What Does Evangelisation mean? How Do We Do That?
The new Pastoral Plan calls on us to evangelise, but how are we to understand that task? Fr Ralph De Hahn explains.
The launch of the new Pastoral Plan by our bishops in late January was much anticipated—with most Catholics still wondering what the word “evangelisation” really means.
Many associate it with the cries of famous TV evangelists who entertain millions with their biblical presentations—with remarkable financial success.
I have been reading the lectures and articles of our Church leaders and journalists as well as Pope Paul VI’s 1975 document Evangelisation in the Modern World (Evangelii nuntiandi), and wonder if we are not misunderstanding the concept of a New Evangelisation.
Pope Paul’s exhortation—supported also by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis—stressed a “New Evangelisation making the whole of creation new”, referring to Revelation 21:5.
It emphasised three distinctive elements:
- Interior conversion to Christ and his Church;
- The individual and the whole culture becoming affected by this conversion;
- Transformation of the culture and its institutions to make it more Catholic.
And the key message to be proclaimed? “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only son, so that everyone who believed in him may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Knowing that we cannot save ourselves, God sent Jesus, his son, who came to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we cannot pay!
The term “to evangelise” has always been used in the Catholic tradition in response to the command of Christ in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
There is an essential message to be proclaimed. The Church bears this great responsibility, for it is the reason for its very existence.
The divine power of the message has evangelising power when it is worthily proclaimed: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” cries Paul, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Romans 1:16).
Note well: “who has faith”! There is an awesome power in this proclamation of Truth revealed by God himself.
We must never forget that the Bible was written by the Church and for the Church.
Evangelisation is totally Catholic. It reveals the mystery of creation, original sin and recreation in Christ—a unique salvation history.
Where catechesis has failed
We all need to learn the content of that precious message.
And that is where our catechesis, in many aspects, has failed our people. It is a terribly false impression that we proclaim this message in order to bring large numbers into our churches.
We will certainly accomplish this, but not by counting the number of converts, and not by proselytising, but by attraction.
Pope Francis has more to say on this matter. There is a divine command, a message which is unique and irreplaceable, initiated by the inflowing of the Holy Spirit, to be proclaimed to all of creation, but it must begin from within and is not based entirely on the human gifts and talents of God’s people.
Previous articles in this newspaper have already suggested how every believing Christian can, and should, play their part.
It is a process over space and time with steady meaningful growth, as foretold in the Lord’s parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24).
This precious message must not to be lost in codes of morality, or the do-and-don’ts of our childhood catechism days, or in any kind of servitude.
It must necessarily offer freedom. Rather this message must lead all believers—laity, clergy and bishops and popes—to start with the true evangelisation of self.
There is no other way.
A New Evangelisation demands a deeply personal surrender to conversion of mind and heart. Nothing less, or we shall fail!
We cannot share a fire that we do not possess.
Pope Francis is adamant that if evangelisation is more of law than of grace, more of Church than of Jesus Christ, or even more of pope than God’s Word, then we are as unreliable as a pack of cards. We become onlookers while the Church stagnates.
We all confess we need a saviour, but we dare not place our hopes on human resources but rather on the power from on high—and that means a personal conversion, deep from within.
“Then will your light shine before the people, and they will see your light and be converted” (Ephesians 5:7-9). It is indeed attraction.
Our Catholic faith is so often poorly taught…but then for many thousands it is caught! It is contagious.
And we are not standing at the threshold of true evangelisation empty-handed. In its editorial on the launch of the Pastoral Plan, The Southern Cross reminded us of the vital and indispensable power of the media, traditional and social—”a matter neglected by the Church for the past quarter of a century!”
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
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