Pope Benedict XVI recently reminded Catholics that our mission is to evangelize. We are all missionaries right where we are and are called to share the Gospel with everyone we meet. This shouldn’t be a surprise because all he’s doing is reiterating Jesus’ last command “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Our call to evangelization isn’t exactly new.
Someday I’ll write more about what “evangelize” means but for now let’s define it as “openly living a life consistent with the Gospel”. I’m not necessarily talking about going door to door asking people if they’d like to meet Jesus (as if he’s waiting in the car). I’m talking primarily about making it no secret that you’re Catholic and living a lifestyle consistent with Catholic teaching. This is something anyone can do.
But who are we to evangelize and why? What’s the goal of evangelization? Today we’ll look at “why” we evangelize and tomorrow we’ll look at “who”.
Let’s get clear on one point right away; the Catholic Church does believe non-Catholics can attain heaven. This is not to be confused by the Church’s declaration that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. These are two, non-contradictory statements (and deserve another post). The point here is that a person doesn’t need to be a baptized Catholic-in-good-standing to get to heaven. It’s not easy, especially for non-Christians, but it is possible.
Consider an analogy. Say three people lead very different lifestyles but all three need food to keep from dying. One person eats what he can find in garbage bins and forages for berries at the park, another eats a solid diet of McGreasy hamburgers, and the third eats the richest, most healthy, and best tasting foods available.
All three people may get enough food to survive but certainly the first person is in a greater danger of starvation than the last. Even if the first person doesn’t starve; his quality of life suffers from lack of nourishment. This is similar to how Catholicism views evangelization.
Others may “survive” by attaining heaven through faith in Christ without even knowing Christ by name (nothing’s outside the power of God; it is possible). However, it’s extremely difficult; the chance of spiritual starvation is high and the spiritual dryness of only knowing Christ’s love without knowing his name is far from being a blessing. While those who know Christ but do not participate in the Sacraments (non-Catholic Christians) are much better off, they’re still not participating as fully in the body of Christ here on earth as they could be.
So the reason for evangelization is partly for their salvation; that they may know Christ, love him, and love their neighbor and is also so that they may draw closer to Christ now in this life. The goal of evangelization is to show people that a life in Christ is better than a life without him.
This is important to understand when we discuss who we are to evangelize tomorrow.