Encounter – Discipleship – Mission
Three Fundamentals of Catholic Evangelisation
AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE
EVANGELISE ONLINE CONFERENCE (20 – 22 OCTOBER 2022)
Let us examine evangelisation in our Catholic Tradition. I will reflect on two key Gospel texts with regard to the Lord’s evangelising work. From this, I draw some pastoral observations.
Let us consider John 4/5-30: The Samaritan woman at the Well. Then also let us consider concurrently Luke 24/13-35: The Emmaus Disciples.
Upon reflection on these texts and in the light of our growing Catholic teaching on evangelisation, at least three fundamentals of Catholic evangelisation on becoming “Fishers of People” (Mark 1/17) could be made.
- ENCOUNTER: The first fundamental is about encountering Jesus
What is evangelisation? From a very brief biblical theological point of view, it is simply proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and the Kingdom of God to the Nations. Regarding a more popular definition, the great Saints of evangelisation could say something like: “Making Jesus known and loved.” Certainly, St Teresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) would say this – the great Carmelite French Saint who died at an early age of Tuberculosis and never left her convent yet remains a great evangelist.
When we consider the Scriptures, let us also keep in mind the important articulation of Catholic evangelisation from (Pope) St Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 6-16. In these important paragraphs from this kind of Magna Carta of Evangelisation in the Modern World, St Paul VI orients us “From Christ the Evangeliser to the Evangelising Church.”
We can see this in the Samaritan Woman. She encountered Jesus in a most extraordinarily mysterious way. Without being able to articulate it completely, she simply returned to the village and told everyone, “He told me everything I have ever done” (John 4/29). The Emmaus Disciples, when they encountered Jesus, said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24/32).
Clearly, the first fundamental of evangelisation is an extraordinarily deep and profound personal experience of God through, with and in Jesus Christ. We see in both those texts that Jesus takes the initiative and invites them to this personal encounter. He is the first evangeliser, in particular in sharing the Kerygma. The Kerygma, according to Pope Francis in Christus Vivit (2019) 112-133 and in Evangelium Gaudium (2013), 163 is “the first and fundamental proclamation of the Good News.” The Kerygma is simply summarised, by Pope Francis as three moments: The experience that Jesus loves you (Encounter), Jesus saves you (Discipleship) and Jesus frees you (Mission).
The Kerygma is this initial moment of grace in encountering the Life and Death of Jesus within us. This Good News proclaimed is very strongly linked to the catechesis, teaching and reception of Sacraments that follows it. The Kerygma and Catechesis are not separated from each other. They go together to form evangelisation. The Kerygma leads to Catechesis but the Catechesis must also move towards the Kerygma. We cannot have one without the other. They are distinct but they are never separate.
It is the Church herself that evangelises as the presence of Christ in the world today. Evangelisation is inseparable from Christ. It is interesting to note that the Samaritan Woman and her encounter with Jesus happens at Jacob’s Well which becomes a kind of Church. It is here that she comes to experience Christ and draws others to this experience at this place. The Emmaus Disciples, alternatively, experience this when they share a special meal with Jesus. The keywords used here are Take, Bless, Break and Give. They are, of course, words inseparably linked with the Eucharist. Therefore, Evangelisation and the Church are inseparable.
Perhaps it is Pope Benedict XVI that best expressed, in this Golden Age of Magisterial teaching on evangelisation, the heart of what encountering Jesus means. In a type of summary of Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est (2005),1,defines, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives a new horizon and decisive direction.”
- DISCIPLESHIP: a second fundamental of evangelisation in our Catholic Tradition – Becoming Disciples. How does Jesus evangelise? How does Jesus make Disciples?
With the Samaritan Woman, Jesus engages patiently with her in a very gradual merciful dialogue that evangelises. On a very hot day at a drinking well, he simply asks the woman to “give me a drink.” It opens up the conversation. Jesus himself takes the initiative here. He invites her to consider the possibility of “living water” (John 4/10). This takes time, she does not quite understand what this means. She has a very physical understanding of the water. Jesus gives it a spiritual understanding of a spring welling up deep within her.
With the Emmaus disciples, again, we find Jesus gradually initiating a dialogue with them to draw them into the deeper mysteries of faith. After scolding them for being “so slow” (Luke 24/25), he then patiently “explained and opened the Scripture to us…and we recognised Him in the Breaking of the Bread” (Luke 24/32-35). It is gradual. It is patient. He walks with them. In walking with them, he explains the Mysteries of the faith. It is a synodal experience.
With both the Samaritan Women and the Emmaus disciples, there is a common call to conversion. They are to repent and believe in the Good News. They are to do a 180-degree turn around towards a life looked at from the point of view of God’s merciful love and not their own. There is a movement from little or partial faith to a complete faith. In a sense, we could say even today that there is a movement from Religious faith to Christian faith.
All of this, of course, as we examine Jesus, as the Master evangelist, is something that is PROPOSED but never IMPOSED on anyone. This is stressed by St Paul VI in Evangelli Nuntiandi 80 and by every Pope ever since as a hallmark characteristic of Catholic evangelisation.
There is a subtlety in Jesus the evangelist. It is invitational. Jesus never proselytises or forces people to believe in Him. He evokes very deep questions in them. It is not only what He says but also the non-verbals here. They wonder who this man could be. We continue to do that as we evangelise today. It is not so much, what we say but our lifestyle that should evoke questions in others. It is also, for instance, the great evangelising characteristic in our ecclesial music, our religious poetry and art, and even in our architecture. For example, look at the spires of a Cathedral…they are fingers pointing to Heaven. They evangelise in brick, mortar and stone.
If we want to imitate Jesus as evangelists, we must realise that the world today wants witnesses more than teachers. Reverting to Evangelli Nunitandi 41, St Paul VI says the following, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Hence the fascination with the Saints. They are our great witnesses of faith. Particularly for instance, Mary and St Joseph. Very little is said by them in the Gospels. In St Joseph’s case, nothing is “said” by him directly. From what we learn of them, we witness the presence of Christ in their lives through their actions. They become great evangelisers and intercessors for us.
- MISSION: The third and final fundamental aspect of evangelisation in our Catholic Tradition pertains to the workers of evangelisation. We are called to evangelisation that is Missionary, Marian, and has a synodal style.
In the Samaritan Woman at the Well, once she has encountered Christ and becomes a Disciple, she immediately goes out in a Missionary style. She cannot stay still. She runs back to where she comes from to tell people about Christ. She says to them “come and see” (John 4/29). In her haste, she leaves behind her water jar, the very reason she went to the well in the first place (John 4/28.) Later on, the villagers come to Jesus and the Disciples and say it is not just the woman’s testimony that draws them to an encounter with Jesus but their own investigations. They say, “We know that he is truly the Saviour of the world” (John 4/42). They testify to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
All this happens as a synodal movement from Jacob’s well to the city and back again. They are walking together. The Samaritan Woman becomes a real “Mary figure.” We recall how Mary herself hastened to affirm in faith her cousin Elizabeth at the Visitation. This is exactly what the Samaritan Woman does. She is full of tenderness, full of the spirit, full of Missionary zeal.
The Emmaus disciples similarly find themselves in a vigorous Missionary mode. As soon as Jesus “vanished form their sight” (Luke 24/31), “That same hour…they returned to Jerusalem” (v 33). They go back to the very place they were running from. Beforehand, they became hopeless and were dragging each other down. After this saving encounter with Jesus the evangelizer, they make a complete 180 degree turn and go back to Calvary refreshed, renewed, and become some of the first witnesses to the Resurrection. When they go back to the Apostles, they say, “The Lord has truly Risen indeed” (v 34).
Here we find an ancient definition of what Christians are – Missionary Disciples of the Resurrection.
Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est, 25, helpfully articulates the Church’s long understanding of itself when he says, “This Missionary impulse has a threefold responsibility.” Firstly, it is to proclaim the Word of God to the whole world. This is where the words Kerygma and Martyrdom originate.
Secondly, we are to celebrate the Sacrament, especially the Eucharist, as the source and summit of all Missionary life. This impulse is often called, “Liturgy.”
Thirdly and very importantly, our Missionary endeavour propels us on to be Missionaries of Charity to others, especially those who are lost, lonely or least. Our movement out into the peripheries to find those needing the caress and tenderness of Christ both physically and spiritually is part of what we call the “Diakonia.”
These threefold responsibilities are demonstrated in a mode which is best described as a Marian style of evangelisation. This is particularly stressed by Pope Francis. This Marian style avoids all politicisations and polarisations. All of these impose themselves on the Church and in the world. It is the opposite of proposing with tender mercy Christ amongst us and holding the world close, especially to those on the peripheries.
Finally, it is a synodal and Petrine style of evangelisation. Walking with Jesus, we are led by the Holy Spirit. Here in this style of evangelisation listening becomes more important than merely hearing. We participate in the Mission of Jesus to transform all into the life of the Kingdom of God until Jesus comes again. This is done in the “boat” of Peter. It is led by the successor of Peter, our Pope. Evangelisation is profoundly Petrine. We are never Lone Rangers. We always go together as Church led by Jesus, particularly expressed as the successor of St Peter, our Pope.
In a summary comment of evangelisation, the Catholic Church could well focus on the great contribution of (Pope) St John Paul II.
Certainly, his enormous corpus of teaching helps us to understand evangelisation. Perhaps even more so, his extraordinary evangelising apostolic journeys around the world, unmatched by any other Pope, should indicate to us how he saw himself as the chief evangelist of the Catholic Church in a very global-pilgrim way.
There is an expression that I feel could summarise the contribution of St John Paul II concerning evangelisation.
It pertains to the fact that all the Church and all the Baptised are to preach all the Gospel, including all Scripture and Tradition, to all the world. We are a missionary people entering into the cultural worlds of our society and we do this all the time until Jesus comes again.
All the Church,
to preach all the Gospel,
to all the world,
all the time.