Where and How Do We Evangelize

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

click here.

Where Do We Evangelize?

By now it must be clear that missionary activity is not an option for Christians. It is at the heart of the Gospel! St. John Chrysostom went so far as to say:

I cannot believe in the salvation of anyone who does not work for his or her neighbor's salvation. How can such a person who does nothing for anybody else really be a Christian? (Bishop James Malone, “The Basics of Re-Evangelization,”, Origins [Vol. 21: No. 11] August 15, 1992, 183.)

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.

How Do We Evangelize?

We evangelize through docility to the Holy Spirit that leads us to dialogue and witness. Through docility to the Holy Spirit we are transformed to become "other Christs" (cf. Gal. 2:20). The presence of the Holy Spirit is essential to every aspect of evangelization. Jesus promises us that "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name " He will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you" (John 14: 26). The Holy Father describes it in this fashion:

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" (Lk. 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:

Although the task of spreading the faith, to the best of one's ability, falls to each disciple of Christ, the Lord always calls from the number of his disciples those whom he wishes, so that they may be with him and that he may send them to preach to the nations. Accordingly, through the Holy Spirit, who distributes his gifts as he wishes for the good of all, Christ stirs up a missionary vocation in the hearts of individuals and at the same time raises up in the Church those institutes which undertake the duty of evangelization, which is the responsibility of the whole church, as their special task (Ad Gentes, 23).

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