What is evangelization? Right from the outset, Catholics should not be engaged in proselytization, which is to make converts. Worse still, if we coerce and pressurize others to convert to Catholicism. Rather, evangelization is the proclamation of the Good News. What is this Good News that we are called to share with those who are interested? Namely this, to share in our intimacy with the Trinitarian God. This was what St John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (1 Jn 1:1-4) In these words, St John tells us that communion is mission.
If our mission is communion, then it must be accomplished in communion. For this reason, the Lord speaks of the need to be in communion with Him, with each other and with the legitimate authority of the Church. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.”
Being in intimacy with the Lord is the foundation of mission. Unless the Lord has loved us, there is no mission. We can only share what we have received. The authority of mission rests on the fact that we are sent. We do not send ourselves. Jesus made this clear when He said, “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Indeed, the source of Jesus’ mission springs from His intimacy with His Father. The Father loves the Son, and experiencing the Father’s love, the Lord shares this love with us.
Although Jesus is our Lord and we are His servants, He chose to call us, friends. He said, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall not call you servants anymore, because a servant does not know his master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.” Jesus desires to share His life and love with us, especially His intimacy with His Father. To share our intimacy with the one we love with someone else is the highest form of love, just as parents share their love for each other with their children. To invite someone into our family circle is a great honour and an expression of trust and communion.
What does it mean to be in intimacy with the Lord? It means keeping His commandments. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” Following the commandments of our Lord is to share in His life, to think and act like Him. Only when the love of Jesus is in our hearts, can we be rightly motivated to follow the commandments, not as something extraneous to us but because they are the wisdom of God in helping us to live a life of joy. Hence, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.”
Being in intimacy with the Lord also entails that we have walked with Jesus. This was the most important criterion when the apostles were choosing from among the disciples someone who could replace Judas to be in the college of apostles. St Peter said, “We must therefore choose someone who has been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling round with us, someone who was with us right from the time when John was baptising until the day when he was taken up from us – and he can act with us as a witness to his resurrection.” Truly, unless we have walked with Jesus and seen Him at work in the lives of our fellowmen, we cannot bear witness to Him. We witness to what we see and hear. If there is a lack of credible witnesses for Christ today, it is because Catholics do not know the Lord intimately and have not walked with Him in the lives of our fellowmen.
Of course, the most important form of intimacy is that of prayer. That was how the apostles spoke to the Lord and sought guidance in making important decisions. In the selection of Matthias, they did not simply use their human logic and judgement but entrusted everything to the Lord in prayer. “Having nominated two candidates, Joseph known as Barsabbas, whose surname was Joseph, whose surname was Justus, and Matthias, they prayed, ‘Lord, you can read everyone’s heart; show us therefore which of these two you have chosen to take over this ministry and apostolate, which Judas abandoned to go to his proper place.’ They then drew lots for them, and as the lot fell to Matthias, he was listed as one of the twelve apostles.” The apostles would talk to the Lord as their friend and master whenever they met with challenges or difficulties. Their strong feeling of the Risen Lord in their lives kept them going in times of trial and persecution.
Secondly, we are called to be in communion with fellow Christians. The Lord said, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Just as Jesus laid down His life for us, as Christians we are called to lay down our lives for each other. Being in communion with our fellow Catholics is a necessary sign and fruit of our communion with the Lord. We always love those whom our loved ones love. If we love Jesus, we will also love those whom He loves. Catholics often are individualistic. They come to attend church services but they do not know their fellow Catholics. They are alone in their faith and because they do not experience the love of Christ in their community, their faith is nominal because they cannot identify with the Body of Christ, but remain detached and alienated from them.
Without loving each other, our witnessing to the Lord would be a real contradiction. This explains why our mission has not been effective because church leaders and members are always squabbling and fighting among themselves, causing division in the church. We can preach eloquently and cite the scriptures, but if we lack love and communion among ourselves, we are counter-witnessing because no one will believe that we are the disciples of Jesus. Jesus’ warning should serve as a guide to fruition in our ministry. “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. What I command you is to love one another.” The lack of sincere love among Christians is the biggest scandal of Christianity and the primary obstacle to the proclamation of the Good News.
Finally, to be in communion with the Lord means that we must be in communion with the hierarchy of the Church, the leaders. It is significant that in the first reading we read that the first thing they did when they assembled was to name another disciple to be among the Twelve. St Peter as the leader among the apostles said, “Brothers, the passage of scripture has to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit, speaking through David, foretells the fate of Judas, who offered himself as a guide to the men who arrested Jesus – after having been one of our number and actually sharing this ministry of ours. Now in the Book of Psalms it says: Let someone else take his office.” This means that our faith must be in continuity with the faith of the apostles and those who have been chosen to succeed them. This is what the apostolic succession means and why it is a criterion that if our faith is of the apostolic faith, we must be able to trace our faith to that of the apostles and their successors. For us, Catholics, we believe that our faith is preserved through the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, that is the Holy Father together with the College of Bishops. Only by keeping our faith as taught by Christ’s chosen successors, can we be sure that our faith is truly in continuity with that of the apostles as handed down to us.
Of course, for those who exercise leadership in the Church, it means that we too need to be in close intimacy with the Lord so that we can discern wisely and rightly the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The sadness and real tragedy of the Church today is that our leaders, bishops, priests, religious or lay leaders, are not taking their spiritual life and prayer life seriously. In place of intimacy with the Lord, leaders spend more time planning, preparing and laboring in the vineyard. When that happens, they become selfish, reactive, irritable, ambitious and worldly in their service to the Lord. Today, we need to pray for our church leaders, that they too walk in intimacy with the Lord in prayer, in love and in obedience to His commandments so that they can inspire and help the Church to grow in faith and be the face of God’s mercy and compassion to the world.