THE MISSIONARY NATURE OF THE CHURCH
“We preach Christ crucified.” 1 Corinthians 1:23
“The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.” - Ad Gentes, The Second Vatican Council
The above quotes reveal the ground and foundation of Christian evangelization. We proclaim to the world Christ crucified, who reveals to all men and women the triune God who is love. It is the mission of holy church to share the gospel, the good news: in accordance with the decree of God the Father.
The etymology of evangelization in English finds its roots in biblical (koine = common) Greek and in Latin. The biblical term Gospel (Good News) in Greek, E?αγγ?λιον (transliterated as Euangelion), became in Latin Evangelium, and passed into Anglo-Saxon as Godspell and then English as Gospel. The one who proclaims the Gospel is an evangelist, in Greek Ευαγγελιστ?ς (euangelist?s), meaning a good-angel.
The New Evangelization
In the strict sense of the term, the roots of the New Evangelization are linked to the teachings Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In a wider sense the awakening of the Church to its challenge of evangelizing the modern world, with its unique challenges to spreading the faith, began with the Pontificates of Saints John XXIII and Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council which they called, continued, and brought to completion.
Ten years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI wrote that the Church: “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.”(Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Saint Paul VI)
The Church exists to evangelize, as Jesus teaches us: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15) The Church is the bearer of the Gospel of truth, the Lord has entrusted this truth to the Church to share it, to spread the truth, so that men and women of every race, culture, and region, will be transformed by the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church’s mission is evangelization.
While the Second Vatican Council and Paul VI were keenly aware that the Church was no longer primarily European, and therefore evangelization involved making the Church speak the language of Asian, African, and Latin American culture. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have forced the Church to see that the old bastions of the Church are now havens of secularism and religious indifference. The new evangelization must not just be ad gentes to the non-Christian peoples, but also to the Old World, where faith has grown lukewarm.
Benedict XVI reminded catechists that evangelization must penetrate into the way life is lived: “To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living. . . This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.”(Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, Pope Benedict XVI)
The Ministry of Evangelization and the Laity
For many centuries the idea of ministry, mission, and evangelization was associated within the context of the duties prescribed to ordained clergy and professed religious women and men. Contemporaneous with the new evangelization has been the calling of the laity to be ministers of the Gospel; by their lives, words, deeds, and in collaboration with the ordained clergy and professed religious.
John Paul II wrote of the ministry of the laity in the modern world:
THE LAY MEMBERS of Christ's Faithful People (Christifideles Laici), … are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel…The gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord's vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both women and men, who are called and sent forth by him to labour in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God. (CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI, Pope Saint John Paul II)
The missionary activity of the laity is of extreme importance in the secularized post-Christian culture of western society. For while the clergy often find themselves preaching to the choir, if you will; it is the committed Christian layperson who takes the gospel truth into the world of work, community, and society in a much greater fashion than the clergy. John Paul II writes:
How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference and atheism in its more varied forms, particularly in its perhaps most widespread form of secularism? … Individuals cut the religious roots that are in their hearts; they forget God, or simply retain him without meaning in their lives, or outrightly reject him, and begin to adore various "idols" of the contemporary world.
…I myself have recalled the phenomenon of de-Christianization that strikes long-standing Christian people and which continually calls for a re-evangelization. …When persons in conscience have the courage to face the more serious questions of human existence-particularly questions related to the purpose of life, to suffering and to dying-they are unable to avoid making their own the words of truth uttered by Saint Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI, Pope Saint John Paul II)
At the heart of the Church’s mission today, the new evangelization, is the activity of the laity. The committed layperson must know the faith, live the faith, and share the faith.
Conclusion: Evangelization and the Maronite Church
Following in the footsteps of Saint Thomas the Apostle, Syriac Christians traveled the ancient trade routes and by the seventh century had taken the Christian faith to Central Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, and China.
The Maronite Catholics of Lebanon like their ancient Phoenician ancestors, have taken their Syriac-Antiochene Christian faith from Australia to Canada, from Salt Lake City, Utah to Pretoria, South Africa, and all points in between. Therefore, the Maronites are uniquely built to share their faith in Christ, to the many cultures of the world that they not only encounter but where they take root and prosper. In his encyclical letters Cardinal Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, has instructed the Maronite faithful in their ministry of evangelization; connecting it to the Maronite Divine Liturgy and the Social Mission of the Church, Cardinal Rai writes:
Evangelization would not be complete without taking into consideration the relationship between the Word of God and the personal and social life of a person. This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel, for the Father desires the salvation of every man and woman. His plan consists of ‘gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.’ Our mandate is to ‘go into all the whole world and proclaim the gospel news to every creation.’ The mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all aspects of community life, and all peoples.” (The Ministry of Social Charity, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai)
Evangelization is at the very heart and nature of the Church, the Maronite Church and the Universal Church. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is a beacon of light and hope in a word that seems lost in fear, insecurity, and anxiety. It is of the nature of the Church to share this great gift of faith and salvation in Jesus Christ.
In his Third Encyclical Letter on the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Rai ends with these words, and may they be our own: “Christ Jesus is our Light, our Way, our Truth and our Life (John 8:12; 14:6). And our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, shows us the way to Him, as the guiding Morning Star, the star of the New Evangelization through the Gospel for our new world.” (Third Encyclical Letter, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai)
- Rev. David A. Fisher,
Priest of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, Syriac-Maronite Catholic Church
Adj. Professor of Eastern Christian Thought