This week, I yield my space to our Chief Shepherd, Archbishop Allen Vigneron. This is taken from his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. We will have an opportunity to study the letter during Lent. Stay tuned for details.
The very last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before he ascended into heaven were the commission to evangelize all people: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This mandate defines the Church for all time. As Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote, “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” Evangelizing is therefore a responsibility not only of bishops, priests, and religious, but of every individual Christian.
Evangelization is, very simply, proclaiming the good news of Jesus to those around us. This proclamation is to be both in word and in deed. If we share the good news of Christ’s love in words only, not demonstrably living what we preach, people will rightly suspect us of hypocrisy, and we may even give Christianity a bad name. On the other hand, if we share the good news in deeds only, people will not learn of the One who is the source of the joy and divine love we carry within us. Those around us are thirsting for the Gospel, the words of eternal life, even if they do not realize it. How can we fail to share generously what we have freely received?
Over the centuries, as the Church became accustomed to existing within almost entirely Christian societies, it became all too easy to lose sight of Christ’s mandate. Parishes and dioceses slipped almost imperceptibly into a mode of maintenance rather than mission. Many Catholics came to think of evangelization as a special calling, primarily for priests and religious in the foreign missions. But in the last half century, even as the western world has become increasingly secularized and countless people have abandoned the faith into which they were baptized, the Church has been ringing out a call for all Catholics to awaken to their baptismal identity as missionary disciples. All are being summoned to engage in a new evangelization—a renewed proclamation of the good news to the people of our time.
The term “new evangelization,” coined by Pope St. John Paul II, takes account of the fact that the Church in our time exists in a vastly changed situation. It is not that the Gospel has changed, but that we are called to a renewed effort that is “new in its ardor, methods and expression.” The new evangelization is directed not only to those in distant lands who have never heard the Gospel, but to those around us in our own post-Christian society. The new “mission territory” is our own neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and even our own homes.
So what do you think of his assessment? Have we slipped into a “mode of maintenance rather than mission?” How specifically and concretely can the Church of the Transfiguration renew its effort to evangelize and share the Good News? What is your/our “mission territory?”