The call to evangelize
November 1, 2012
By Fr. Kyle Schnippel
Why does the church exist? Such a simple question, but such a variety of possibilities for answer. While it is true the church exists to perpetuate the sacraments, to continue Christ’s mission on Earth, to educate the youth; all seem to be possible answers.
However, the answer that the church herself provides goes a bit beyond these answers. Canon 1752, the very last law in the Code of Canon Law, concludes: ‘the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.’ The church exists to be an avenue for the salvation of souls, to raise the awareness that our destiny is not just here on Earth, but is truly to dwell forever with Christ, our Savior, in heaven.
As we place this end-goal always before our eyes, though, there is one slight caveat that must also be included. We are not concerned with the salvation of the souls of just Catholics; the church is concerned about the salvation of every soul that exists! This is our divine mission, given as the very last words of Our Lord in the Gospel according to St. Matthew: “Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20).”
This mission that Jesus gives is a mission to evangelize! It is a mission to take the word of God, to ruminate upon the word living and active, to make this word a part of our very souls, and to become active and living witnesses of this very same word in our own day and age; to look at the world not through regular glasses or contacts, but through the lens of Christ, living and active.
There is a very powerful temptation among Catholics, however, that we have all too often succumbed: to let the priests and the religious be the ones who evangelize; while the laity go about their work. But it is precisely the call of the laity to bring the Gospel message into their world; to not leave what is received on Sundays at Mass behind them when they return into the world.
Certainly, this is a challenge, for our culture tells us that we should do precisely that, for faith has become a private thing, not something to be shared overtly in public. But I think of so many images that Jesus uses in the Scriptures that contradict this approach. For example, in the Book of Revelations, the Letter to the Church in Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-21), Jesus admonishes them to be either hot or cold; but because they are lukewarm in their faith, He will ‘spit them out of his mouth.’ Not exactly the attitude I want Jesus to have towards me!
So how do we do such a thing? How are we, as Catholics, called to evangelize our world? It starts, first and foremost, with the witness of love towards Christ, as person. Without this personal witness, it can be so easy to fall into the traps laid by the Pharisees throughout the Gospels.
Secondly, while we must all become more informed of our faith, it is still perfectly fine to admit that we do not know something. But in reply when asked, seek out the information. It remains that the best way to really learn a subject is by teaching it to others.
Finally, be willing to sacrifice for the faith. The early church grew because of the witness of the martyrs. While we are not in an age of martyrdom today, we must still be willing to show our love for God outwardly, too, as this can inspire others to embrace the truth of Christ in their own lives as well.
Father Schnippel is the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.