By Eric Sammons - OSV Newsweekly, 12/11/2011
Much ink has been spilled in recent years discussing the “New Evangelization.” Blessed John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI have insisted that the Church embrace this new evangelization, by which we share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those outside, inside and estranged from the Church.
More recently and closer to home, many American bishops have made the “New Evangelization” a high priority in their dioceses, following the call of the pontiffs.
Does this emphasis on evangelization mean that each parish should institute a program or committee for evangelization? Should each parish have an evangelization committee alongside their pro-life committee, youth ministry and 50+ club? Yes and no. Of course, there is no harm in having an evangelization committee in a parish (I was head of such a parish committee at one time), and such groups can accomplish many worthy goals. Furthermore, evangelization teams can light a fire at a parish in a unique way, helping others to see the need to reach out to others both inside and outside the parish with the Gospel.
However, popes and bishops have made clear that evangelization is not simply another program in a long list of outreaches that the Church is involved in. Pope Paul VI stated categorically that “the Church exists to evangelize” (Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World)). Furthermore, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “the mission of evangelization … is an expression of [the Church’s] very nature (Ubicumque et Semper (“Everywhere and Always”)). Reaching out to others to witness the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is not another program or activity of the Church: It is her lifeblood. Thus, evangelization must permeate every aspect of the Church’s work, from the family to the parish to the diocesan and even national and international levels. A spirit of evangelization must exist in everything we do.
As Catholics, we must cultivate this spirit of evangelization in our own spheres of influence, which usually include the family and the parish. When we see our churches full on Christmas and Easter, are we annoyed because we can’t use our normal parking space? Or do we try to think of ways of making strangers feel more welcome? When we hear of a loved one who has left the Church, do we subconsciously (and maybe consciously) think “good riddance” because they never were a very “good” Catholic anyway? Or do we begin to pray earnestly for the loved ones and contemplate ways we can invite them to reconsider their decision?
Furthermore, we need to infuse evangelization into our existing apostolic activities. If we work in a soup kitchen, we can take some extra time to talk to those we serve about their lives and perhaps invite them to Mass the following Sunday. If we are working on pro-life activities with non-Catholic Christians, we can witness to them about our joy in receiving the sacraments and the satisfaction we have knowing we have an infallible guide in the Church.
Even activities that might not seem to lend themselves to evangelization are still ripe for sharing the Gospel, for any activity in which people interact is a garden for planting seeds of faith. For example, if you help with the altar servers at your parish, you can work to teach them the beauty and solemnity of the Mass — and teach them why it should be beautiful and solemn. In all we do we can help to bring people closer to Christ and his Church, which is the core of evangelization.
As we go about our daily activities in our homes, our parishes and our workplaces, let us follow the lead of the Church and cultivate a spirit of evangelization in all we do.
Read More: "How to welcome faithful back into fold"
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