Obstacles to Evangelization

This is Part Three of a Five-Part Series on evangelization by Archbishop John Myers. To read Part I,

click here and for Part II, click here.

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:

[A missionary vocation] is manifested in a total commitment to evangelization, a commitment which involves the missionary's whole person and life, and demands a self- giving without limits of energy or time (Redemptoris missio, 65).

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. You who are called by God to live a consecrated life have a special obligation to missionary activity. As the Holy Father writes:

The Church needs to make known the great Gospel values of which she is the bearer. No one witnesses more effectively to these values than those who profess the consecrated life in chastity, poverty, and obedience in a total gift of self to God and in complete readiness to serve man and society after the example of Christ (Redemptoris missio, 69).

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.

Bishops, 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. But whatever one's personal vocation is, he or she is called to holiness and to mission. Each person, with his or her own personal vocation, must be totally dedicated to living a unified, holy life and to teach others, especially entire families, to do likewise. As the Holy Father writes:

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

There are many obstacles to evangelization. Most of these are internal to each Christian and to the Christian community; our own sinfulness acts as a countersign to the Gospel. Concupiscence, the tendency to sin that remains in us even after baptism, is difficult to overcome. A lukewarm heart and lack of fraternal charity can make us less than totally fervent to share the Gospel.

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.

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