by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Pentecost Sunday, the weekend of May 30-31, we will observe our second Evangelization Sunday — a day raising awareness of the mandate that we have all received from Jesus to go and make disciples.
When I was in the seminary, the rector one time described an intensive, six-week summer program that made it practically impossible to get a summer job as “voluntary, but not optional.” In other words, if you wanted to be a seminarian, then you were voluntarily choosing to participate in this program. Being involved in the work of evangelization is a voluntary, but not optional, component of our Catholic faith.
As with our pastoral priority for conversion, St. Paul is an excellent model for our evangelization efforts. Paul’s response to the Damascus Road experience was to learn as much as he could about Jesus. Even more important to him than learning about Jesus, Paul spent a great deal of time in prayer — continuing his encounter with Jesus. Paul did not just want to know about Jesus; he desired to know Jesus. Out of his ongoing encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul is driven to spread the truth of God’s love, revealed in Jesus, to as many people as possible.
As we embark in our archdiocese on a renewed and more intentional effort to evangelize — to share with others the good news of our Catholic faith — St. Paul serves as the perfect patron. Like Paul, we, too, have been commissioned by Jesus — not just to keep the faith, but to spread the faith to others.
Paul refused to let anything impede him from fulfilling this mission to bring the Gospel to others. He refused to let beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks or expulsions from towns deter him from proclaiming the truth of God’s love revealed in his Son, Jesus. In light of Paul’s heroism, how can we allow: 1) fear of social rejection; 2) the apathy of others; or 3) the awareness of our own limitations and ineptness prevent us from sharing Jesus and his Gospel with others?
Each one of us is called to be a missionary — to share the faith with others. Each one of us shares in the mission of the church to share with others the truth, the beauty and the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You might be asking yourself: How can I share my Catholic faith in the particular circumstances of my life? How am I supposed to be about the work of making disciples for Jesus?
First of all, many of you are already doing this task of evangelization, even though you may not be conscious of it. For instance, the primary goal of Christian marriage is not just to spend your life making your wife or husband happy in this world. The real goal of the Christian husband or wife is to do everything that he or she can to bring their spouse to heaven.
Christian parents are evangelists. Catholic parents do not just cooperate with God to be co-creators of new human life in this world. Christian parents, through God’s grace, have the ability to transmit the gift of eternal life to their children. The Christian family has been a tool the Lord has used for 2,000 years in making and forming disciples — in passing the faith not so much across geography, but across generations.
Christian parents are called to be the first teachers of the faith to their children. Certainly, they do this by knowing the faith and talking about the faith to their children. However, they do this even more importantly and powerfully by their example of living the Christian life with fidelity and integrity. Strong and joyful Catholic families not only pass the faith on to the next generation, they also inspire others to seek whatever it is that gives them such a spirit of love, hope and joy.
No matter what the circumstances of your life, no matter if you are married or single, no matter if you are working or retired, no matter what kind of work you do, you are called to be a witness of Jesus Christ by your life. You are called to be living in such a way that you are drawing others to Jesus. Others should see in us a peace, a hope, a joy, a capacity to love that provokes them to ask us: What makes this woman so hopeful? What makes this man so happy? What gives these Catholics such peace amid the same struggles and problems that I am facing?
Those enduring serious illness or experiencing other physical suffering have a special opportunity to witness to the power of Jesus to give hope and joy even in the face of great adversity. It may be your witness of hope during a time of suffering that the Lord desires to use to inspire another person to want to come to know Jesus.
Recently, I read an article on evangelization written by a man who has been in prison for 20 years for a serious crime that he committed. While in prison, he had a profound conversion experience. He now devotes his energy to trying to share the gift of his Catholic faith with his fellow inmates. There is no circumstance where it is impossible to be witnesses for Jesus and his Gospel.
In your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your social circles, you are called always and everywhere to be a witness of Jesus. To do this, you must manifest with authenticity in every conceivable circumstance the hope, peace and joy of the Gospel. You must also know your Catholic faith and be able to explain it to others. Even more important than knowing how to articulate accurately the doctrines of our Catholic faith is to be able to share with others the difference your Catholic faith makes in your daily living.
Often, I tell those to be confirmed that it is not so important that they can answer any question that I might ask them on the night of their confirmation. However, what is important is that they are able to answer their peers in a clear and compelling way when they ask them: Why are you Catholic? Or why do you believe in Jesus? Or why do you go to Mass every Sunday?
As we draw near to the great feast of Pentecost, let us ask St. Paul to pray for us that we are able to open our hearts to be renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can share effectively the gift of our Catholic faith with others. Let us ask Paul to pray for us that we will imitate his boldness and zeal in our efforts to communicate the hope and joy of the Gospel.
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