What does it mean to evangelize today?

You and I look to the Gospels for our guidance.  Jesus is our Way: he points us in the right direction that leads to fulfillment.  Jesus is our Truth: he helps us see things as they really are.  Jesus is our Life: he gives us the strength and vitality to live this life successfully, to overcome all hardships.

Today’s readings stress the need for evangelizing, the need for sharing with others what we have discovered for ourselves.  Have you noticed that Jesus always remains in the background?  He does not force himself upon anyone.  Jesus is non obtrusive, noninvasive.  He gives people total freedom.  They must want to find him.  They must ask to be in a relationship with Him.  Jesus wants all these things more than we do, but he can’t, or he won’t, force the issue.  You can’t force a friendship.

When Jesus formed a band of followers, when he chose the 12 and then the 72, he very quickly sent them out to teach others what they had learned from him.  He gave them healing powers, and powers over evil spirits.  From the very beginning, Jesus chose to work through his followers, through his disciples.  They would lead others to God, by sharing with them what God had done in their lives, by teaching them the promise God made for our eternal happiness, and by teaching them how a person lives a good and fulfilled life.

Jesus established his Church to all these things.  The Church continues to do throughout the centuries what Jesus did during his lifetime on earth.

Now, what does it mean to evangelize today?  How do we go about doing this?

Clearly, there is a great need for this.  Even though this is still a remarkably religious country – just think of all the churches you find in every town and city – there is a steady erosion of the faith, what is called a secularization.  Many people do not see the need for religion, for a relationship with God.  We see that in so many ways in our society.  The most recent example was the Supreme Court’s ruling, by 5 judges, that the statues in every State that restrict marriage to only a man and woman must be struck down.  Now, marriage is to be applied to same-sex couples, as well as opposite-sex couples.  This is completely contrary to God’s announced plan for marriage, as seen in Genesis 2 and Matthew 19.

Even among Catholics there is a great need for evangelization.  Catholics are the largest single denomination in the country.  The next largest is fallen away Catholics.  One tenth of all adults in this country are lapsed Catholics.  Why is this?  What happened?  Apparently, these lapsed Catholics could not find the core of the faith, which is a real relationship with God.  They failed to understand how the faith applies to real life, and gives meaning to it.  If one of them were here today, they would be baffled to see you returning here Sunday after Sunday.  They would be even more baffled to see a group of men, especially young men, completely immersing themselves in a way of life that makes no sense without a strong dependency upon God.

So what does the Gospel call us to do in these times and circumstances?

There is another area that needs to be evangelized, and that is the public square.  We are both Catholics and American citizens.  Jesus teaches: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Thus we must also bring our moral influence into the public square.  We hope that graduates of Benedictine College will precisely do this as they enter the work force.  But, so also must we be willing to do our share.

We know that God is sovereign over all things.  Divine, eternal law is the highest form of law, and God alone designs that law.  God has a plan for such basic human realities as marriage, spousal love and family.  The plan does not change over the centuries.   Our task is to discover that plan, come to appreciate its goodness and reasonableness, and then to attempt to guide our lives according to that plan.  Divine Revelation teaches us God’s plan for marriage.  We cannot ignore it.  This is what we teach in all our catechesis and apologetics.

But when we exercise our citizenship, and enter the public square, we cannot use the language of catechetics.  We must use the language of the broader society.  We must find a language, and examples, and persuasive arguments that our contemporaries can understand.  Our world view and our values come from God.  But our ways of relating these to the world we live in must come from us.

The Constitution is made for people with fundamentally different views.  But it works when people make it work for them.  We thank God for such a governing instrument, but we must learn how to make it serve our values, just as effectively as our opponents strive to make it serve their values.

On June 26 the Supreme Court handed down its decision on same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges in a narrow 5-4 decision.  It was a horrible decision, but reflects the mood of the country where advocates of same-sex marriage have been very active.

In a democracy, good people are expected to voice their opinions and to shape public opinion which, in turn, shapes public policy.  If good people won’t do this, then others will.

You see many references to Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion, which Justices Scalia and Thomas joined.  Roberts writes: “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. … The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.  The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent” (p. 2).  Then he refutes all the arguments used by the majority opinion:  marriage equality, the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment, a fundamental right claim, the theme that marriage is desirable and the petitioners desire it, the right to privacy, legal precedents, no risk of harm to themselves or third parties, and an appeal for respect to be given to the Supreme Court’s judgements, or judicial supremacy.  

Roberts states: “Those who founded our country would not recognize the majority’s conception of the judicial role.  They, after all, risked their lives and fortunes for the precious right to govern themselves.  They would never have imagined yielding that right on a question of social policy to unaccountable and unelected judges.  And they certainly would not have been satisfied by a system empowering judges to override policy judgments so long as they do so after ‘a quite extensive discussion’” (p. 25).

Archbishop Naumann has a good column in the recent LEAVEN (3 July 15).  He draws out the implications of Obergefell v. Hodges, and then explains what our response should be.  “We need to renew and strengthen our efforts to support marriage and family life within the church and the broader culture.

“We need to expand our pastoral care and solicitude toward individuals experiencing same-sex attraction.

“We need to educate better those within the church and communicate more effectively to the broader community the beauty and meaning of authentic marriage and its importance for children and the well-being of society.

“We need to work in state legislatures and the Congress to limit and minimize the damage cause by the court’s decision while also advocating and laying the groundwork for its eventual reversal.

“Most of all, we need to fast and pray for wisdom and courage as we attempt to transform a culture and society that has become so confused about something as fundamental as the nature of marriage and family life.

“This is not a moment to yield to discouragement.  It is a time to recommit ourselves to renewing and reclaiming our society and culture, one mind and one heart at a time.”

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), a great 20th century witness and martyr declared: “Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love, and do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!  One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”

May we all become effective evangelizers, for these times and for this culture.