, the mission given to the apostles. This is the heart of all evangelization. Pope John Paul II wrote: "The pilgrim Church on earth, fed by the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ, is the community of the resurrection." Pope Benedict XVI, a year after his election, repeated the same message, as will his successors until Christ returns in glory.

What do we say when we evangelize? Christ is risen and, in faith, we with him.

Please keep in prayer the several thousand people who were baptized or received into Catholic communion at the Easter vigil in our parishes. Pray for those who will be receiving the sacrament of confirmation, sealing their baptism and making them witnesses of Christ's resurrection to the world. Keep in prayer the youngsters who made their first confession of sin and who will receive Holy Communion for the first time in the coming weeks. Because we are all called to holiness, we are all called as well to evangelize. May the risen Lord fill your lives with joy this Easter Season.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

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Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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