Evangelization:  A Call For All

"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age". Matthew 28:18-20


What is Evangelization?

Matthew's Gospel ends with Jesus giving these instructions to the disciples.

These verses and Luke 12:49 "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" are the opening lines to Go and Make Disciples. We are called to be people of faith. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns within us. This fire calls us to share our faith with others. The word for this is evangelization.

Evangelization is not a word that has been used a lot among Catholics. As Dave Nodar writes Catholics say "Isn't evangelization and missionary activities something Protestants do?"

What is your reaction when you hear the word “evangelization”?  Do you think of Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons knocking on your door?  Or evangelicals standing on the street corner or on TV telling you that you must turn your heart over to Jesus?

These might be forms of evangelization but they are not the type of evangelization I wish to talk about here.  I would not go door to door with the purpose of pushing my faith on someone else.  I am not going to stand on the street corner and preach.  The Church does not ask us to proselytize. We are not to force "anyone to join our church" (Go and Make Disciples, 55). We believe in the Freedom of Religion.

The evangelization I am talking about comes in two parts.  As Go and Make Disciples states, evangelization must be inward and outward (23). Inward evangelize is to evangelize ourselves, yes ourselves, by continuing to learn more about Jesus through prayer, study, and living our faith.  In "Go and Make Disciples" the bishops write "This is crucial: we must be converted-and we must continue to be converted!" (14).

When our hearts are converted the fire of the Holy Spirit burns within us and we move to the second part of evangelization; to share and make our faith evident to the world.  Really, it is living our faith in a way that shows it means something to us. What did many of the people do when Jesus healed them? They went and told others about Jesus (ex. The Samaritan woman, John 4:28-29)

Evangelization is something we are all called to share in. Jesus came into the world to bring God's love, wisdom, and truth to all the people. In baptism we die to this world to rise in new life with Jesus. In accepting this new life, we become children of God and are called to bring Christ to the world.

We live in a world that certainly needs to hear of God's wisdom and love. We live in a world where many are focused on the self. "What's in it for me" is the question some respond with when asked to do something. We live in a world where many see the accumulation of material wealth. Look at the current economic and world crisis. We criticize the government for spending more than it has. People do the same thing. We keep buying more to try to find us happiness but true happiness cannot be found in material wealth.

It is time for us to reevaluate our values and priorities in life as individuals and as a society. As the bishops write, "This gospel message gives us a different vision of what life is about. We see a pattern of love, hope, and meaning because the intimate relationship with God in which were created, lost through sin, has been restored by Jesus. . . We do not view life's purpose as the gathering of power or riches, but as the gracious invitation to live for God and others in love. We do not calculate what we think is possible, but rather, know the Spirit of God always make new things possible" (21).

We also need to realize our own role in the economic and financial crisis. For example, some people want to put all the blame on the banks for lending to people who couldn't afford it. The bank was looking to make a profit and was willing to take a lot of risk for the potential profit. However, doesn't the individual have some responsibility for borrowing more than they could afford.

It is not just money and materialism that is a problem today. Relativism is spreading. Relativism throws out "values." It proclaims that there is no universal truth so you can do whatever you want as long as it does not bother anyone else. With this attitude morality is slipping away.

This is the world we live in. It is a world that needs to hear God's word (cf. Go and Make Disciples, 17). Much of this evangelization needs to be done by the "professionals" like the Pope, the bishops, and educated theologians. Yet, every single Christian has a share in this mission. In this world, there are many who are members of the Body of Christ by their baptism but have lost the sense of faith in their lives. In fact, whole cultures are losing this sense of faith (Nodar, 3).

We are not talking about professional “preaching” here with an extensive education. Look at the story of Amos in the Old Testament. Amos was a farmer and a tender of sycamore trees. But God called him to go to the North country and prophesize there. Amos preached against the injustice in the North. God will supply the wisdom we need through the Holy Spirit.

As Christian disciples we are called to stand up for what it right. In his Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (October 2, 1974), Pope Paul VI says, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." Teachers of the faith are important to evangelize believers to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus but witnesses are the ones to bring people in to hear the teachers.

While all Christian disciples are called to be witnesses to the faith, the laity have a special place in witnessing. (Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN), 70) You are the ones who live next to and work with the unchurched. You see the people before they ever come to church (Go and Make Disciples , 83) If you show you care about them and that your faith is important to you, you evangelize by actions rather than words (cf. Go and Make Disciples, 35). Then, perhaps as Paul VI writes in Evangelii Nuntiandi, "Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such as witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one" (21).

As Catholics, while there is a strong history of missionary work, largely done by religious orders, we have not been evangelizers. Now, as Nodar writes "In the face of directly anti-gospel proclamations that are constantly being proclaimed to Christians in many countries there needs to be the clear proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and his Gospel" (3).

We hear many messages in the world that are contrary to Catholic Christian values. We are tempted to follow these values because they can (seem to) bring much pleasure in this world. That is why evangelization begins within us. We must be strong in our own faith to bring Christ to the world.

The question becomes how to bring Christ to the world. The popes have begun using the phrase "The New Evangelization." There is nothing new in the message. It is the same gospel that has been proclaimed to the world since Jesus himself first proclaimed it. What needs to be new is how we bring it to the world. The use of technology like this web site is part of this new evangelization. Another is to realize the vital part that the laity play in this as witnesses to the faith.

Are you still finding it difficult to envision the Catholic Church as an evangelizing church? Paul VI writes that "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection" (EN, 14). Evangelization is part of everything we do as Church. The very celebration of the Eucharist brings Christ to the people present and that is evangelization, done by the power of God, working through his people. Proclaiming the Word of God, preaching, and the Eucharist at Mass also serve to evangelize the people to a deeper faith so that they may evangelize the world (cf. EN 15, 24).

There is no magic method of evangelization. It needs to be done differently in each culture and in some ways for each individual. Paul VI writes "Evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addresses, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life. But on the other hand, evangelization risks losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it." (EN, 63).

How do we do this? "Every evangelizer is expected to have a reference for truth" (EN, 78). Learning specific techniques for evangelization is important but ultimately what we have to do is let the Holy Spirit work through us (EN, 75). We must keep ourselves grounded. In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends out the Twelve on their first mission. In Mark 6:30-34 they return to Jesus. We need to constantly return to Jesus in the Mass and in personal prayer.

Go and Make Disciples was written to help us develop a new plan for evangelization. For this plan the bishops developed three goals:

  • "Goal I: To bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others" (46).
  • "Goal II: To invite all people in the United States, whatever their social or cultural background, to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith" (53).
  • "Goal III: To foster gospel values in our society, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and the common good of our society, so that our nation may continue to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ" (56).

For this plan to work, "Every element of the parish must respond to the evangelical imperative—priests and religious, lay persons, staff, ministers, organizations, social clubs, parochial schools, and parish religious education programs. Otherwise, evangelization will be something a few people in the parish see as their ministry—rather than the reason for the parish's existence and the objective of every ministry in the parish" (Go and Make Disciples, 85).

For our evangelization efforts to be be successful, evangelization must be part of who we are (Go and Make Disciples, 87). It must be part of our prayer lives, "At Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in prayer groups, and in individual prayer and devotions, we must ask unceasingly for the grace to evangelize. The moment we stop praying for the grace to spread the Good News of Jesus will be the moment when we lose the power to evangelize" (Go and Make Disciples, 81).

From paragraph 89 on, the bishops work to give us ideas on how to evangelize. Paragraph 136 speaks of what we must do as individuals, families, parishes, diocese, and Catholic institutions must do to evangelize. In closing here are some practical suggestions:

  • Show love and compassion to others. In doing so, you show them God's love.
  • When faced with a choice between Mass or other church activities and some other activity, choose church. It shows others how important church is to you.
  • When making decisions, rely on your faith to help you choose God.

Then, if others ask you why you choose church and why you do the good you do, tell them what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Let them know how much God loves them.

Faith is not meant to be a secret. "Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Matthew 10:26-28).

For Further Reading


Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi. December 8, 1975. Available online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19751208_evangelii-nuntiandi_en.html. Accessed July 5, 2009.

Nodar, Dave, "What Are Characteristics of the New Evangelization?" 2000. Copyright (c) Dave Nodar -www.christlife.org. Available online at http://www.christlife.org/evangelization/articles/C_newevan.html. Accessed July 11, 2009.

Ratzinger, Joseph (Cardinal), "Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, Jubilee of Catechists." December 13, 2000. Available online at http://www.ewtn.com/new_evangelization/Ratzinger.htm. Accessed July 11, 2009.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Go and Make Disciples. 1992. Available online at http://old.usccb.org/evangelization/goandmake/eng.shtml. Accessed July 17, 2009.

Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio:On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate.  December 7, 1990. Available online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio_en.html.