You might think that the “job” of evangelization is only for certain people. The priests, deacons, maybe some specific lay people. You may have also heard this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”. Even if St. Francis did say this (there is no evidence that he did) we must go beyond this and actually use words. We are exhorted to do just that by the Church.
Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.433 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 900)
Therefore, all the faithful are called by their baptism to evangelize. The Catechism continues in paragraph 904:
"Christ . . . fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy . . . but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word"438
To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.439
The task of “each believer” is to prophesy. To prophesy is to “utter by or as if by divine inspiration” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). We have received divine grace through the sacraments to share the Gospel-the good news of Christ to all we encounter. This is an important task that Christ has entrusted us with-“to lead others to faith”. Who can shirk this responsibility?
Then whoa! The Catechism says this in paragraph 905:
Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, "that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life." For lay people, "this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world."440
This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.441
Notice that it tells us we are to proclaim Christ by “word” and that we are to be on the “lookout” for opportunities to do that.
All the recent Popes from Paul V1 through Francis have exhorted the faithful to evangelize:
– "We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. “ ….. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)
– God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples. (JP II, Redemptoris Missio, 3)
– The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Dues Caritas Est, 19)
– A mother with an open heart A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open…... Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. (Pope Francis-EVANGELII GAUDIUM, 46 &49)
What are some practical ways of doing this? Here are a few ideas, although this is surely not an all encompassing list.
- In your homes, work places or vehicles display a crucifix, rosary, prayer card or maybe a bumper sticker. Let people know who you are. This could be a conversation starter.
- Look for opportunities in your conversations with others. People will ask you how your weekend was. You can answer that you went to Mass and what a great homily by Father John!
- You might know of someone who is struggling, offer to pray for them.
- Leave a Catholic Tract or prayer card in public place
- Ask someone if they would like a rosary or miraculous medal
- Join or start a chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization
- Invite someone to Mass! You might be surprised by who says yes.
Again, these are just a few ideas. I am sure there are many more.
Finely, love of neighbor is the reason we evangelize. We pray for the salvation of souls. Think of the Fatima prayer in the rosary: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen. Yes, clearly we pray for the salvation of others. Let us imitate St. Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9: 22 he says “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”. Let us become evangelists, so that we might save some.