Why do we evangelize? Why do we take time out of our busy lives to set up tables on street corners, with pamphlets and rosaries, and talk to strangers whom we will probably never see again? Why do we look for opportunities to witness Christ to our families, friends, and acquaintances? What drives us forward? Why is evangelization so urgent to us?
There are a lot of reasons. But Pope Saint John Paul II gets to the heart of it, I think, in His encyclical on the missionary mandate, Redemptoris Missio:
The urgency of missionary activity derives from the radical newness of life brought by Christ and lived by his followers. This new life is a gift from God, and people are asked to accept and develop it, if they wish to realize the fullness of their vocation in conformity to Christ. The whole New Testament is a hymn to the new life of those who believe in Christ and live in his Church. Salvation in Christ, as witnessed to and proclaimed by the Church, is God’s self-communication. … God offers mankind this newness of life.Section 7
This quote requires some unpacking. In what ways does the urgency of evangelization come from “the radical newness of life” in Jesus Christ? What Saint John Paul II seems to be saying (given the surrounding context) is that evangelization is urgent because of the great good it offers — true participation in God’s life! The riches of this life are amazing, and truly unparalleled. There is nothing that compares. And this life fulfills people in ways that they long for deep inside but could never imagine without the revelation of the gospel. This newness of life is “salvation in Christ.” This is the first, and most important reason that evangelization is urgent — that salvation, the new life in Christ, be shared.
There is another important reason as well, and it flows from the first. We see it expressed in the Second Vatican Council:
Often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, lumen gentium, sec. 16.
The urgency of evangelization, then, comes also from the danger that threatens each person — the danger that they will ultimately fail to accept and receive the gift of this new life. In other words, the mysterious reality of sin and hell works against us, tempting and blinding us against the salvation offered in Christ. Like the ancient serpent (the devil) warred against Adam and Eve, so too does he war against us, seeking our allegiance against God and His Kingdom. By evangelization, we enter into the fight for souls, for the Kingdom of God and against the kingdom of Satan. The same document of Vatican II explains:
By the proclamation of the Gospel [the Church] … snatches [her hearers] from the slavery of error and of idols and incorporates them in Christ so that through charity they may grow up into full maturity in Christ. Through her work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men … is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man.Lumen Gentium, sec. 17.
Evangelization is urgent. Praised be the Lord for the new and amazing life in Christ! Praised be His Name for allowing us to participate in His work of communicating this life to others, and to save them from the deceptions of the evil one!