Shortly after the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the upper room, Christ’s most faithful followers knew what they had to do. Jesus had given them a mission “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Was this directive meant for Jesus’ contemporaries alone? Apparently, no one for hundreds of years thought so. Generations of devoted Christians took Christ’s words literally and went out to evangelize all nations. Presumably, the call to evangelize was not only necessary, but critical, in the early years because no one had heard of Jesus Christ beyond the localities of Galilee, and for the first few hundred years, reaching the far ends of the earth to preach the gospel took some time, and often with tremendous risk to one’s life.
But seriously, who hasn’t at least heard about Jesus Christ in the modern world with the information age at its height? Is it really necessary to go out and spread the message of the gospels? Okay, perhaps there are remote places in third world countries that still haven’t been visited by missionaries, but how feasible it is for the average Catholic to visit the Kerguelen Islands?
Do most Catholics question the need for evangelization? Have we not been indoctrinated for the past few decades to respect the religious beliefs of others? Christ’s original message cannot possibly have the same directive today as it did in 33 AD. Have Catholics come to ignore Pope Benedict’s encouragement to the laity to spread the good news of Jesus Christ? After all, if there is still work to be done, there are priests and religious who have given their vocations for this cause. How does this decree to spread the faith apply to the average Catholic in today’s world?
The Second Vatican Council stresses that “Every disciple of Christ is responsible in his own measure for the spread of the faith.” Where is the need?
Nationmaster.com reports that 44% of people in the United States go to church.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that 24% of Catholics go to Mass.
It is assumed that this 24% consider themselves practicing Catholics.
Current lay missionaries suggest that “practicing Catholics” begin by reaching out to those who have distanced themselves from the church. This certainly seems more feasible than seeking out the unchurched in unknown territories. But how do we draw them back to the church?
The Second Vatican Council writes that “Christ implants in the hearts of individuals the vocation to be a missionary, and at the same time he raises up in the Church institutes which make their own the task of spreading the Gospel that belongs to the whole Church… Those whom God calls must answer his call in such a way that, without regard for purely human counsel, they may devote themselves wholly to the work of the Gospel.” Locally, in the Washington DC area, Catholics are fortunate to have the Institute of Catholic Culture to assist them in this life-giving mission. See www.instituteofcatholicculture.org.
By the virtue of baptism we are all missionaries. We have each been given talents and gifts from the Holy Spirit to do the work of evangelization. It is time for each Catholic to look within and ask ourselves – how may I spread the gospels? In what way can I make a difference? The question is not “is it feasible” but “how can I feasibly do this?” Pray for the answer.
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