This piece is inspired by the realization of the Church through its leadership, that of successive Popes, notable St. Paul VI.
Pope Paul VI who saw deep-seated problems in the Church 43 years ago noted: “Today there is a very large number of baptized people who, for the most part, had not formally renounced their Baptism, but who were entirely indifferent to it, and not living in accordance with it.” Pope St. John Paul II, building on the insight of St. Paul VI, noted 28 years ago that there are still places where the Gospel is unknown, and places where the Gospel thrives, but also places “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel”. While John Paul II underscored the Church’s mission “to proclaim Christ to all peoples”, it was for the wayward baptized that he envisioned a “New Evangelization”.
This paper seeks to explore evangelization for the better understanding of the 2019 theme of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo “Evangelizing through Holiness”.
Let me begin by sharing my shallow understanding of what I believe evangelization through holiness means and deciphers. Evangelization through holiness is about passing on or sharing the good news inspired spiritually in a holier manner. One cannot pass on the message without the knowledge of what they are passing and how to pass on the message without being inspired spiritually in a holier state. I shall quote scripture to best explain how to pass the message in these difficult times we live in as Zimbabweans just like Christ and his forerunners did during the times of Old and New Testament.
I would best define evangelization to mean preaching the word and simplify it in interpretation to make sense. Evangelization can also take the face of advocating a cause with the objective of making converts. In Christianity we often see evangelization defining its cause to mean the commitment to act publicly in preaching of the Gospel with the intention of spreading the message and teachings of Jesus Christ.
To start with: Mt 9:36 says Jesus was moved with compassion because they were harassed and helpless. They were like sheep without a shepherd. This is the reality of today's world. We are like sheep without a shepherd, many are confused and do not know what, who, when, why, where and how to listen and to believe. The good news of the Gospels is meant to convert people since it is a message of hope and salvation. The question then becomes: who is to evangelize and what message does one put across? In the context of our socio-economic environment we live in as Zimbabweans, what is the evangelization message the Church needs to put across and how best can this be achieved when people are preoccupied with chasing after basic commodities? We must understand the fact that people right now have less time to give to God and his messengers, reasons being they are helpless due to the events of everyday life and they have resigned to pessimism. Such circumstances call for wisdom on how best to get attention of one’s audience when passing the message. It is prudent to know and understand your audience circumstances as Jesus did when he felt compassion because he had noted how people were confused, harassed and helpless.
Just like Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, we come across them conflicted in service. Today’s people are busy preoccupied with worldly errands to keep them going and in the process God has been put away. We are all engrossed with hustling for this and that and have forgotten there is God, forgetting we are children of the Kingdom. In an effort to evangelize and promote holiness we need God to inspire his messengers responsible for spreading the good news – that is me and you – with his gift of wisdom to be enabled to approach his subjects in a way that will help them realise there is light at the end of the tunnel as he did with the nation of Israel during their days of bondage in Egypt and Babylon.
As we seek to evangelize and be holy, let us ask God with his wisdom to transform his people from being busy bees and having expectations of always wanting to be receiving without being productive. Many have now taken a nightmare pill that there's nothing for them in the Gospel or talking about God, so wisdom is of prior importance... Like Jesus in Luke 7:11 that's one of good examples of how Christ wisely evangelized, He knew many weren't aware of who He was and even some did not accept him. What was His wisdom? If you take note of the gospel, many times Jesus would wait for that moment when there is a crowd following him, or when things seemed tight and that's when He would intervene showing the power and grace of God. He did it with the widow's son, He did it with Lazarus. He performed miracles at those critical moments for people to believe and for them to follow. It's called wisdom of attraction (evangelization through Acts of Mercy).
Allow me to share an adaptation by one priest friend of mine in one of his daily reading reflections on the Conversion of Saul were he refers to the Gospel of Mark. He notes that Mark in his gospel from chapter 16:15-18 puts before us the mission which has been given to all of us as Christians: a mission to go out into the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. This is what we have all been called for. However, as we see with the disciples, they were not just called and sent into the world. No! They first had to be with Jesus; learning from Him. That is why the evangelist gives a twofold dimension to the disciples’ calling: to be with Him and to be sent by Him. What we see in this gospel passage right up to the end of the gospel of Mark is the sending out. This same mission Jesus gave to His disciples is the same mission He gives us each day as we come to the end of each Eucharistic celebration: go and preach the gospel, the Mass has ended! Yes, our call and our mission is to make God known and to draw all people to God that they likewise can be God’s instruments of salvation.
My dear friends, humanity requires conversion just like St. Paul, Bartholomew, the centurion soldier, the thief on the cross. It is not a secret that there are many Sauls, Bartholomews out there in our families and in our societies. Yes, there are many who have bad names because of their evil deeds. There are many whom we have judged and condemned. There are many whom we are now just watching and have given up on. They are what they are and irredeemable! Evangelizing to convert teaches us no one is irredeemable. Yes, our God is a merciful God who desires not the death of sinners but their repentance. Yet this repentance can only be possible if these outcasts come to have their own Damascus experience like Saul did. Yes, they need to encounter Christ in you and me whom Christ has sent to be His agents of salvation. They need to see and hear Christ who is loving and forgiving in us not judging and condemning. Yes, dear friend, no matter how sinful one may be, there is hope for salvation. If Saul was converted to be Paul then surely even the worst of sinners can be converted. Yes, this is possible if you and I put on the face and heart of Christ!
Jesus says “Follow me” in John 1: 35-40.
God's desire is not to punish us for our sins but to forgive us. That is why he sent his only son Jesus Christ to die for us. But his sacrifice can only take effect if we acknowledge our sin and repent from it and receive Christ as our Saviour. To follow Jesus means to enter into a personal relationship with him (the new disciples went to see where Jesus lived and spent the entire day with him); is to want to know him more and more, to learn from him and to live in obedience with him.
Brief about the Author:
Prosper Mthabisi Ngwenya is a member of St. Patrick’s Parish in Makokoba and the current Chairperson of the Catholic Young Adults Association in the Archdiocese of Bulawayo. Passionate about advocating involvement and active participation of young people in the activities of the Catholic Church. A strategic communication person by qualification, he writes papers in his own capacity with a bias towards issues of young people in the Church and practises journalism at individual level, not attached to any media house.