So, back to the Letter to the Romans, here are some basic things St Paul tells us to do, if we are going to prepare ourselves to be faithful and convincing witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and the Church.
“Reject what is evil and embrace what is good.” It is clear the certain things are true and others are false; some things are right and others are wrong. It’s not a matter of personal preference or majority vote. People can find trendy opinions anywhere; but in the Church they should be able to expect the unvarnished truth
“Love one another and show honor to your brothers and sisters.” Paul also says to speak the truth in love. If we have the truth but are arrogant and unloving about it, we will not attract souls to the Catholic faith. The witness of love opens the door for the witness of truth. Archbishop Mueller, the new head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: “We cannot proclaim the gospel to them if we don’t love them and don’t see that each one of them is a mystery [of] the image and likeness of God.”
So even though God desires the salvation of all, evangelization is not primarily a numbers game. God saves souls one at a time, and we should take our time with each soul. The more genuine, deep, and mature a conversion is, the more fruit it will bear. Remember the parable of the sower. The shallow believers and those distracted by worldly pleasures, don’t bear fruit. A Church with a smaller number of mature and committed believers will do much more for the Kingdom of God than one with a large number of superficial or lukewarm believers…
The US bishops, in a document on the New Evangelization, say this: “The New Evangelization does not seek to invite people to experience only one moment of conversion, but rather to experience the gradual and lifelong process of conversion: to draw all people into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to develop a mature conscience… and to integrate one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life.”
There is someone who can teach us these things and actually help make them happen. This person is probably the best evangelizer the world has ever known, having brought to Christ and his Church far more people than anyone else. In less than 20 years, and in just one relatively small area of the world, this evangelizer made over 9 million converts. Her name is Mary, and she happens to be the Queen of Heaven, which is probably why she was so successful. She has made a lot more than nine million converts over the centuries, but I’m referring to the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which brought practically all of Latin America out of paganism and into the Catholic faith.
In an address in 1992, Blessed John Paul II called Mary the “Star of the New Evangelization.” Now “star” isn’t understood the way it is when we think of a movie star, but rather a star as a guiding light. Our Lady is also traditionally called the Star of the Sea because of the way she has guided seafarers in their journeys through perilous waters. So Our Lady is a constant motherly presence and guide for us in understanding and putting into practice the elements of the New Evangelization…
One of the most important things about Mary’s life that applies to us is that she heard the word of God and kept it, as the Lord often tells us to do in the Gospels. Aside from studying the Scriptures during her life and learning of the greatness of God and his love for us, as well as his promise of a Savior to redeem the world, Mary had the benefit of being evangelized by an angel! He explained to her that God’s plan for our salvation would be personally fulfilled in her. That’s why she got the special privilege of an angelic visitation.
But now that our redemption has been accomplished in Christ, all we need to do is to pick up the bible and the catechism of the Catholic Church and discover what God has revealed and what He requires of us. So the first thing Mary teaches us is to be open to hear the word of God. Remember, we can’t evangelize others unless we ourselves are thoroughly immersed in the word of God and in prayer, and are filled with the grace of the sacraments.
The next thing she teaches us is to humbly surrender ourselves to God’s will. When she learned that she was to become the Mother of the Savior, the Son of the Most High, she knew this mystery and this vocation were far beyond what she could fully grasp in that moment, but all the Lord wanted from Mary was her consent. So she acknowledged that she was the handmaid of the Lord, and said: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
That’s our next step. Once we hear the word of God, we have to submit to his will. It’s not going to do us much good to know the Bible and go to Mass every Sunday if we do not humbly place ourselves at the Lord’s service every day of our lives. So before we can be a good example to others, we ourselves have to be living in obedience to God’s will.
The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is a model of some of the basic elements of the New Evangelization. As soon as Mary herself received the announcement of the good news of our salvation from the angel, she hurried to her cousin Elizabeth in order to share her joy and the message that God was communicating to the world through her.
This visit was made in the context of serving someone who was in need. Elizabeth was elderly and found herself miraculously pregnant, so she needed the assistance of her young relative. Sometimes evangelization doesn’t begin with speaking directly about Christ. Sometimes we start simply by serving other people with love and humility, by showing the face of Christ to them by our actions even before we start speaking of Him with our words. In many cases, this is the only way to reach people, especially if they have already made up their minds that they are not interested in what Christ or the Church have to say…
The other thing that happened at the visitation was that Mary sang the praises of God for all that He had done in her, and for all that He would soon do to save the world. She began her hymn of praise by saying: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” Now if we are going to follow Mary’s example, we have to magnify the Lord. “Magnify” literally means “make great.” But how can we do that? Isn’t the Lord already greater than the whole universe? How can anyone make Him any greater?
Well, there are two ways to do this, one way that only Mary could do, and one way that the rest of us can do. Mary made Him greater in the sense that through her, the Lord became something He wasn’t before. He became man through her and so was able to suffer and die for us to save our souls. So in that sense He was magnified in being able to enter our world in a way He never did before.
The way that we can do it, and to try to get others to magnify the Lord as well, is by extending the reach of his presence and influence in our souls. God is present everywhere, but He is specially present in souls that are in a state of grace. We can drive the divine presence out of our souls through mortal sin, and the unbaptized can prevent Him from entering if they refuse to be baptized. The Lord respects our freedom, so He won’t make his home in any soul that refuses to receive Him. So when we welcome the Lord into our hearts and souls, and encourage others to do so as well, the Lord is magnified, because He is now present in a soul that formerly refused his presence. Therefore the work of evangelization is the work of magnifying the Lord!
Another work that supports evangelization, and which we can learn from Our Lady, is that of prayer and intercession. We may not spontaneously think of prayer when think of evangelization, but maybe we should. We are all familiar with the gospel account of the wedding at Cana, where Mary interceded with the Lord for the needs of the guests, and at her request He worked his first miracle. What was the result of the answer to Mary’s prayer? “Jesus manifested his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” So when we pray, God responds, and when God responds, people become aware of his goodness and power, and they begin to believe in Him. Prayer is at the source of all effective evangelization, and we see this from the very beginning of the Church.
After Jesus ascended to Heaven, St Luke tells us that Mary and the disciples of Jesus gathered together in the upper room. There they devoted themselves to prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to send them (Acts 1:14). Their prayer was granted in the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, which energized the apostles to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations, with signs and wonders to confirm the truth of their preaching. The very first day they converted and baptized 3000 people. This is the fruit of prayer, which always must precede as well as accompany the active ministry of evangelization.
Prayer not only supports evangelization; it can directly influence the conversion of sinners by the mercy of God. This is what the Lord Jesus said to St Faustina: “I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: ‘O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.’”
You may not know in what soul this conversion is happening, but if you trust the Lord and sincerely pray this prayer (especially at 3:00 PM, the hour of mercy), the Lord will grant the grace of conversion to a sinner somewhere in the world. So in this sense, you can evangelize without leaving your home! …
Since the hour of mercy is the hour of Jesus’ death on the Cross, Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization, will be with us there as well. Our Lady shared in a unique way in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, yet in union with her we are all called in our own way to share in his sufferings. St Paul says that in his own flesh he fills up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of the Church. Now there is nothing essential lacking in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, but as Scripture says, the whole Christ consists of the Head and his members. Christ is the Head of the mystical body, and we are the members. Being thus united with Him, we share in both his redeeming Cross and Resurrection.
Therefore it is not only prayer that supports evangelization; it is sacrifice as well. And we draw grace and strength from the paschal mystery through the Holy Eucharist. In reflecting on the teachings of Pope Benedict, the archbishop of Washington DC writes this in a pastoral letter on evangelization: “The leaven of the Gospel arises from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Strengthened by the Eucharist, every sacrifice we make participates directly in the Cross of Jesus. Sacrifice is the path to newness. The Holy Father makes clear that it is the Eucharist that brings newness to human life.” …
Here’s another simple thing you can do: put holy things into the hands of children, relatives, and friends, like Bibles, rosaries, scapulars, and medals. It doesn’t matter if they are not interested at the moment. Just ask them to keep them somewhere and not throw them away. I know that this worked for me.
When I left my parents’ home in the late 1970s and moved to another state, I think they were afraid I might lose my faith altogether (I was already living a worldly sort of life and didn’t have much time for the Church). So they sent me a bible. When I received it, I thought, “What am I going to do with this?” So I just stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. But later on, when the Lord started working on my soul and drawing me little by little toward a more righteous style of life, I suddenly wanted to get to know Him a little better. I said to myself, “I think there’s a bible around here somewhere; maybe I should read it.” And, as you can see, the rest is history! So they evangelized me just by giving me a bible, which was like a seed buried in the ground. And when the conditions became favorable, it sprouted and flowered and bore fruit!
I felt an inner urge last year to send scapulars to my siblings in their Christmas cards. The idea wouldn’t leave me until I did it. Maybe when they received them, they thought: “What am I going to do with this?” None of them later told me what they thought of it, but when grace finally opens their hearts, they might just say: “I think there’s a scapular around here somewhere; maybe I should start wearing it.” Or maybe it will be something they reach for on their deathbeds, when the grace of their baptism floods their souls as a final call to give themselves to the Lord. Only God knows. But if it’s not there, they can’t make use of it. All that matters in the end is that souls are saved, whether they are evangelized now or at the hour of their death.
So start passing out bibles and rosaries and medals and scapulars! It’s OK if those to whom you give them stick them in a drawer for now. One day they will be glad that you cared enough to do it, and you will be too!
I just received news this morning of a tragic yet beautiful story. A friend of a friend of mine was recently killed in a car accident. As he lay dying, while the paramedics were trying to save his life, his last act was to give a prayer card of Our Lady of Lourdes to one of the paramedics. It was as if he was saying: “I’m going to Heaven now, and I want you to come someday, too. Here, take this and pray.” It’s a testimony to the faithfulness of his life that with his dying breath he was still trying to bring people to God.
Let us, then, be prepared to share “all the good that is ours in Christ,” first by becoming immersed in it ourselves, second by giving the good example to others by putting what we believe into practice, and third by personally inviting others to share what we have in Christ. We have to manifest something that is attractive to others or else they will think that the Catholic Church does not produce loving and joyful people, people who have found the ultimate meaning in life and who live in hope for eternal happiness.
I will conclude, then, with a quote from St Robert Bellarmine concerning the ultimate goal of evangelization, which is entering into the joy of Our Lord, beginning now and lasting for all eternity. He writes: “It is not said, ‘May the joy of the Lord enter you,’ [as if we were capable of containing it all within ourselves] but ‘you enter into the joy of the Lord.’ This is a proof that the joy will be greater than we can conceive. We shall enter into a great sea of divine and eternal joy, which will fill us within and without, and surround us on all sides.”
This is what is ours in Christ, and this is what we offer to the world.