Evangelization. The word can make us feel uncomfortable and apprehensive. As Christians, we know that we should be sharing the good news. But it’s easy to think that it’s a calling for others—missionaries, religious, those in lay ministry. After all, they know more than we do about the faith, and they have the proper training. Where would we even begin?
It’s not as difficult as you might think. In this issue, John and Therese Boucher outline four simple steps that anyone can do to share their faith: praying, caring, sharing faith in conversations, and daring to invite others into a faith-filled community. The Bouchers are authors and teachers who have been involved in Church evangelization efforts for many years. We hope their time-tested wisdom, adapted from their book Sharing the Faith That You Love, will help spark a greater desire to share your faith and encourage you to become confident in your ability to do so.
God’s invitation to share your faith may have begun with a growing concern about your adult children or about nieces and nephews who don’t go to church. Perhaps God is speaking to you through the sparse attendance at the Sunday liturgies at your parish or the news of more parish closings. Perhaps you have been jarred by surveys that show a steep decline in the number of Catholics who actively practice their faith.
Your own experiences and observations, as well as the statistics, are just a few of the ways God might be calling you to find new ways to share the faith that you love. But how do you take steps to do that when it seems foreign or overwhelming? How do you embrace what the Church has called “the New Evangelization” and become what Pope Francis has called “a missionary disciple”?
Here’s one definition of “evangelize” that might help: “To evangelize does not mean simply to teach a doctrine, but to proclaim Jesus Christ by one’s words and actions, that is, to make oneself an instrument of his presence and action in the world” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, 2). So let’s explore what it means to be instruments of Christ’s presence so that we can learn how better to share our faith.
A Baptismal Calling. Through Baptism, you have been called to embrace Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. And through the Holy Spirit, whom you received at Baptism, you have been strengthened to live out this calling in simple but dynamic ways. The living waters of the baptismal font are not meant to stagnate. No, Baptism is an ongoing reality. It empowers you to acknowledge Jesus in your everyday world, especially in ways that bring people to him.
You might be wondering, “How could I ever bring anyone to God or to the Church? I’m no expert evangelist!” But you don’t need to be an expert; you just need to have experienced Jesus’ love. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, wrote, “Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (120).
The fact is, you are probably already witnessing to your faith by the way you care for people in the course of your daily life. Situations like these can become perfect opportunities to help people experience Jesus in new ways. In the words of Pope Francis, “Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers” (The Joy of the Gospel, 127).
Moved by the Spirit. When Jesus was baptized in River Jordan, he wasn’t just immersed in water; he was plunged into the depths of his Father’s love for him. He experienced the power of the Holy Spirit flooding his soul and driving him outward to the whole world:
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
Then the Holy Spirit sent him out to share the good news of God’s love with everyone. Can you imagine the people’s surprise when they heard Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, where he had grown up? His faith and zeal were apparent as he told the people that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in him. St. Luke tells us, “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22).
Through the sacraments of initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—we too are gifted with the Holy Spirit and sent to continue Jesus’ evangelizing mission. We are invited to bring the good news of Jesus into our families, homes, neighborhoods, communities, parishes, and workplaces.
Pope Paul VI, in the landmark 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi [Evangelization in the Modern World], encouraged us as individuals and as parishes to consciously choose evangelization: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (14).
Gifted by the Spirit. God wants to give you an inner fire and a new boldness to evangelize. But it comes only from the joy of encountering him and knowing the magnificent love of his Spirit. As Pope Francis wrote, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” (The Joy of the Gospel, 120). Or as the preparation document for the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization states, “The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of ‘being’ with Jesus and living with Jesus . . . ; and, in a corresponding way, of ‘feeling’ compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful” (Lineamenta, 12).
Just as Jesus promised a new Pentecost to the apostles (Acts 1:8), he promises you a new outpouring of his Holy Spirit, who is the source of zeal, compassion, and all the gifts that you need to evangelize. Like the disciples and apostles in the early Church, God will grant you as many “Pentecosts,” or outpourings of the Spirit, as you need to share the good news about Jesus in your daily life.
The gift of zeal is just one of many different gifts and charisms that grow in you as you surrender more completely to the Holy Spirit and ask for the grace of missionary discipleship. Since the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization, your challenge is to receive him as a divine Person who loves you and who wants to be your teacher.
So ask the Spirit to fill you and to empower you for Christ’s mission. Give him permission to endow you with all the spiritual gifts you need to reach out to people with the good news. Each of us must, as John Paul II urged, “allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40).
In the Zeal of the Spirit. Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. John’s Gospel recounts that Jesus “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). He came as the Missionary (Latin for “one who is sent”). He leapt across time, space, languages, age groups, and cultures to reveal God’s unconditional love for us. His mission gave birth to the Church.
And so we, his disciples, are also sent, with no less of a calling than that of a missionary who leaves his family and travels around the world for the sake of the gospel. Even though you might only leave your front door, when you step out of that door, you are sent out in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That is why the last thing we hear at a Sunday liturgy is to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
So where do we go from here? In the next two articles, we will talk more specifically about four simple ways to bring the good news of Jesus to those whom we encounter each day. Through praying for them, showing we care, sharing our faith in conversations, and inviting them into our faith communities, we can be a part of the New Evangelization that our world so desperately needs.