Evangelization Is the Responsibility of Every Catholic
by Father John Hardon, S.J.
Whenever St. Paul is referred to without identifying him, he is simply called
He was so completely identified with the mission of preaching Christ that
his name and the apostolate are almost synonymous. No one in the Churchs
history is more worthy of the title Apostle, because no one more than he zealously
proclaimed Christ to the world. He is called Apostle of the Gentiles. It means
Apostle of the world.
His apostolic zeal led him over mountains and across the seas; and his description
of the trials he underwent in preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified remains
for all times a marvel for others to imitate.
All of this is only by way of prelude to look behind the labors and sufferings
that Paul experienced, and try to see what finally motivated him to such heroic
lengths, even to the final shedding of his blood for the holy Name.
The setting in which Paul declared, for all future generations, why Christ
must be proclaimed, occurs in his letter to the Romans, the tenth chapter.
In context, he is speaking sorrowfully about the way Israel as a nation rejected
the Messiah when He came. Paul sympathized with the Jews of his day, especially
those who regretted to see the ancient law come to an end with Christ. Paul
understood. He, therefore, pleaded with his own people to reread the prophets
and see for themselves that a day had to come, for that was the name of the
Messiah, the One who would come; and that day had dawned!
Faith in Christ makes a person pleasing to God. Paul then goes to the logical
steps that faith in Christ, as a condition for salvation, implied. Pauls
account will be for all times the divinely established formula for the apostolate.
We listen to Paul: If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord; and if you believe
in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved. By
believing from the heart, you are made righteous. By confessing with your
lips, you are saved. All belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however
many ask for help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be
saved. But they will not ask His help unless they believe in Him. And they
will not hear of Him unless they get a preacher. And they will never have
a preacher unless one is sent.
Five Stages of Evangelism
Here we have in capsule form the whole logic of evangelization. It comes
in five stages. First, we are saved if we profess Christ. Second, we shall
profess Christ if we believe in Him. Third, we shall believe in Him if we
have heard of Him. Fourth, we hear of Christ if someone who believes in Him
proclaims Him. And fifth, Christ is proclaimed if a proclaimer is sent. Evangelization,
therefore, consists of five activities, one following on the other, and each
depending absolutely on the one that precedes. These activities are: mission,
proclamation, faith, profession and salvation. Let us look at each in sequence,
and as we go along apply its implication to ourselves.
A mission is a sending, and in fact it corresponds exactly to apostolate.
Mission is derived from the Latin, and apostolate from the Greek. Evangelization
begins with an apostle being sent. Call it being assigned by superiors, or
commissioned by the bishop, or directed by the Pope. No matter; it assumes
that someone is authorized by the Church to evangelize. This authorization
is of the essence of the apostolate, and may take on a variety of forms. Ecclesiastical
approval for publication is a type of authorization. So is canonical confirmation
of the constitutions of a religious institute. So are all the rules or by-laws
of organizations of zealous lay people. If they are to merit the title of
apostolates, they must somehow be approved by the Church. In the Catholic
Church no one, even intelligibly, can be said to send himself. And there is
no apostolate unless or until or insofar as Church authority in some definite
way entitles a person or an institution to evangelize. The blessings of divine
grace are tied in with this authorization.
Compare two men in the sixteenth century, both ostensibly proclaiming Christ,
Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola. The one was careful in the extreme to obtain
the approval of the Pope on his efforts, and received a mandate from the Vicar
of Christ. The other rejected the Pope, and went off on his own. History is
the judge as to which one helped the Church of Christ and unified the People
of God; and which one did just the opposite.
St. Paul calls the second stage preaching the Good News or proclaiming the
word of Christ. There is deep mystery implied in this proclamation. In God's
ordinary providence He uses external means to confer internal grace. So true
is this that normally He requires some kind of verbal communication by word
of eye or ear in order to communicate actual grace to the mind and heart.
Christ spoke. He spoke often. He spoke in detail. He spoke in sermons and
parables and allegories. He spoke to individuals and He spoke to crowds. He
spoke; it seems, for hours at length. And more than once He became exhausted
from the verbal communication, but He never ceased speaking. Even to His dying
gasp on the cross, He was still preaching. And after the resurrection, He
spoke until the day He left the earth, in visible form, to return to the Father.
His final message to the Apostles was to continue the verbal communication
to tell nations, passing on to generations yet unborn, what they had been
given by Him, and what He had received from the Father, the mysteries hidden
in the bosom of the Godhead from all eternity.
So it began and so it has continued ever since. Peter opened the proclamation
on Pentecost Sunday; it was carried on by the other Apostles, and extended
by them literally as Christ ordered them, to the ends of the earth. The apostle
James reached Spain; Thomas penetrated India; and Pauls missionary journeys
leave us breathless, even today, to realize in how many places he preached,
and how many people he reached in answer to the Masters command.
What is beneath this, however, is that no Christian is exempt from doing
the same, according to his or her state in life, and the circumstances in
which they find themselves. What Paul said of himself, Woe is me if I proclaim
not Christ, all of us should say of ourselves. Not only our sanctity but
also our salvation depends on many things. Among them is our practice of charity
whereby unconsciously or deliberately, consistently, and even aggressively,
we bring Christ and His teaching to the attention of others.
Those who do not share our faithyou name them, (cults and sects)put
us often to shame with the zeal they have to proclaim what little of the truth
they possess, and much of it is downright error!
As the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, declared in his first encyclical,
the world has a right to Christ. Habet jus ad Christum. Do we hear
that word right? If others have the right, then we have the duty to proclaim
the Savior, and make known His word of salvation! And our salvation depends
on how zealously we fulfill that duty!
Faith and Profession
As we look back to apostolic times, we ask: Who were the persons who zealously
proclaimed Jesus? Many even to martyrdom? Were they not those who believed
in Christ? After all, no one even talks about, let alone proclaims, what he
doesnt believe in. And no one makes the effort to convince others, unless
he himself is convinced. Reread St. Peters two letters or Pauls letters
to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. Every chapter, almost ever verse
and word reveal men of deep faith, the kind that Christ said would move mountains,
and that He promised would fructify from a mustard seed to a great tree. This
is exactly what happened. James in Spain, Irenaeus in France, Augustine in
England, Patrick in Ireland, Anscar in Scandinavia, Cyril and Methodius among
the Slavs, Boniface in Germany, to mention some countries in Europe. They
were all men of deep faith. Their faith converted millions. Only faith generates
faith. Only believers beget other believers. This is the divine law of supernatural
propagation. Ever since Christ promised the miracles of conversion that would
be performed by those who believe, our responsibility is too clear to require
explanation. We shall be as zealous proclaimers of Christ as we are firm believers
in Christ. And all the books written to the contrary notwithstanding, there
are no exceptions!
It is not, however, enough to just get people to believe in Christ, as necessary
as faith is. St. Paul distinguishes between believing in the heart, and professing
with the lips. This was not a clever turn of phrase. It spells out the difference
between internal faith and external practice; between calling oneself a Christian
and behaving like one; between saying ones prayers, even attending Mass and
receiving the sacraments, and living the kind of life that a true follower
of Christ is supposed to live. Here no one is deceived! Why is this important?
Because while God is pleased with our faith and requires belief in His Christ
for salvation, He wants this faith to be animated by charity. Profession of
the Catholic faith has always been demanding. Let me add, provided its the
Catholic faith! As one Jewish executive recently told me on an airplane flight,
If I ever become a Christian, it will be a Catholic. The Catholic Church
makes demands on its people. I like that. What a pity that some people misunderstand
this plain fact of religious psychology. The true faith cannot be soft! If
its true, it must be from God. And whoever thought that God is not demanding?
The cozy gods of the Gentiles are the concoctions of their brains.
It must take generosity to profess what is true. In fact, every deviation
from the true faith, since the time of Christ, has been a misguided attempt
to make Christianity easy. Easy to believe. Easy to practice. And easy to
live by, as though the Master had never said, Anyone who does not take up
his cross and follow in My footsteps is not worthy of Me.
The salvation that Christ promised, and that St. Paul proclaimed, is not
only the final attainment of heaven after death; it is also, and already in
this life, the possession of Gods friendship and the enjoyment of His grace.
Every letter of St. Paul preaches salvation through Christ. It might be useful
to stress that salvation means deliverance. We are saved from something. Those
who hear the word of God, believe in His Son, and profess their faith in their
lives are promised deliverance many times over. They, lets change the pronoun,
we, are delivered from sin by the infusion of divine grace into our souls.
We become friends of God. We are delivered from the guilt we incurred by our
sins. Guilt always produces sadness, the sadness of a disordered spirit, out
of harmony with God. Being saved, we acquire a deep sense of peace. We are
delivered from the fear of Gods punishments that we deserved for our sins,
and are given the assurance that God loves us. We are finally delivered from
our weakness, and in St. Pauls words, receive the strength to live according
to the Good News.
Those who experience Christs saving grace, not only look forward to its
consummation in the life to come, but experience it here and now. They understand,
as no one else can, what it means to be truly happy.
Thats the reward of salvation already in this life, the kind of happiness
that Christ promises to those who, believing in Him, do His will. But they
want to share what they have undeservedly received with everyone who comes
into their lives. Proclaiming Christ means telling others, what Jesus has
done for me, He will also do for you, if only you believe in Him.
Vol. 27 - #1, January - March 1994, pp. 14-17
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica