The Mission of Evangelization in the World Today
by Rev. John R. Nuelle, MS, PHL, STL
United States Catholic Missions Association
In the Gospels, "mission"
is always a dynamic reality. Conveying the meaning of empowering someone to accomplish a task of special importance,
various forms of the verb "to send" are used more than two hundred times. Jesus
was the life-giving Emissary empowered by the Father (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd ed. [Washington, DC:
Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000],
no. 858). Clearly, in the minds of the Gospel writers, mission was seen as a
dynamic spirit conferred on someone—principally Jesus and his disciples—to initiate
the "kingdom" or "reign" of God, of which the Church was to be the sign and the
"universal sacrament of salvation" (see Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity [Ad Gentes Divinitus (AG)], no. 1, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar
and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery [Northport, NY: Costello
the Church emphasized the dynamic role of mission as the life-giving activity
of proclaiming the Word of God to those who knew little or nothing of Jesus (CCC,
no. 854). In this Gospel proclamation, commonly known as "ad gentes," there was
and is a vitality that energetically unfolds and that is, in itself, a
reflection of the Trinity:
- The Father, who so loved the world
that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have
eternal life (Jn 3:16)
- The Son, who came so that people might
have life more abundantly (Jn 10:10)
- The Holy Spirit, the Advocate who is the dynamic force teaching all
that the Son revealed (Jn 14:26)
Indeed it was in
turning to this Trinitarian reality of God that the Second Vatican Council
placed the origin of mission, which, of her very nature, is integral to being
Christian and Church (AG, no. 2). Drawn into the life of the Trinity itself, can
the Church be other than missionary?
his purpose by proclaiming, "I came so that they might have life and have it
more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). Because
of his obedience, even unto death on a Cross, Jesus was exalted in glory (Phil
2:7-9) to the benefit of all humanity (Jn 12:32). Death had no lasting power
over him (Jn 10:17). In dying and rising from the dead, Jesus' dynamic mission
of salvation was completed once for all in himself [AG, no. 5]. In the joy of Easter,
the Lord shared the fruit of his Death and Resurrection with his Apostles,
saying "as the Father has sent me, so I send you" (Jn 20:21). Then he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive
the holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). In this
way, he united them to the mission he had received from the Father, simultaneously
conferred on them the principal agent who would lead them forward, and gave
them the courage to forge new paths.The
gift of the Holy Spirit was not conferred on them so that they would keep it
for themselves. "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of
the age" (Mt 28:18-20).
supernatural dynamism of Pentecost, Jesus' disciples first gave their bold
witness to the world. In so doing, both the Church and her missionary activity—evangelization—were
born. "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from
the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her
origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father" (AG, no. 2). From that
moment and "until the end of the age," all disciples of Jesus are called to witness
to him and their faith. "Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to
evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole" (Pope
Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern
World [Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN)],
no. 15, www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19751208_evangelii-nuntiandi_en.html).
"The person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies
the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a
person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming
a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn" (EN, no. 24).
The World Today
We live in
extraordinary times. Ideas and imaginings of one society, previously limited
geographically, are now universally available through the World Wide Web.
Scientific research and discovery, formerly restricted to a privileged few, are
readily accessible to many. Injustices and atrocities committed in one part of
the globe are rapidly communicated via social media. Diversified cultures and
religions, whereby people exercise their beliefs, philosophies, values, and
creativity, are now touching us through the lives of our next-door neighbors.
Freedom, individualism, ecology, consumerism, education, dialogue, economic
development, poverty, migration, and globalization are all integral parts of
modern society. As such, every aspect of human life is influenced (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World [Gaudium et Spes],
nos. 4, 5, 6, in Vatican Council II:
Underneath this global
advancement and transformation, the basic hunger and thirst to be fully human,
fully alive, remains unchanged. The quest for meaning in life endures, and the longing
for a relationship with God—the Supreme, the Ultimate, the Alpha and the Omega—persists.
"Missionary activity is intimately bound up with human nature and its
aspirations" (AG, no. 8). The permanently relevant question for the Church in
the world today is how to contextualize "the unceasing interplay of the Gospel
and of man's concrete life, both personal and social" so as to evangelize it
(EN, no. 29).
wisdom to the technology of today, we recognize that methods of evangelizing
vary according to different circumstances of time, place, and culture and thereby
present a continual challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation.
Though methods may vary, certain elements and aspects of evangelization remain
- The "principal agent" of the Church's
mission is Holy Spirit who leads the company of believers to form a community,
to be Church (CCC, nos. 852, 858).
- "There is no true evangelization if
the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed" (EN, no. 22).
- The divine mandate to proclaim the Gospel
to every creature has been and remains primarily the duty of the Church to
which Christ gave his Spirit (EN, no. 59).
her very nature, the work of evangelization is one of the most basic duties of
the People of God (AG, no. 35) and the primary service that the Church can
render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world. Within the
Church, responsibility is incumbent predominantly on Bishops, the successors to
the Apostles (CCC, no. 862). Yet accountability does not end with them. Bishops
must educate the faithful so that the whole Church may truly recognize its missionary
vocation and the entire People of God can fulfill its missionary obligation (Pope
Paul VI, Ecclesiae Sanctae,
introduction to Chapter 3, www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19660806_ecclesiae-sanctae_en.html); Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church [Lumen
Gentium], no. 17, in Vatican Council
II: Volume 1).
perspective of the world today, it can never be stressed too strongly that the
mission of evangelization consists in more than the preaching and teaching of a
doctrine. The Gospel must be proclaimed by witness—verbal
and nonverbal, personal and communal—that draws others into questioning
themselves (EN, no. 21). Following Jesus' example, the starting point of evangelization
must always focus on life (Jn 10:10) and be directed to the person. The life that
Jesus came to restore will be bestowed on those who can open their hearts to loving
and reconciling relationships with God and among themselves, caring enough to
feed the hungry, succor the sick, and welcome strangers into their midst (Mt
25:35-40).One of the central
purposes of the mission of evangelization is to bring people together in
hearing the Gospel, in fraternal communion, in prayer, and in the Eucharist (Acts
One of the greatest challenges to the Church today is represented by the
hunger of vast de-Christianized populations who have lost all sense of being "the
People of God." To help them rediscover the one who is "the way and the truth
and the life" (Jn 14:6), a renewed sense of prayer (EN, no. 28) and apostolic
zeal need to be enkindled in the hearts of today's modern disciples (Lk 12:49).
To proclaim the Gospel in the early pilgrim Church, apostolic messengers
traveled over roads built by Roman engineering. Navigation today entails going
digital. Nearly a third of the world's population uses the information
superhighway, the Internet, on a daily basis. It is the world's fastest growing
new language, which freely crosses all borders. Evangelizing via the
information superhighway requires a paradigm shift. Can it be developed as a
catechetical tool empowering our de-Christianized brothers and sisters in their
search for Christ, in their quest for meaning and fullness of life (Pope
John Paul II, On the Permanent Validity
of the Church's Missionary Mandate [Redemptoris
Missio], no. 37c,
www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio_en.html)? Missionary by
nature, the Church must employ every appropriate means at her disposal to witness
"to the ends of the earth." This includes being aware of the potential
benefits, challenges, and dangers of social media.
© 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All
rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without
adaptation for non-commercial use.
from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright ©
2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington,
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpts from Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, copyright © 1975, Libreria
Editrice Vaticana (LEV); Ecclesiae
Sanctae, copyright © 1966, LEV; Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, copyright © 1990, LEV. Used with permission.
All rights reserved.
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