What is the Reason for the Church’s Existence?
John Lee, Johannesburg – Many of us Catholics consider the word “evangelise” as somewhat “Protestant”. However, the very reason for the Church’s existence is to evangelise–viz to bring others into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of mankind, empowered by his Spirit.
In the past, we Catholics understood “mission” as pointing out to non-Catholics, with pride, the “marks” of the one, true, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. This is ecclesiocentrism or triumphalism — it is not evangelisation.
Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi: “The best witness or example of one’s life would be a waste of time without a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” If someone is impressed by the quality of one’s Christian life, one has the duty to explain what the source and power of that witness is, if asked.
We Don’t Know Why We Are Christians
Many Catholics do not evangelise because thay are not sure of the basic Gospel message (the kerygma) as taught by the Church in its Catechism and in the Bible, viz that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and by his grace, working in love. If we live the joyful experience of being in love with Jesus Christ and by his grace, as both St Teresa of Avila and St Teresa of Calcutta stressed, we would spread that message to all we meet, as lovers do.
Our lack of witnessing shows that we are not cognisant of the basic Gospel message. We are so consumed with trying to save ourselves by our own efforts (a heresy, Pelagianism), that we have little interest in, and knowledge of, how to bring others to the Good News of the Gospel. St Paul warns in
1 Corinthians 9:16: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Holiness is given to us (in baptism and confirmation) before it is demanded of us.
What Are Good Works For?
Many misunderstand the role of good works. Good works do not save us; they show that our faith is genuine (James 2:17). These are fruits of grace. We do not “earn” salvation. It is a free gift from God, so that no one can claim the credit.
This stressing of good works by the Church has unfortunately been misunderstood by many of us Catholics, and was a primary cause of Martin Luther’s rebellion. Indulgences were being sold to secure entry into heaven, “earning” salvation through money unassisted by grace.
Actions (by the example of our Christian lives) do often speak louder than words. But such an excuse often masks other reasons, including timidity, embarrassment, pride, lukewarmness, and a patent lack of knowledge of the Bible and of the basic Gospel message.
It’s All About The Gospel
On the first Pentecost, Peter raised his voice and proclaimed to the Jews in Jerusalem the good news of the Gospel (Acts 2:14). Shortly before his ascension, Jesus instructed that all the baptised should make disciples of the nations, both laity and clergy (Matthew 28:19).
Are we living in a vital, ongoing relationship with Jesus, empowered by his Spirit, or are we trying to “find God with arms outstretched as the pagans do” as Pope Paul VI put it, “trying desperately to save ourselves by our own efforts”?
An excellent way of entering into a vital, ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, empowered by the Spirit, is to enroll in one of the Life in the Spirit seminars of Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which Pope Paul VI once described as “a chance for the Church and the world”.
We need to learn to lift Jesus higher and proclaim him to the world as our only Saviour — the Way, the Truth, and the Life.