As we celebrate the Easter Season we are ushered into the marvelous and compelling stories in the Acts of the Apostles that tell of the growth of the early church. Author Michael Green makes this insightful observation about how the early Christians spread the faith.
This must often have been not formal preaching, but the informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They were everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread (Green, M. Evangelism in the Early Church, 1970:173).
This is what it will take the implement the new evangelization. We need to cultivate the ability to reach out to others to share our faith in Christ. We also need to bring our faith to bear upon every facet of our very secular society. Primary to this mission is evangelization. There are three levels of evangelization. First, the new evangelization entails allowing one’s own heart to be seized and saturated by the Gospel, responding to the call to lifelong conversion to Christ by the gift of the Spirit. Second, the new evangelization requires reaching out to others to proclaim in word and deed the Reign of God. Third, the new evangelization demands that the values of the Reign of God—a reign of truth, holiness, justice, love, and peace—permeate each and every culture, transforming every sphere of life.
The challenge for us, here in the United States and us in the Archdiocese of Chicago, is to be witnesses to Christ in a society where many people are simply indifferent to the presence of God. This means that our witness must be strong, true and clear. In his book, Transforming Mission, David Bosch made this observation about mission in the Christian faith:
Mission remains an indispensable dimension of the Christian faith and that at its most profound level, its purpose is to transform reality around it. Mission, in this perspective, is that dimension of our faith that refuses to accept reality as it is and aims at changing it (1991:519).
Bosch’s words can be applied equally to the new evangelization. In the Synod on the New Evangelization’s “Message to the People of God,” the bishops quoted Blessed John Paul II’s now famous description of the new evangelization when they wrote:
Changed societal, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is “new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expression” (Port-au-Prince, 1983).
Like the Samaritan Woman who is an exemplar of the new evangelization, we are called to live our faith and share it joyfully with those around us. She was liberated from sin through her encounter with Jesus and in turn became a missionary evangelizer. The joy of knowing Christ should motivate us to also share our faith.
This is our responsibility because of the grace of our Baptism. The Word of God and the sacraments strengthen our faith, but they do not work like some magic formula making us evangelizers. We have to grow in our understanding of the Catholic faith if we are to be witnesses to Christ in a way that draws people to the Church.
A blessed Easter Season to all of you.