Evangelization. I think sometimes this word scares us as Catholic Christians.
Maybe it’s because we think it means standing on a street corner with a sign saying “Have you been saved?” Or possibly we envision having to talk to an atheist co-worker about Church and attempting to answer the myriad of questions about the Catholic faith that they throw at us, only with the purpose of tripping us up. Sometimes it is just easier as a Catholic to come to Mass, participate in a bible study or ministry with other Catholics, and then just live your day-to-day life as a “good” person.
During the Easter season, the Church uses the readings to help us to delve deeper into our call as Catholic Christians to “evangelize.” In fact, on the Feast of the Ascension on May 13th, we will hear what is often called the “Great Commision.” Jesus says to the disciples before going into heaven, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:15-16)
In the first reading on that day, we also hear about the Ascension as told in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus tells his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
In these (and other biblical passages), Jesus himself lays the groundwork of what it means to “evangelize.” He is clear about several things.
First, evangelization is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and being a witness to the work Jesus has done in our own life. In Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World), Pope Paul VI clarifies this point. “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.” (EN 22). But it goes beyond just speaking about Jesus, which can be intimidating at times. Instead, Jesus tells us to be “witnesses.” This means that we evangelize best when we tell people of our own, personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. How has He touched us personally? How have we witnessed his unique and powerful love specifically for us?
Second, while he calls us to evangelize “to every creature” and “the ends of the earth,” he establishes that evangelization starts at home (“in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria”). The disciples weren’t expected or even encouraged to skip their neighbors in this process. Evangelization, by its very nature, has a ripple effect. When we effectively witness to the love of Jesus Christ among our own families, friends, and even the St. Francis community, His Church grows organically.
Third, when evangelization is done effectively, it demands a response from the person listening to us. Their hearts are touched. They feel convicted. They decide to change and become believers themselves. I know one thing – this is the part that scares me the most. What if my witness of Jesus doesn’t affect the person I am witnessing to? What if they laugh in my face rather than change their hearts? Don’t worry!! There is a fourth point.
Fourth and most importantly, Jesus says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Jesus doesn’t expect us to do this alone! He, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the one working when we are evangelizing. It’s His words touching hearts, not ours. All He requires of us is to be open to the Holy Spirit working through our witness.
So don’t be scared of evangelization! It’s the very purpose of the Church and of our lives as Christian people. Next time you feel a tugging on your heart to speak to a family member, friend, or fellow St. Francis parishioner about Jesus and to witness to His love in your life, just remember He wants His Holy Spirit to work through you. Just quickly pray in your heart, “Holy Spirit, help me to say what you need me to say in this moment” or even more simply, “Come Holy Spirit.” Then trust that He will come and will work through you. You may not see the fruits immediately, but He always has a purpose when we preach His gospel and witness to its power. There are 2000+ years of Catholic Christian history to show for it. How blessed are we to be just a small part of this “Great Commission.”
This blog was written by Danielle Milliken, Coordinator of Digital Media & Communications here at St. Francis of Assisi. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi, please contact Joseph at [email protected].