Am I Evangelized? Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 02 September 2007 09:36
In response to a previous post on John Allen's observation that the last two popes have had an evangelical focus, one former Evangelical Protestant (now Catholic), asked me the elements of Catholic evangelization. I responded with some key points from Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) [linked in the title of this post]. What hit me as I re-read that great teaching on evangelization was the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?"

That may sound like a peculiar question for a priest to ask, but let me briefly summarize a few points that Paul VI made.

For starters, the Holy Father wrote, "It [evangelization] is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to
preach and teach,
to be the channel of the gift of grace,
to reconcile sinners with God, and
to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." [14]

That much most Catholics would not take exception with, I'm guessing. It seems to be much of what happens within our parishes. But, Paul also pointed out,

"She [the Church after the Lord's ascension] remains as a sign—simultaneously obscure and luminous—of a new presence of Jesus, of His departure and of His permanent presence. She prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called upon to continue. For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself." [15]

This is our challenge today, and always. Because our reaching out to the world is not simply to do good works, like establish hospitals and schools, run soup kitchens and homeless shelters, or work to promote good stewardship of the environment, or oppose abortion and promote child welfare. The Pope makes it clear that these good works must be intimately related to the proclamation of Jesus as Savior and Lord.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. What are the aspects of evangelization that Pope Paul VI said must be included in its description?

These elements are:
1. "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: 'Now I am making the whole of creation new.'" [18]

But this transformation begins with the conversion and baptism of individuals, and eventually, through them, changing the judgments, points of interest, and even the thought of society.

2. Evangelization happens through the personal witness of individuals whose lives simply don't make sense if God doesn't exist. We are to be a leaven in society - a leaven that isn't invisible, however, but that raises questions; "Why is this person or these people this way? What or who inspires them to live so differently?" Catholics often like to repeat a line (incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach always. Use words if necessary." Francis could have said something like that because his life WAS so different from the rest of society. His life choices raised all kinds of questions that he was able to address through words.

3. That's the third element - that witness cannot remain silent. It must include words! "The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed." [22]

4. A fourth element seems to be the actual RECEPTION of the word (and Word) proclaimed. Our words can't truly be called evangelizing if our listeners and observers are not also moved by the Spirit to embrace a radically new life.

5. A life transformed includes, then, the desire to share the "Good News" with others; to speak of our love for the Beloved. "Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn." [24]

In summary, Pope Paul VI, said of evangelization:
"Evangelization... is a complex process made up of varied elements:
the renewal of humanity,
explicit proclamation,
inner adherence,
entry into the community,
acceptance of signs,
apostolic initiative.

These elements may appear to be contradictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact they are complementary and mutually enriching. Each one must always be seen in relationship with the others." [24] To leave any out or accentuate one element to the detriment of another is to "impoverish or even distort it."

Here's why I'm asking the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?" Have I embraced a radically new life?

Of course, my life looks superficially different from most people's. I belong to a religious community. I've embraced celibacy as a way of life and find it fulfilling. I am a priest. But if I look at the roots of who I am (radical comes from the Latin "radix", meaning root) am I radically different from my non-Christian neighbor? I live quite comfortably, enjoy the respect and friendship of others – so much so that I know my preaching of the Gospel has been compromised to protect that good will.

Have I accepted the word and given myself to the kingdom so that I bear witness to it and proclaim it in turn? I seldom seek to speak of my faith with others outside the parish environment, where such conversations would be accepted. In other words, I speak of Jesus pretty much only in my "official" capacity as priest, and not simply as another believer.

And that's a sign of a problem. I know that I talk to others about my closest friends and members of my family. I want to introduce people I love to others. Can I say that is true with respect to my relationship with Jesus? Do I want to introduce him to people who do not know him? Do I love others enough to want to introduce them to the One who loves them enough to offer his life for them? Have I experienced the Good News in such a way that it really is good news that MUST be shared with other people who have not heard it?

When I consider these questions, and compare my life to the saints who could answer these questions affirmatively, I have to conclude that my evangelization and conversion are not yet complete. Yes, conversion is a life-long process, but it must be an intentional process, as is evangelization, and as yet it is not receiving my fullest attention. With the grace of God and fervent petitioning of him on my part (and with your prayers) that will change.

But all this means we need to re-evaluate our parish life. Are they focused on the mission of evangelization, and the formation of lay Catholics who are intent on embodying Christ's love in the world and bringing the Gospel to others? Or are we content with "we've always done things this way"? The pamphlet "Mission or Maintenance," written by Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and sold on our website bookstore is a challenging look at how our parishes are meant to be.