“We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?”
- From Pope Francis’ homily at Mass, November 20, 2015, Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in Bangui, Central African Republic
It is seldom that a Catholic leader utters any longer such a truth, and it is especially encouraging to hear it uttered by the pope himself. The New Evangelization consists, not merely in inviting non-practicing Catholics to return to Mass, but rather, in bringing the ancient faith – the Gospel – to “every ethnic group, religion, and culture” that lacks the Gospel, that even unknowingly longs for it, and that has a God-given right to learn about the teachings and salvific work of Jesus Christ. Perhaps a better name for this urgent and ongoing enterprise is the Old Evangelization – that spreading of the Gospel directly commissioned by Our Lord at His Ascension, initiated ten days later on Pentecost Sunday, and which is intended by God to continue until the consummation of this world.
By contrast, the New Evangelization is so often undermined by other modern Church programs and an excessive sensitivity to possibly offending non-Catholics with Catholic beliefs. I dare say that every convert to the faith has experienced a substantial degree of being offended by the truth. It is part and parcel of conversion and of the necessary dying to one’s own sins and errors. Hence, the Church as a whole, and the individual Catholic in particular, should not obsess over this issue. In spreading the faith, one should never be harsh, insulting, deceptive, or manipulative. But one must always be clear and uncompromising about the faith, and let those who will cooperate with God’s grace, and those who will resist it, make their choice. But all people have a natural right to hear the fullness of the truth presented without deliberate omissions that might offend.
More specifically, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue must never become so perverted as to hinder to any degree the Church’s daily fulfilling of the original Great Commission given by Christ. Otherwise, they will be causes, not of peace and understanding between peoples, but of religious tepidity, lukewarmness, and indifference among the faithful.
All the world cries out for Christ. Probably most of humanity is unaware of its profound need for Him, of the aching and longing that simmers in the depths of its soul. To bring Christ to others, then, is not a matter of vanity, but of generosity. It is not the depth of arrogance to spread and defend the faith, but the height of mercy and charity. And it is a responsibility every Catholic accepted at their Confirmation.
Christ did not say, “Stay home and tolerate the nations.” Rather, He said, “Go out to all the nations, and baptize and teach them all that I have commanded you.” This is the one and the only evangelization. Anything substantially to the contrary is a non-evangelization.
It is the duty and privilege of all able Catholics to be our Lord’s messengers, here and now, so that the Advent of Christ continues until His Second and final Coming.