How do we evangelize? There may be many ways of responding to this question. As our diocese is involved with realignment in order to revitalize, it seems to be a common question in parishes around the area. In our conversation, it is evident that the word evangelize creates some resistance, so unease. “Evangelize, that’s not a word we use.” “That’s not a Catholic word.” “I can’t see myself preaching to someone in my neighbourhood.” What does “evangelize” really mean for us? Why is it important for us to recognize that it is part of who we are as disciples of Jesus? It is what we do.
In 2013, Pope Francis wrote a moving papal document entitled The Joy of the Gospel. He spoke of his dream of a church living as a community of disciples. This community he pointed out is marked by its mission. As he stated, the mission is clear – “Evangelization is the task of the Church.” (Joy of the Gospel 111) What does this mean for us? How do we live as such communities in these new parishes that we are called to at this time?
Pope Francis helps us with this vision. “Being Church means being God’s people…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” (Joy of the Gospel 114)
Several years ago, theologian Stephen Bevans anticipated this dream in a brief (14 page) Web article entitled The Mission Has a Church: An Invitation to the Dance. (This article is available online. You can download it using Google.) Our Scriptures are full of stories showing God in action - creating, bringing life, nurturing, saving and liberating. For Bevans, God is on a mission of life-giving, liberating love.
This God on mission is revealed to us as Christians in Jesus, i.e. ``God is like Jesus.” In Jesus, God shares our humanity and shows “a human face”. In all Jesus says and even more, in what he does we come to see the action of God. The disciples that Jesus gathered and continues to gather now take on the mission that is Jesus. Now we can say “God’s mission has a church.” Vatican II pointed out that the church, by its very nature is to be on mission to our world.
Bevans points out that the meaning of discipleship is to BE Church with the mission of Jesus. We are to BE God’s healing, liberating, merciful face to our world. It is not about simply speaking the message of the Gospel. It is about living, BEING THE GOSPEL for our world.
If we thought about it, we are involved in many good works. We find ourselves welcoming refugees and immigrants, assisting many areas of our world through D&P, reaching out to the poor, the homeless, the outcasts, the lonely, the sick and the suffering. In this we are disciples of Jesus on the mission of our loving God. Key in this good action is being aware that the foundation of this good is that we are disciples and this is our mission.