Last week’s formation was entitled “The Mission of the Church.” It was the first in a series during which we will reflect on the process of evangelization. Having looked at the underlying principles given by the Church, in upcoming sessions we will focus more practically on what this looks like in youth and campus ministry today.
This first talk was an overview of the Church’s understanding of the process of evangelization and can be summarized in the following 5 points.
1. The Church “exists in order to evangelize”
The Church’s mission flows directly from Christ who gave her it to her before his Ascension (Matthew 28:19-20). Blessed Paul VI expressed this reality when he wrote:
“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14).
Here we see that evangelization is not one task among many for the Church. It is the reason for her existence. And therefore everything that she does, and everything we do as a community, must be evaluated in light of this mission.
2. This plan is born of the Father’s heart
God the Father desires for us to be united in relationship with him. This is the reason why he created us. Even in the moment of our first sin, he immediately responded, promising a Savior. Time and again he reached out to his people through covenants.
The Son makes the Father’s plan possible. Our salvation, our being brought back into communion with the Father, is possible because of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery.
The Holy Spirit effects the plan through the Church. In some way, it is not enough that Christ rose from the dead. Grace has to be communicated to us and Christ promised to do so through the Church. In the words of St. Paul:
“To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that ht manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church” (Ephesians 3:8-10).
It is breathtaking, and humbling, and incredibly encouraging to see God’s willingness to allow us to cooperate with his plan for salvation.
3. Evangelization has 5 essential elements
According to the General Directory for Catechesis the essential elements of evangelization are: witness, proclamation, teaching, sacraments, and love of neighbor (GDC 46).
Through witness we are present to people and demonstrate, more through actions than words, a new way of living. Proclamation is sharing the basic Gospel message of God’s love and a call to conversion. Through teaching we make explicit the fullness of what God has revealed in Christ. In the sacraments we have access to the grace won by Christ on the cross and the community is built up. And through growing in love of neighbor people learn to share the love they have received from Christ.
“And while each of these essential elements are crucial, we cannot reduce the dynamism and richness of evangelization which calls for them to be implemented in totality” (GDC 46).
We cannot reduce evangelization to primarily one of these elements. For example, there is the all too popular phrase that St. Francis of Assisi never actually said: “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.”
A singular focus on witness that is ultimately opposed to the proclamation of the Gospel creates a false dichotomy. Of course this is often an overcorrection to the negative reaction garnered when Christ is proclaimed with words separated from a life of witness. In both cases there is a flattening and distortion of the “complex, rich and dynamic reality which is called evangelization” (EN 17).
4. Evangelization unfolds in progressive stages
The essential elements of evangelization follow the basic structure of the Great Commission. “Go (be present and witness), therefore, and make disciples of all nations (proclaim Christ), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (sacraments), teaching (teaching) them to observe all that I have commanded you (love of neighbor).
This postcard was created by our diocesan Office of Youth Ministry to give a visual overview of the stages of evangelization.
The General Directory for Catechesis summarizes this progression: “The process of evangelization…is structured in stages or ‘essential moments’ (Catechesi Tradendae 18): missionary activity directed toward nonbelievers and those who live in religious indifference; initial catechetical activity for those who choose the Gospel and of those who need to complete or modify their initiation; pastoral activity direction toward the Christian faithful of mature faith in the bosom of the Christian community” (49).
These stages are not rites of passage that we complete and, as a result, never revisit. In our practice of youth ministry we must be attentive where our teens are in process of evangelization and accomodate our work with them to help them move toward the next stage. And we must keep in mind that these essential moments “may be repeated, if necessary, as they give evangelical nourishment in proportion to the spiritual growth of each person or of the entire community” (GDC 49).
Developing a greater understanding of each of these stages and discerning how to help our youth and youth communities grow in their relationship with Christ is the main reason for this formation series.
5. Marked by liturgy
Finally, as we seek to help young people come to understand the fullness of truth, we must rely on the fullness of grace communicated to us through the Church’s liturgy. The liturgy is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Therefore we must seek to enliven the grace already given to youth in the sacraments they have received and help them prepare for renewed and deepened encounters of Christ in liturgy.
Formation punctuated by discerned, prayerful moments of commitment is a powerful means for growth in relationship with Christ and community. We have seen this in our own journey of becoming members of Women Youth Apostles. And therefore, whether it is offering a more structured model of stages of commitment such as Catholic Life Communities or CLCs, or simply a focused preparation for encountering Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or the Eucharist, ultimately we must place our trust in the work and grace of Christ made most directly available in the Church’s liturgy.
In contrast to the popular misquote of St. Francis of Assisi cited above, there is a true quote from him that can inspire our efforts in evangelization.
“Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.”
He was a saint, and as such a person filled with hope and joy. So this is not as much a critique of past action, but an expression of urgency in light of God’s greatness, glory, and the mission given to the Church. So with that in mind we look forward to diving into the following topics for this formation series on the process of evangelization:
- Relational ministry and building trust with teens (Pre-evangelization)
- Apologetics (Pre-evangelization)
- Proclamation of the Gospel through personal testimony (Evangelization)
- Delivering the Fullness of the Faith (Catechesis)
- Accompanying Teens in Prayer, Charity, and Evangelization (Discipleship)
Mary, Queen of Apostles – pray for us!
St. John Bosco – pray for us!
St. Therese of the Child Jesus – pray for us!