BE JOYFUL EVANGELIZERS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Rom 10:9-18; Psalm 19:2-5; Mt 4:18-22]
St Paul said, “The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound.” Indeed, this is what is needed in the Church to bring about a new evangelization. We need joyful evangelizers. This is what Pope Francis in his first encyclical asks of the Church. “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” (EV 1) He further said, “Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow…’ (EG 10)
Indeed, if the world rejects Christianity and particularly Catholicism, it is because we have presented the message of the gospel wrongly. For many, it is a set of doctrines, rituals, laws and morals to fulfill. It is about some abstract truth or doctrines. It is concerned with living a righteous life in obedience to the laws, being free from all sins so that we might win our salvation. When the Good News is reduced to mere doctrines, rules and merits, this is indeed bad news. Precisely, the letter of St Paul was written to debunk the Jewish’ belief that salvation is through obedience to the laws. But as St Paul expounded in this letter to the Romans, none of us can observe the laws perfectly.
Salvation cannot be earned but is freely given. This is what the good news is all about. Justification by faith alone! It is not through our good works that we are saved. But faith in Jesus alone. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:23-25) This is reiterated in his letter to the Ephesians. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8f)
But the Good News is more than just a message that declares that we are saved. The Good News is about a person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. St Paul declared that he had been “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Rom 1:1-6)
In this salutation of St Paul to the Romans, he captured succinctly what the gospel is all about. It is about Jesus, promised by God since the days of old, who had come into this world in the flesh. By His death and resurrection, He was proclaimed as the Son of God. In Jesus, therefore we see the mercy and unconditional love of God for us. His death is God’s way of declaring His total mercy and forgiveness for our sins. His resurrection is an affirmation that death is not the last word in this life. We can live with confidence in this life, knowing that we are always forgiven in spite of our weaknesses; and we are assured of life everlasting after our life on earth. The Good news is therefore about Jesus who is our hope and salvation. He is our glory and our life. Jesus is the source of authentic fulfillment in life. He is the one who can lead us to the fullness of life, through a life of service, and resurrection at the end.
What, then, prevents us from being joyful evangelizers? Many of us are merely instructed in the doctrines but we lack an encounter with Jesus in a personal way. It must be noted that in the gospel, when the first disciples were called by the Lord, Peter and Andrew “left their nets at once and followed him.” Similarly, James and John, “at once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.” We must not imagine that they followed Jesus just because He called them. Nay, in John’s gospel, they already saw how Jesus lived. They already came to conclude that Jesus was the Messiah. Nathanael even confessed in Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. (cf Jn 1:35-51) So when Jesus called them, He was calling them as their Lord and Saviour. When we perceive that the Lord is calling us, our response to His call must be immediate and decisive.
Thus, the fundamental task of an evangelizer, before any catechesis can take place, is to announce the Kergyma, which is the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. Again, this is what Pope Francis is telling us when he wrote, “the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.” (EG 164) This was what Pope Emeritus Benedict did when he was elected pope, for the first encyclical that he wrote to promote the New Evangelization was entitled, “God is love.” This is the heart of Christian Faith.
What is equally important is that this Kergyma must be announced and celebrated again and again. Pope Francis said, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”. Thus, it is exigent that evangelizers, even as they proclaim the Good News to others, must also be renewed constantly in their personal encounter with the love of God in Jesus. Pope Francis underscored this point when he said, “We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more ‘solid’ formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart.”
Without this personal encounter with the Lord, evangelizers will lose their joy, their inspiration and their passion for the gospel. The truth is that as evangelizers we are helping many people to be healed, to be loved, to be enlightened, but who is healing them and empowering them? In truth, many evangelizers are individualistic workers and alienated from others. Many of them hardly have time to spend with Jesus, basking in His love and being intimate with Him. They are busy preparing talks and planning programs. Consequently, evangelization is seen as a task or a job to be performed, not as part of one’s life and identity. This is true for “professionals” in the ministry, particularly priests and religious and full-time lay workers when there is a dichotomy between their ministry and their personal life. Pope Francis made this observation when he wrote, “As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour. These are three evils which fuel one another.” (EG 78)
This can lead us to a pessimistic outlook of our mission. The reality is that in the work of evangelization, there will be challenges and trials. Those without a real relationship with the Lord and depend on their own strength alone will become forlorn, disillusioned and frustrated. They look at the evils in the world, the scandals in the Church, the irresponsibility of religious leaders, the obstacles put by those in authority stifling the growth of the Church, and fall into despair. Without the eyes of faith, we will give up hope for the Church and the world. Pope Francis recognized this pessimism that robs the joy of evangelizers when he wrote, “The evils of our world – and those of the Church – must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and our fervour. Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow. With the eyes of faith, we can see the light which the Holy Spirit always radiates in the midst of darkness, never forgetting that ‘where sin increased, grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20). Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds.” (EG 84)
So let us not be defeated by such temptations, whether the temptations of the world to glory, power and wealth, or the temptation to despair and give up. Rather, we must place our faith in the Lord who died and rose from the dead, conquering evil and even death. The Lord will help us to overcome all trials. With St Paul, we remember the words of the Lord. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9f)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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- 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.
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