BEING AN EVANGELIZER
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ROM 10:9-18; PS 19:2-5; MT 4:18-22 ]
The word “proselytization” today has a negative connotation. To proselytize is the attempt to convert someone to one’s own religious faith. It is concerned with recruiting new members and winning someone over to one’s doctrines and cause. As Christians, we do not proselytize. It is not about getting new converts or persuading people to our cause.
Rather, Christians are called to engage in the work of evangelization. It is the announcement of the Good News about Jesus Christ. It is not so much a sharing of doctrines but a sharing of the Good News about a person, Jesus Christ, whom we encountered as the Son of the Living God. St Paul wrote, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:25-27; cf Eph 3:8-11)
This Good News is offered by announcing and sharing. It is given freely and must be received freely. It is meant to give hope and direction to people who are looking for meaning and purpose. The messengers of the Good News are not a threat to the life of people but they are meant to add greater value to the life that people are already living. That is why the Good News is always proclaimed with joy and must be accepted in joy. Today, many are waiting to receive the Good News. But as St Paul said, “they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound.”
How, then, are we called to be evangelizers? We have the example of St Andrew, the great evangelizer, to teach us what it takes to be an evangelizer. In the first place, we need someone to introduce us to Jesus. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, but the latter pointed out to him that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” (Jn 1:35) We will always need others to lead us to the Lord. Later on in John’s gospel, we read how those who met Jesus would bring others to Him as well. Andrew was one who brought others to Jesus. We read in John’s gospel “There were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ ‘Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (Jn 12:20-22) It is noteworthy that we need mediators to bring us to the Lord. Faith is not self-taught but imparted.
Secondly, evangelization is not about the proclamation of doctrines, not even of morality, but encountering a person, which is Jesus Christ. Again Pope Benedict wrote succinctly, “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus est Carita, 1) Indeed, St Andrew came to encounter the Lord personally by staying and living with Him. When he and another disciple said to Jesus, “‘Rabbi’ (which means “Teacher”), where are you staying?’ ‘Come,” he replied, ‘and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” (Jn 1:37-39) It must have been a most memorable and significant encounter with Jesus that they even remembered the time. Meeting Jesus and interacting with Him was their conversion experience. They were impressed by the person of Jesus, not just His teachings and knowledge.
Secondly, evangelization is a spontaneous sharing of the Good News. Upon encountering the Lord, they could not stop themselves from sharing their encounter with their loved ones. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon to tell him, “‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (Jn 1:4`f) Later on, Jesus found Philip, and Philip brought Nathanael to the Lord. (cf Jn 1:43-50) A clear sign that we have received the Good News is the spontaneous desire to share our encounter and experience of Jesus with others. It is not the sharing of doctrines or morality. It is sharing about Jesus who has changed our lives.
That is why we need not go for formal training to be an evangelizer, a catechist, a theologian or a priest. Every baptized Catholic is called to be an evangelizer by virtue of our baptism. This is the common call for members of the royal priesthood. All of us are called to share our personal relationship with the Lord with others. In other words, we are not required to share and expound doctrines about our Lord but simply what the Lord has done for us and what He means to us for our life, direction and happiness. When we share about our relationship with the Lord, it is non-threatening and certainly no one can accuse us of proselytizing or indoctrination.
Thirdly, evangelizers are called to make others evangelizers. In the gospel of John, we have Andrew who brought the boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish to the Lord. (Jn 6:5-8) He was able to lead others to the Lord by inviting them to share whatever limited resources they have for the work of the mission. Therefore it is not enough to evangelize others, but the ultimate goal of evangelization is to make those evangelized, evangelizers in return. In this way, the gospel will never be short of preachers and evangelizers. Indeed, if we do not mentor others after us to continue the work we are doing, we would have failed as teachers and evangelizers. So even when evangelizing others, we must also teach them to be evangelizers by sharing the Good News the way we shared with them.
Fourthly, official evangelization begins with we are called by the Lord. In today’s gospel, we have the official call of the apostles by the Lord. Peter and Andrew “were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.” This was followed later by the call of “another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.” Some are called to be full-time evangelizers, whether as a priest, religious or a lay person. Those called to full time in the ministry are consciously undertaking the task of evangelization in a formal manner and acting in the name of the Church.
Fifthly, evangelization needs ongoing formation. Again, we can learn from Andrew why it is important to grow in knowledge of our faith. He was not afraid to ask Jesus hard questions even though the answers were difficult to understand. When Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, we read that, “Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mk 13:3f) They might not have fully understood what the Lord was saying to them but they were ready to learn and gave themselves time to understand what was difficult. Indeed, only much later on in their ministry when these words were fulfilled that they came to understand more fully the prophecies of Jesus regarding His passion, death, resurrection and all that He taught them.
Finally, we must remember that we evangelize ourselves best by evangelizing others. To evangelize is not a magnanimous act on our part. We are simply giving freely what we receive freely. However, more importantly, by saving others, we save ourselves. By announcing to others about our faith, we reinforce our faith. This is why St Paul wrote, “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved.” It is not enough to believe that Jesus is Lord but we must announce Him so that our conviction would be strengthened more and more.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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