The Church is losing members. Among millennials, fully 50% who were raised in the Church no longer self-identify as Catholics.¹ And most of the Church’s members aren’t practicing. In 2015 only 24% percent of American Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis.² Each member of our parish is called to the work of evangelization, that is, the spreading of the Good News of Jesus to every inch of the world and the world’s people (GDC, 46). But is the attrition of our members the only reason we should evangelize? In this article, we will explore how Jesus, the Church, someone you know, and you yourself need you to evangelize.
Jesus needs you to evangelize. As followers of Jesus, called disciples, we are called to know and love Jesus. But we are also called to know and love Jesus’ message and His mission. Jesus gave the disciples His mission after the Resurrection. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is a great co-mission we share with Jesus. If we are truly to love Jesus we must love his mission and make it our own.
The Church needs you to evangelize. One common objection to the call of evangelization is that only trained professionals or the clergy should evangelize. But on the contrary, the laity (non-ordained members of the Church) are part of God’s plan for the Church. And the Church exists to evangelize (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14). The laity have not only a duty but a right to participate in the work of evangelization (Apostolicam actuositatem, 3). This is a right that no highly trained clergy can take from the laity. By participating in the Church’s work of evangelization, we fulfill our role in the Church. The Catholic Church in America could be compared to the farmer in Matthew chapter 20 who is looking for workers in his vineyard. “He saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” (Matthew 20:3-4). The Lord’s vineyard is the whole world, and we are called by the Lord to not stand idle (Christifidelis Laici, 1).
Someone you know needs you to evangelize. Another common objection to evangelization is a feeling that speaking of religion or God outside of Church is inappropriate. But again, part of God’s plan for the Church is that we would be the “salt” or “leaven” out in the world. More specifically, the laity have a distinct “secular character” that they are called to live out. The world becomes the main stage for the laity to fulfill their unique call (Christifidelis Laici, 15). It is not enough to just attend Mass and be kind to our neighbors, for “how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14) As Tom Forrest puts so directly, “Too few Catholics realize that evangelization is the only adequate and convincing proof of their Christ-like love for both God and neighbor.”³
You need you to evangelize. Finally, as we have seen, it is important to note that evangelization is not just a practical need, but comes out of the very vocation of the Church and the laity. Put another way, evangelization fulfills our very purpose and the plan God has for the Church, which exists to evangelize. Evangelization is the mission of the Church, and that means we are first and foremost responsible for spreading the Gospel to every inch of our own life. We must evangelize ourselves! Pope Paul the VI strongly stated that when a member of the Church “fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church [they] must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 2). Sharing in the mission of the Church is a gift we are given. (Christifidelis Laici, 2). It is not possible for an unconvinced Christian faith to last merely on habit and tradition. We must evangelize ourselves most importantly through active participation in the Sacred Liturgy (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4) allowing God to apply the Good News of Jesus directly to our lives.
Jesus, the Church, someone you know, and you yourself need you to evangelize. Are we laboring in the Lord’s vineyard? Or are we standing idle. Will we answer the call and fulfill our right and duty to evangelize? We must feel as strongly as St. Paul who said “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
³ Tom Forrest, CSsR, “Why Should Catholics Evangelize” in John Paul II and the New Evangelization, ed. Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 2006, 31, 34
This blog was written by Edmund Mitchell, Director of Catechesis & Evangelization 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].