By AJ Garcia/Director of the Office of New Evangelization and Justice
Evangelization is a number of things, but there is one aspect that is essential to evangelization. It includes embracing virtues and learning to grow in them and improve their application in our lives. Evangelization includes participating in and receiving the sacraments. Evangelization includes being hospitable, welcoming and treating others as you want to be treated. However, any of our efforts in evangelization are incomplete without a proclamation of the Gospel and an invitation to follow Jesus Christ. It is essential.
What does it mean to proclaim or share the Gospel? In his Apostolic Exhortation to the Church in Asia, St. John Paul II said, “There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” and there is no true evangelization, “… without the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work.” The final quote from this document that I would like to share is this: “If the Church is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.” Reflecting on these same three quotes, Pope Francis tells us that “these words hold true for all of us.”
Often in evangelization – whether we work for the Church or long for a family member to return to the Church – we are in search of the “silver bullet”. We seek that one video, talk, book or program that is going to convince someone to commit to Jesus and the Church on the spot. While that is certainly possible, and the Lord can do whatever he wants, this can’t be our expectation. Pope St. John Paul II said evangelization is a joyful, patient and progressive preaching. Maybe we’re not all preachers. That’s OK. Let’s insert the word teaching or invitation in the place of preaching. We all have the capacity to invite someone to know and follow Jesus!
I would say there are four basic elements of sharing the Gospel:
1. We are created for relationship. God created us to love others, be loved by him and to return to him one day in heaven.
2. Through our sin and rejection of God, that relationship is broken.
3. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sin and be restored to the relationship we were created for.
4. Finally, if this is true, we have a decision to make: Will we repent of our sins, acknowledge Jesus as Lord and follow him?
There is a time and place to share the Gospel. It is best received and welcomed when you have a friendship … or at least a mutual respect for one another. Think about when you would be more likely to listen to someone share a passion of theirs. Are you more likely to listen to a stranger that approaches you or to someone you trust or whose reputation you respect? This is why we can’t wait for someone else to invite our family and friends back to the Church, it is our responsibility.
Sharing the Gospel and inviting someone to follow Jesus is something we should pray about doing, plan for and practice. I am not saying that we should limit the power of the Gospel and of the Holy Spirit, but we should be more intentional and thoughtful in our approach to evangelization.
Evangelization includes the things mentioned above, such as treating others nicely, being respectful, etc. However, evangelization cannot be limited to those things. Without a specific proclamation of the Gospel including an invitation to follow Jesus, what we’re doing isn’t actually evangelization.