Bishop Wack: We need more evangelical Catholics
The Holy Spirit is alive and active, renewing the church in every age. That is not what one might expect to hear, in light of the challenges, divisions and vitriol that are so evident in our world and in the Catholic Church. But I am convinced that God is leading us back into the heart of the Gospel. Though it is hardly novel to God, it may feel radical to us.
St. Paul VI wrote, “The Church exists to evangelize.” It is our raison d’être. If this is true, then why does this charge feel so revolutionary? Have we not been doing this for 2,000 years? Well, yes and no. There have been periods of great missionary fervor in the history of our church, but in the last few centuries, it would seem as though the people of God have chosen largely to focus more on building up and maintaining our beautiful institutions. The harsh reality is that if we were graded on our faithfulness to the Great Commission, we might not even get an “A” for effort.
This is not to imply that we have neglected the Gospel. In Christ’s name, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, God’s church has proclaimed the Gospel in faraway lands, established parishes and schools in every part of the world and set up hospitals, clinics and centers of care for our sisters and brothers in need. It must also be stated (and proclaimed): In each celebration of the Eucharist, the mercy and peace of God goes forth to every human heart on the face of the earth.
The harsh reality is that if we were graded on our faithfulness to the Great Commission, we might not even get an “A” for effort.
Although it is the vocation of every baptized person to proclaim the Good News, Jesus’ mandate is quite specific. He did not charge Peter and the other Apostles to “build and maintain” but to be a “fisher of men and women.” The Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the message of the Gospel boldly. As a result, great crowds came to them and were baptized—5,000 in one day! They, in turn, proclaimed Christ to others, gathering more and more into the fold. They couldn’t—and wouldn’t—be stopped. It was as basic as the air they breathed. St. Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
Have we lost that zeal? I would say yes, for the most part. Perhaps we have grown complacent over the centuries. Today, one even hears talk of a smaller, more faithful church, as if that were to be preferred over “a great multitude, which no one could count” (Rev 7:9). Instead of going out to the world, we Christians spend a great deal of time trying to shore up our structures, and the infighting and divisions are constant. Indeed, the harshest attacks on the church and her leaders quite often come from within these days.
Before we can share the depth of our faith with others, it is absolutely vital that we grow in our awareness of the love that God has for each of us.
What does evangelization look like in 2022? First of all, before we can share the depth of our faith with others, it is absolutely vital that we grow in our awareness of the love that God has for each of us. Catholics have not always been comfortable talking about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But even though that is not our preferred language, we know innately that this is what God wants for us. We can all start by asking God to help us to grow in our relationship with Jesus in the Holy Spirit.
If each one of us were convinced of God’s never-ending love for us, there would be nothing that we couldn’t do or overcome. As the psalmist says, “With my God I can scale any wall” (18:29). One of my new favorite passages of the Bible is Zechariah 8:23. The prophet lived and ministered in times of struggle and confusion—an age not unlike our own. He had faith that God’s plan was to bring salvation to all. One of his prophecies ends with great hope and anticipation in the coming of Christ. “In those days, 10 people from nations of every language will take hold, yes, take hold of the cloak of every [Jew] and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
What if we lived out our faith every day in such a way that people around us would be compelled to say, “I don’t know what it is about her, but I want to feel the same way”?
What if we lived out our faith every day in such a way that people around us would be compelled to say, “I don’t know what it is about her, but I want to feel the same way”? People don’t want to hear us talk about the faith; they want to experience Jesus.
How shall we talk and act, so as to make disciples? St. Paul wrote about this very thing in a letter to the newly baptized: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” (Col 3:12). In modern parlance, the Apostle urges us to wear our faith on our sleeve. Do you love the Lord? Then love your neighbor. Do you experience the mercy of God? Then be merciful and patient with others. Are you convinced that Jesus Christ died and rose so that you could be in paradise one day? Then let that joy inform the way you interact with those around you.
One way to draw people in is to ask them about their experience of God. “Tell me about a time in your life when you knew that God was with you.” After listening to their story, share why your Catholic faith is important to you. Another easy exercise is to ask someone, “How can I pray for you?” Conversely, ask them to pray for you. Interacting with people on social media in a positive light gives more opportunities to evangelize.
Pope Francis is clearly right when he urges us to go out to the people on the margins of society. Yes, this means serving our brothers and sisters who are hungry, homeless and hurting. At the same time, the people on the margins today are those who have left the church because of one reason or many, as well as those who are looking for some meaning in life.
Go to them. Do not be afraid to share the love of the Lord with them. Go.