"The missionary disciple has first of all a center, a point of reference, which is the person of Jesus." - Pope Francis
There are no longer parts of the world that need to be evangelized, but rather now the entire world has become mission territory. And the population that requires our attention the most are those who do not associate themselves with any organized religion. This category of individuals are known as the “nones,” and according to the European Values Survey and the World Values Survey recording data from 2017-2020, there is a non-affiliation rate of 30.2% in Europe, and an approximately 20.7% average non-affiliation rate in non-European countries. Alarmingly, around the world young adults are the ones who increasingly are becoming more and more a part of this population.
How can we reach out to those members of our society who have become a part of the “none” generation and bring Jesus to them? The only means by which we can accomplish such a difficult feat is to ensure that we ourselves first and foremost have a relationship with Christ. We cannot bring Christ to others and teach them the ways of the Gospel if we fail to embrace our own Catholic faith and experience God’s infinite love. How can we offer to others what we do not yet have ourselves? We can only help others to encounter Christ after we ourselves have personally encountered Him. It is by falling in love with our Eucharistic Lord and entering into an intimate relationship with Him that we can then share the love of Christ with others.
According to Pope Francis in the Aparecida document Christians have the ability to make themselves into missionary disciples by coming together to joyfully announce the Gospel and spread the love of God; a deep, profound love that can change both the heart and mind. But we can only take part in such an incredible and challenging mission if we are properly prepared for such an endeavor. According to the encyclical Lumen Fidei, we are called to “illumine our own lives and the world we live in.”
We are able to accomplish such a task by first and foremost nourishing our own faith by receiving and experiencing the infinite love of Christ contained in a tiny, white host. The Eucharist sparks a zealous fire within the very depths of our soul that is meant to burn brightly so that others can be inspired to have a relationship with Christ. It is in this sacrament that love takes hold of us, and we can share the joy of the Lord with those we encounter who do not yet know Jesus.
Every day the individuals who are classified as “nones,” increase in number, and so it is imperative that there is a growing force of missionary disciples who are ready to venture out into the highways and byways to evangelize the masses. There are too many Catholics though, these days who are not yet well-equipped, and are weak in their own understanding of our faith. How many of us have friends or even family members who identify as being Catholic, but do not believe in the Real Presence. According to the latest Pew Research Study two-thirds of Catholics do not agree with the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. It is so often that our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ also lack the much needed confidence and skills that are necessary to evangelize others.
Evangelization calls for us to journey out into the deep and proclaim the Good News, and become like the Good Shepherd Who met the lost and straying with great love. As Catholics we are able to follow in His footsteps and bring others the full and complete truth with understanding and respect.
We can look for inspiration to the great saints before us who were great and effective evangelizers. St. Juan Diego, a poor and humble peasant, who would walk miles barefoot to attend Mass and religious instruction classes, played a pivotal role in evangelizing an entire hemisphere. It was during a time when the indigenous people of the New World were facing insurmountable circumstances and challenges that this virtuous man was chosen by Our Lady to offer his testimony and the miraculous image that appeared on the tilma to millions in the Americas and beyond. This first indigenous Mexican Saint by his simple faith and love of the Eucharist led to the conversion of thousands to the Catholic faith.
The Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala, Saints Cristobal, Antonio, and Juan were teenagers who gave their lives for the faith. Cristobal filled with zeal and determination set forth to evangelize his family despite the fact that his father was local chief and priest of the Aztec people. He went as far as even smashing idols throughout his home. When his father confronted him to force him to abandon his new Catholic faith he refused, and so was severely beaten and thrown into a bonfire. Cristobal survived throughout the night, and before he died the next morning he said to his father, “Father, I forgive you.”
St. Antonio, the grandson of an Aztec nobleman and Juan, his servant, were ultimately also martyred for destroying the local idols of the pagan culture. They too were on fire with the Catholic faith, and devoted their young lives to spreading the love of God.
All of us have a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and it is only Christ, and Christ alone Who can fill that special place. We need to lead others who have spent their whole lives searching for something that they can never seem to find to know, love, and desire to serve Christ so that they can be happy with Him forever in heaven.
Life with Christ is a beautiful and wonderful adventure, and we want those who are a part of the “nones” group to be able to come to know Jesus in a personal way. Our Catholic faith involves having a real and true relationship with Christ, but we can only venture out into mission territory if our own hearts are set ablaze with a zealous love for Christ. It is only by the example of our own lives that we can guide others to come to recognize how much Christ loves them, and longs for them to have a true and real relationship with Him.