The Duty to Evangelize


The bible study group had been discussing the Sunday readings, which naturally led to the subject of evangelization, which naturally led to our responsibility for preaching the Good News. Suddenly the subject was evangelization and us. A woman had a question.

“I heard the diocese was putting together an evangelization plan,” she said, “but I haven’t seen anything about it in the parish yet. Do you know anything about that?” And she turned a quizzical eye on me.

Now, right here I should say that when it comes to real-life evangelizing, this good woman can run rings around me and just about everybody. She’s a woman of faith who’s eager to share her faith with others and has plenty of practice doing that. Nothing I said should be taken as a putdown of her.

“I don’t know what the diocese has in mind,” I replied. “And I certainly agree that a plan is needed if people are supposed to work together in evangelizing teams. But really–there’s no reason why individual Catholics must wait for the word from on high before they evangelize. The right and the duty to do that come to each one of us with baptism and are reaffirmed and strengthened by confirmation.

“Sharing in the mission of the Church–of which evangelization is a fundamental part–is something expected of every single member of the Church by reason of his or her Christian vocation. If more of us understood that, we wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for somebody to tell us to start doing it. We’d be out there evangelizing right now.”

Which, as I said, is exactly how things already are with the woman who asked the question. We could all take a leaf from her book.

Looking for an authority to support what I said? You can’t do better than Blessed John Paul II’s  marvelous document on the vocation of the laity, Christifideles Laici (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People). He speaks there about individual apostolate as a duty of each baptized Catholic and then says this:

“Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel; indeed it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful….In sharing fully in the unique conditions of life, work, difficulties and hopes of their sisters and brothers, the lay faithful will be able to reach the hearts of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues, opening them to a full sense of human existence–that is, to communion with God and with all people” (Christifideles Laici, 28).

Beautiful but unrealistic? We’d better hope it’s not. For otherwise the problems confronting the faith in the United States may be more serious than most people imagine.

Recently I came across numbers for the Church in the U.S. make the point more vividly than rhetoric can. Consider. Infant baptisms declined from 1,005,490 in 2003 to 763,208 in the year past. Adult baptisms fell from 81,013 to 41,918. People received into full communion dropped from 82,292 to 71,582. Catholic marriages plummeted from 241,727 to 163,976. (Source: 2013 Official Catholic Directory)

However anyone explains those numbers, they tell a troubling story. If you agree, you won’t wait for somebody to hand you a plan of action before setting out to do what you can, in word and in the way you live your life, to open the eyes of family members, friends, and neighbors to the beauty and truth of the Good News.

image: Tupungato /

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Hello Mr. Shaw. Thank you for this article, and for making the important point that we have the “right and the duty” to evangelize, by our Baptism into and Confirmation in Christ.

    Also, you wrote, ” I certainly agree that a plan is needed if people are supposed to work together in evangelizing teams.” The thing is, as the Body of Christ, as members with different gifts and responsibilities in the Body, we have to work together. We must work together. If we are to do what Christ sent us to do, as a Church, we are bound to and interconnected with one another to work together for the upbuilding of the whole.

    The making of a disciple, and the maturing of that disciple in Christ, is a work of the whole Body empowered by the Spirit and in the unity of the Spirit. Some do well with initial proclamation and evangelization, others do well with catechesis, with unfolding the Catechism and Scripture. Still others nurture the member with the holy Sacraments, others counsel and guide him in the Spirit, others pray for him and lead and guide him in growing in prayer and becoming a person of prayer, and so on.

    A recently converted man or woman, coming in from “the street” so to speak deserves and needs a strong parish to come into. A strong parish – having strengths in all the requirements needed for evangelizing, catechizing and building up persons in Christ – does not “just happen”. It needs leadership, planning, and heroic commitment to the mission. I hope your diocese really does implement a righteous plan to do it!

  • Jeanette

    Excellent point, Mr. Shaw! Unfortunately, too many Catholics, even good Catholics seem to pass the buck. Bishops and dioceses need to focus on making sure that Catholic teaching is faithfully taught in all Catholic schools and universities, parish CCD other faith formation programs, and from the pulpit. Beyond that, it is the responsibility of Catholic laity primarily to evangelize the culture.
    The sorry state of affairs today is the result of too many Catholics, both leaders and laity, dropping the ball. For instance, just imagine how much better things would be if every Catholic parish unapologetically taught the Faith. Just imagine how much better things would be if every Catholic in public service were unapologetically and enthusiastically pro-life and had the voting record to prove it. Just imagine if every Catholic media personality challenged the pro-abortion or pro-same sex marriage position, or advocates of these positions, to show just how baby-killing or immoral unions promoted the common good of society. Just imagine if every Catholic had the courage to engage fallen-away family members, charitably but directly, on some important topics over the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Just imagine what a little courage can do!