People often think that evangelization (sharing the Good News) is a responsibility solely of priests and religious. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone who has been baptized has an evangelical mission in the world.
So how do we prepare for the mission? I think that the first two steps could be stated as “receive” and “relate.”
When it comes to evangelization, the phrase “you can’t give what you don’t have” is absolutely true. What distinguishes Christianity from other religions and philosophies is that we do not fundamentally proclaim an ideology, a moral code or secret knowledge.
We proclaim a person — Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can say that religion lived and preached correctly is about a relationship. This is what those who are “spiritual but not religious” don’t quite understand. Jesus draws us into a relationship with Himself, and through that relationship draws us to the Father in the Holy Spirit. This, in turn, leads us into proper relationship with one another.
The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel reveals how Jesus comes to restore relationship. We recall how, in the Garden of Eden, the fall took place when the devil spoke lies, Eve took the fruit and Adam consented. Mark relates that the first three miracles Jesus performs are silencing the evil spirits, curing Peter’s mother-in-law and healing the leprous man. The relationships that were ruined by sin are restored in the person of Jesus.
This means that we must encounter Jesus, who comes to heal and restore all that is within us that prevents us from living in right relationship with God and others. We give Jesus permission to silence any of the self-doubt, confusion or hatred that arises from the voice of evil. We give Him permission to heal physical, emotional or spiritual illnesses that keep us from living and loving in right relationship with others. Only when we allow Jesus to do this work in our hearts and our lives will we have Good News to proclaim.
But if I choose lies over truth, or illness over health, Jesus becomes a nuisance, not a savior. Receiving Jesus’ personal love for me is the first step to becoming an evangelizer. It does not mean I am perfect. Far from it. It means that I understand that despite my sin, I am beloved. And because I am beloved, I strive to love in return.
Only after receiving this Good News do I have something to relate to others. Soccer games, fish fries and bingo nights are not the Good News. These are events and activities that give us the opportunity to share the Good News.
If someone were to ask “Who is Jesus?” you might respond with a good catechism answer of “Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity,” etc. But if someone asked you, “Who is Jesus to you?” What difference does He make in your life?” — what would your answer be?
When St. Paul began preaching, he knew the law and the Scriptures better than most. What he proclaimed, however, was a person he encountered on the way to Damascus. He told his story to people before he tried to instruct them in living a Christian life. Like St. Paul, we need to be able to speak about our road-to-Damascus moments where we encountered Jesus and had to decide to follow or reject Him. The New Evangelization hinges on all of us exercising this evangelical muscle that has atrophied.
So I ask you — what’s your story? Who is Jesus to you?
Now, go tell someone.