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We answer the call to evangelize

Like the first witnesses of the Resurrection, Christians who gather each Sunday to experience and proclaim the presence of the Risen Lord are called to evangelize and bear witness in their daily lives…. Once the assembly disperses, Christ’s disciples return to their everyday surroundings with the commitment to make their whole life a gift, a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God” (cf. Rom 12:1). These are the words of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini: The Day of the Lord (#45).

Worship and evangelization – these two are tightly connected. The new missal (due probably in late 2011) will have four possible dismissals at the end of Mass. The deacon or priest will say, “Go in peace,” or “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” The last two best capture that link between worship and evangelization. Thus, when we respond to any of these with, “Thanks be to God,” we are taking on ourselves the mission to bring others to Christ, or bring back home those who have fallen away.

Clearly, if we are to attempt to bring the Gospel to others, we must first be evangelized. Pope Paul VI wrote in 1975: “As the people of God which has been placed in the world and is often tempted by its idols, she [the Church] needs to hear constantly the proclamation of ‘the mighty works of God’ by which she has been converted to the Lord so that she may hear his call anew and be confirmed in unity.” (Evangelii nuntiandi, #15) In essence, will any of our neighbors come to believe in Jesus as their Lord if they do not see that he is, in fact, our Lord? Of course, with God’s abundant grace, others can come to believe even in spite of us and our own behavior. But it certainly assists the process if we proclaim Jesus Christ in the world and if we practice what we proclaim. Paul VI adds: “These Christians will inevitably arouse a spirit of enquiry in those who see their way of life.” (#21) All of us, my sisters and brothers, are needed to be these witnesses.

We know, however, that witnessing by our lives is not enough. At some point, we need to explain why we live as we do. It is because of Jesus Christ. St. Peter called it giving the reason for the hope that is in you. (I Peter 3:15) Before our neighbors can decide to live as we Christians live, they need to know and understand what this new kingdom is, what our new existence is, both in terms of the truths of our faith and the behaviors that flow from that faith. This means both for us first and then for those being welcomed back and also for those who have never followed Jesus that there is a conversion from the idols of this world.

Pope Paul VI notes that this then leads to the evangelized one becoming an evangelizer: “This is the proof, the test of the genuineness of his own conversion. It is inconceivable that a man who has received the word and surrendered himself to the kingdom should not himself become a witness and proclaimer of the truth.” (#24)

The aim of all this, of course, is to bring about the unity of believers. The Acts of the Apostles describes this so well: “These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.” (Acts 2:42) As Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson N.J., has noted, we will know we are doing something right when we faithfully hand on the tradition which has been handed on to us, when all we do leads to the community of the faithful and not to us being a bunch of loners, when we are led to worship God in the Eucharist as Jesus taught us and to be fed by his body and blood, and when we are able “to pray continually and never lose heart.” (Lk 18:1)

My sisters and brothers, as you leave Mass this coming weekend, heed the command to go forth with a mission – to live the Gospel you have heard and eaten. This is the best way to welcome home those who have left us and to invite in those who are searching for salvation.