The Need of Evangelization
by Fr. Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Pope John Paul II, speaking on the vocation of the laity in the Church in 1989, spoke of the ever-growing religious indifference among many of the baptized as evidence of the inroads of secularism. This "phenomenon of de-christianization," he said, "strikes long-standing Christian people, and continually calls for evangelization."
The Holy Father is speaking here, not of the evangelization of non-Christians, but of the re-evangelization of Christians whose faith has been weakened and whose love has been cooled. He was more explicit about this need in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor:
"This separation (of morality from religion) represents one of the most acute concerns of the Church amid today's growing secularism, wherein many … people think and live as if God did not exist. It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived awareness of Christ, a living remembrance of His commandments, a truth to be lived out. A word …is not truly accepted …until it is put into action. Faith is a decision involving one's whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It entails an act of entrusting abandonment to Christ which enables us to live as He lived, in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters (n. 88)."
This "authentic reality of the Christian faith" is the fire that Christ came to enkindle in the hearts of men. "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish that it were already enkindled" (Lk. 12:49). That fire was ignited and burned brightly in the minds and hearts of the apostles, and that is why they were so instrumental in the spread of the faith. A fire gives forth both light and heat, and both are needed for evangelization. Both are needed for a "living faith," one that enlightens the mind with the Truth handed down by the Church, and proclaimed by the successor of Peter, and inflames the heart with the Love that urges one to make the sacrifices required to love God above all things, and to love one's neighbor as oneself.
While our Blessed Lord became incarnate "to cast fire upon the earth," notice that He did not deeply touch the hearts of his followers until He had given His life for them. That fire was ignited on Calvary. Only after that did the Holy Spirit come with those enlightening and strengthening graces, those purifying and healing graces, that transformed the apostles into the instruments of grace they became.
We, too, will not deeply influence the lives of others until we have borne the cross and undergone trials with patience in union with our divine Savior. Pope John Paul II reminded the Catholic laity of this in San Francisco in 1987: "You are in the forefront of the struggle to protect the authentic Christian values from the onslaught of secularization. Your great contribution to evangelization of your own society is made through your lives. Christ's message must live in you — in the way you live, and in
the way you refuse to live. At the same time, because your nation plays a role in the world far beyond its borders, you must be conscious of the impact of your Christian lives on others. Your lives must spread the fragrance of Christ's Gospel throughout the world."
Yet the de-christianization of our society is so widespread and deeply-rooted, that only special help from heaven can turn this trend around. However, divine providence requires that we do what we can. Although it is grace that turns hearts back to God, the Lord wants us to use the human means at our disposal. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it would be tempting God if we omit to do what we can and expect everything to be done by Him.
As to the disregard for God in our society, if every follower of Christ truly lived his or her faith, a veritable deluge of graces from heaven would flood this world. Only when the fire that Christ came to enkindle has been ignited in the minds and hearts of enough Christians will the tide of secularism begin to be reversed.
Our Blessed Lord so yearns for the return of those who have gone astray that He will mercifully pardon them, if only there is a sincere desire to return and a humble acknowledgment of guilt, and if sufficient prayers and sacrifices are offered to make up for what is wanting on the part of other members of the Mystical Body. So widespread is the crisis of faith that there is needed as never before on a world-wide scale sincere apostles (among the laity, religious and clergy) who will become the leaven, the salt, and the light of the world. Pray that God will raise up leaders in whose hearts that enlightening and strengthening fire burns brightly, to lead and inspire others to follow.
In those petitions do not fail to call on Mary, the Mother of God and of us all, who, in her own hidden way, far excelled all other humans in the one goal that counts — that of perfect love of God and neighbor. In her, the fire of love and light burned immeasurably more brightly than in all others. In her was her Son's wish most perfectly fulfilled. "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish that it were already enkindled" (Lk. 12:49).
TO KNOW HIM: THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
The above article is an excerpt from To Know Him: The Way, the Truth and the Life, Vol. I, by Fr. Paul Duffner, founder and former Director of the Rosary Center. These volumes are a collection of essays published in the Rosary Center's newsletter over the course of more than twenty years. Fr. Duffner shines the light of St. Thomas Aquinas, Scripture, Tradition and the words of the Popes on the most fundamental truths of Catholic faith and morals.
Available online - Volume 1, Volume 2.
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