When I met with Pope Francis recently, I shared with him that evangelization is our highest priority in the American Church. I also expressed to him that we share his vision of making all our parishes and institutions “completely mission-oriented,” as he put it in Evangelli Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”).
As I have been saying over the years, it is essential that all of us rediscover our deepest identity as Catholics, as followers of Jesus, in the mission of evangelization. In my first pastoral letter, I set the whole mission of the Church here, all our pastoral priorities, in the context of the new evangelization.
I wrote this: “We need to ask ourselves: Is our work leading men and women to Jesus Christ and his Church? Is the Christian faith spreading and is knowledge of the faith deepening through our programs and ministries? Everything we do must be measured by what it contributes to proclaiming Jesus Christ to the men and women of our day!”
These are still important questions that we need to ask ourselves.
Jesus calls his Church to go out and make disciples of all nations. There is not one of us in the Church who can avoid this responsibility. We are all children of God and we are all called to be disciples and to make disciples.
To be a disciple is to follow Jesus as our Master, to take him as the model for how we live and the standard for our values. More than that, to be his disciple is to serve him, to make our whole life available to be used by him for his purposes, his plan of love.
This is what Pope Francis means when he talks about being “missionary disciples.” To be a disciple means we share in the mission of the One we follow, the mission of bringing all men and women to this beautiful encounter with the love of God.
We make disciples, not so much by trying to persuade people with our words, but more by bearing witness in our lives to how we love Jesus and how he loves us.
The saints tell us that the love of God is not something that can be taught. In the same way, I think it is hard for us to “learn” how to evangelize. In my mind, it flows from our personal following of Jesus, through our daily living out of our faith.
Everyone can evangelize; we can do it in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our work. With every person you meet in the course of the day you have the chance to share Jesus and the difference that his love makes in our lives.
Each in our own way can tell people about Jesus: who he is, what he has done for us by his dying and rising from the dead, and what he has promised to us if we believe in him and follow his path for our lives. And again, we do this more by our witness than by our words.
We cannot excuse ourselves from this responsibility by saying we are not holy enough, or we don’t know our faith well enough, or we are not far enough along in our journey with Jesus. All of us are following Jesus, each of us going with him with our different gifts and limitations. What he asks is that we share what we know of his love, that we help those around us to find him.
This mission that Jesus gives us should never be something we see as a chore or a burden; it should be a joy, and we will find that our faith grows as we share it. The deeper we love Jesus, the deeper we identify our lives with his, the more fruitful our lives and our ministries will be.
Nowadays, we see a growing “ecological” awareness, a rising sense of our responsibilities to one another and to the created world. This is a beautiful development, as we realize more and more that our actions and decisions have consequences for the lives of others and for the earth and our natural environment.
I would love to see the growing of a new “evangelical” awareness, a new appreciation of our obligations for the souls of our brothers and sisters, and a new commitment to spreading the spirit of God in our world.
The truth is that God is still at work in his creation, still bringing his kingdom. What is exciting is that he is asking us to share in this work of telling the world the good news about him.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to keep leading us to love Jesus and to share our faith in him with others.