As we do our work at Saint Paul Street Evangelization, there are so many different evangelization-related topics to address. What exactly is evangelization? Why do we need to do it? How do we evangelize effectively? What is the Kerygma and why is it important? How do I evangelize my fallen-away Catholic family members? How do I evangelize my coworkers? For most people, the most critical thing is that they be convinced that they are personally called to evangelization, and that they know how important it is that they evangelize. They need to know that there is an urgent and universal call to evangelization.
Holiness is About Loving God and Neighbor
Many of us, when we hear the term “The Universal Call to Evangelization” think immediately of “The Universal Call to Holiness,” taught by recent popes and the bishops of the Second Vatican Council. The language is similar, and both are intimately related to one another. In truth, you cannot have one without the other. You cannot have a universal call to holiness without a universal call to evangelization. Why?
First of all, both of these callings are rooted in the two great commandments: love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the root and perfection of the entire Christian way of life. Let’s continue by considering The Universal Call to Holiness more closely. This call, which was always taught by the Catholic Church, was reemphasized by Vatican II:
All the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. . . . In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and conform themselves to His image, seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.
The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one. . . . Every person must walk, without hesitation, according to his own personal gifts and duties, in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.Lumen Gentium 40
Every Christian disciple is called to holiness. All of us. Not just the priests, not just the religious, not just the saints — all of us. Holiness, at its very core, is based on love: loving God with all our strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
When we love God with our whole strength, we give Him everything. We give him our time, our treasure, our talents, our trust, and obedience. We literally give him everything, holding nothing back. And to do that, we need to talk to him, and listen to him, striving to know His will for our lives, and then carrying it out to the best of our ability. Although we fail, we get back up and keep going. We move forward. Not by our own power, but by God’s power. Not by our own strength, but by God’s strength. This is the love of God.
And found within the love of God, within obedience to his will, we find love of neighbor. True love of neighbor is not love as “the world” understands it. It’s not simply about being nice to people, or by helping them feel good about themselves, or even about helping to alleviate a person’s temporal suffering — although these (like the corporal works of mercy) are certainly included in love of neighbor. True love of neighbor is willing what is best for them. We do this, among other things, by helping our neighbors to know and achieve what is best. We must always act according to our neighbors’ best interests and help them in their greatest need. This also includes helping them to know what is bad for them and helping them to avoid it, and, where necessary, even calling them to account when they fail to avoid the bad, and encouraging them to do better (think of the spiritual works of mercy here). And we must always do this, to the best of our ability, with kindness and love.
The Highest Good of Man and the Universal Call to Evangelize
So, the essence of love of neighbor is to will the good for them in all things. This includes the corporal works of mercy, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner and the sick, etc. It also includes the spiritual works of mercy, like instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, etc.
In all these deeds of mercy, we must recognize that above all other goods, the greatest and best good of each individual is God Himself. There is nothing better or more important for anyone than that they find God. That they come to know and love Him and experience His love. That they come into relationship with Him. That they enter into Him, allowing Him to transform and heal them, becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, nothing is more important for our neighbors than their eternal salvation, which Jesus Christ won for us on the Cross.
This is where “The Universal Call to Evangelization” comes in. It is embedded within The Universal Call to Holiness. In order to be holy and to love God, we need to love our neighbor; and to do this, we need to help them to achieve their ultimate good, which is the true love of God in this life, and ultimately, eternal life with God.
It is with these principles in mind that the Church teaches us, repeatedly, clearly, and emphatically, that we are all called to evangelize. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, his letter on Evangelization in the Modern World, Pope Saint Paul VI said, “Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it” (paragraph 13). He went on to say, “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” (paragraph 14).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Apostolicam Actuositatem of Vatican II, states that the disciple of Christ should be “on the lookout” for opportunities to evangelize (AA par. 6; CCC par. 905). In another place, the Catechism says, “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it . . . Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation” (1816).
Pope Saint John Paul II stated, “For the disciple of Christ the duty to evangelize is an obligation of love” (Ecclesia in America, par. 1). Elsewhere, he said that he believed, “The moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization . . . No believer in Christ . . . can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Redemptoris Missio, par. 3).
The Church knows that Christ is the most precious possession we have as Christians; and He is meant not only for us but for everyone. He is the one love of humankind; He is man’s only hope and salvation. We must not keep Him to ourselves.
The Cure to Eternal Death
Let’s think about it again from another angle. Imagine a very accomplished scientist who discovers, from an ancient medicinal manual, a very powerful natural medicine which cures many diseases and ailments. Not only does it cure Covid-19, but it also cures all forms of cancer and many other common but serious ailments.
Now let’s say that this scientist doesn’t share this discovery. Instead of sharing it with the world he mostly keeps it to himself. He certainly believes in the cure, because he takes it whenever he personally needs it, but he refuses to share it with his fellow man. Or maybe he does share it, but only stingily, and on infrequent occasions. What could we say about this scientist? What could we say about his love for humanity?
We all instinctively recognize that this man, whatever he thinks about himself, is simply not a good man. Worse, he is a bad man, an evil man. A lover of self rather than a lover of mankind. When this man is caught for his crime against humanity, the punishment he deserves is severe. Think of all the people that he just allowed to die, when he had the cure all along, and he knew it — all he had to do was just share it.
However, having the cure to Covid-19 or to cancer is nothing compared to what we Christians have. We have Jesus Christ; we have the key to eternal life — the cure to eternal death. The value of our Sacred Treasure, our Divine Cure, is infinitely greater than the cure for cancer or any other disease.
It is from this perspective that we can come to understand, with a greater clarity, our responsibilities to our neighbors and what it takes to truly love them. We must always will and work for the good of the other, whatever the cost; and most importantly, we work for their highest good. The Universal Call to Holiness and The Universal Call to Evangelization are inseparable. If we are Christians, we are called to both. None of us are exempt.
Where is Our Zeal for Evangelization?
What is the problem then? Since the coming of Christ, billions of people have been converted to Christ because of Christians who took seriously the universal calls to holiness and evangelization. But today, sadly, many Christians do not take these calls seriously.
There are a lot of committed Christians who, for whatever reason, just don’t understand that there is a universal call to evangelization. Note that we’re referring to committed, serious Christians. People who really believe in God, and in the Bible, and in Jesus Christ. People who make God a priority in their lives, and try to live according to his will in all that they do. There are a lot of us who just don’t see evangelization as a personal responsibility. Many realize evangelization is important, but only in general; for someone else to do, for the priest or the really holy person.
There seems to be a disconnect between what serious Christians believe and what they do about it. Committed Christians believe that nothing is more important than God, yet we have a serious difficulty in actually sharing Him with others. Serious Christians believe that it is only in God that we find our true happiness. In Jesus alone we find the salvation of our souls and freedom from the bondage of sin. We believe that God breaks all chains and all addictions and all suffering; if not always right now, then at least in heaven. Serious Christians know that God is God and we all need him. Where, then, is our zeal for the work of evangelization?
Where, too, is my zeal for evangelization? I work for an evangelization ministry full time, and I repent of the fact that I simply do not evangelize as often or with as much zeal as I should. As the people of God, we need to declare, with one voice and one mind, that we are committed to the work of evangelization! We have been lukewarm and this has got to change!
Our world is unraveling all around us, people are confused and deceived, souls are on the brink of destruction, and we have the solution: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to break free from delusion, and see reality for what it really is. It is not over-dramatic to say that we are at war with the devil and his minions, and we are soldiers in the army of God. Our weapons are prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel, and our mission is the salvation of souls. Nothing is more urgent; we have no greater calling. We must fight the spiritual battle and we will be victorious, because God is with us, and if God is with us, nothing can defeat us. We must not be afraid because we cannot ultimately fail.
Common Obstacles to Evangelization
Though we cannot ultimately fail, we still need to get our heads in the game. What are some of the major obstacles that prevent serious Christians from evangelizing?
First, most Christians haven’t given much thought to The Universal Call to Evangelization. They haven’t really meditated on love of God and love of neighbor; they haven’t connected the dots. Generally speaking, it’s not entirely their fault: Most Christians today, unfortunately, have not been taught about The Universal Call to Evangelization. Since they haven’t been taught it, they don’t think about it — they don’t internalize, reflect, and act upon it. The good news is that this is changing! We are hearing more today about the call to evangelization than we have in a long time.
Another reason why many serious Christians don’t make evangelization a priority in their lives is that they feel like they’re not equipped or holy enough to evangelize effectively, so that they might push people away instead of drawing them close. They feel like it’s not their charism, not their personality, that they’re not educated enough. But these kinds of attitudes are usually deceptions. Although formation and holiness have important roles in the work of evangelization, many of us are just scared. Scared of failure or scared of what people might think of us. Scared that we might lose friends, or family, or even our jobs.
But is it true that we are not equipped enough to evangelize? Some people believe that because they don’t have a special charism or gifting for evangelization, they are therefore not called to evangelize. It’s true, of course, that God gives different charisms to each one of us for the building up of the church. Some people have the charism of hospitality. Others are gifted in the area of leadership or administration. Still others have charisms such as teaching, or healing, or intercessory prayer, or evangelization, etc.
Now, just because a person does not have a specific charism — let’s say the charism of hospitality — it doesn’t mean that they are exempt from exercising that activity in a more ordinary way. If I don’t have the charism of hospitality, I still need to strive to be hospitable to others. If I do not have the charism of healing, it doesn’t mean that I should never pray for people to be healed. Just because a person doesn’t have the charism of evangelization, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t evangelize. On the contrary, all Christians are called to evangelization, even if they aren’t supernaturally gifted in this area.
What if it’s just not part of our personality? Many people suspect that they’re not called to evangelize because they are introverted. But evangelization is not only for the extroverted. Introverts, for example, tend to be better than extroverts at silent prayer and meditation. But extroverts still need to do these things. Likewise, extroverts may find evangelization easier, but introverts still need to evangelize. Some of the best evangelists, in fact, are introverts.
What if we don’t know the Bible or the Catechism well enough to evangelize effectively? The fact is, it is extremely rare that a person knows the Bible as well as they could or should. And who has the right answer to every question about the faith? Despite my failings in these areas, I know that God still wants to use me anyway. It’s certainly very good to know the Bible, and the Catechism, and to study and grow in evangelization. We should all be continuously learning the Scriptures and growing in our faith. There are lots of ways to do this; Saint Paul Street Evangelization is one of them. But if we are believers, if we know Jesus Christ, we already have the best and most important formation. To be a witness of the Gospel, we just need to have been changed for the better by the Gospel.
What if we are not holy enough to evangelize? It is true that holiness feeds evangelization. But it is also true that we are not enabled to evangelize by our own power, or by our own holiness. It is Jesus’s power and holiness that furthers the Gospel. We are called and equipped to be missionaries by our very baptism; by the mere fact that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. If the Apostles waited until they were perfect before starting to evangelize, the Gospel would never have gotten out into the world. We must strive for holiness, by God’s grace; and we must evangelize even though we haven’t yet been perfected in holiness.
What if — we openly admit — we are scared to evangelize? Scared of pushing people away, or scared of losing friends, or even scared of what people might think of us? If you are scared, you’re not alone! Evangelization can be scary, but we need to push through, because it is so important. But we don’t push through by our own strength or power; we need the Holy Spirit. Even the Apostles were afraid of proclaiming the Gospel before Pentecost; but they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and boldness. Even after Pentecost, they prayed for more zeal and boldness for the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Acts 4). It’s OK to be afraid. But with God we can overcome this fear.
Lastly, what if we push people away from Jesus, instead of drawing them more closely to him? What if we lose our friends or family members, or even our job? We need to be strategic when we evangelize. No one is saying we should go around the workplace and just start randomly declaring the Gospel message to all of our coworkers indiscriminately. We need to be more subtle than that. We need to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves (cf. Matt 10:16). We need to always “have our radars up.” As the Catechism states, we need to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to evangelize. In other words, we are not called to preach the Gospel audibly at every moment, but we do need to make the furthering of the Gospel a priority in our lives. Maybe we start by giving miraculous medals or holy cards to our acquaintances. Or maybe we offer to pray with people who seem to need it. There are lots of little things we could do.
And if we have done these things and have suffered as a result — losing friends, harming relationships, losing our job — then we are commanded by Christ to rejoice. Of course, if we have transgressed in some way, we ought to own up to our mistake, apologize, and seek reconciliation. But if we have done all things from love, in a loving way, and we are rejected for the Gospel, then we are blessed even as we suffer persecution (cf. Matthew 5:10).
All of us struggle with evangelization in various ways. Don’t feel discouraged! Even after many years of personal evangelization, I still have to push through feelings of inadequacy, and fight back against all sorts of temptations to abandon, or at least slack off on, my God-given call to share the Gospel.
Being faithful to our call is a constant battle, but it must be fought. With God’s grace, we can succeed. May the Almighty Lord be with you as you do the much-needed work of evangelization in the world.
Originally published at Homiletic and Pastoral Review