Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Models of evangelization"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Aug. 2, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Several weeks ago, at an evangelization conference in Madison, Wis., Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ gave an interesting talk on the models of evangelization (Origins, May 17, 2007). Clearly this was a play on his well-known and well-appreciated book Models of the Church. He acknowledged that his observations about evangelization were taken, in turn, from a forthcoming book by Father Timothy Byerley.

In the cardinal’s introductory remarks, he wonders if the Catholic Church today is more like the Apostles before the Resurrection, holed up in the upper room with locked doors. Instead, perhaps we should be more like the Apostles after Pentecost, who boldly go forth to preach the Good News. He also wonders if the popular interpretation of the Second Vatican Council has something to do with what might seem to be a less aggressive approach to evangelization. Certainly Vatican II focused on the primacy of Jesus and the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel. Yet there was much attention devoted to internal matters in the Church, such as collegiality, synodal structures, and regionalism. Did the Council emphasize more dialogue than proclamation?

Certainly a landmark document on evangelization is Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nunciandi (1975) in which he stated that evangelization is “the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” In addition, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical The Mission of the Redeemer (1990), again addressing the renewal of our spirit of evangelization.

As we soon begin another season of the RCIA program, religious education classes, and continuing adult formation, these six models of evangelization can be useful for all of us as we reflect upon our responsibility as evangelizers, and as those who are constantly being evangelized.

The first model is personal witness. This model may seem obvious enough, but there is considerable depth and challenge to being a faithful disciple of Jesus. Pope John Paul II stated in The Mission of the Redeemer that “people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.” St. Francis of Assisi once told his companions to “preach the Gospel every day, and if necessary, use words.”

The second model consists of verbal testimony in various forms. This would refer to proclamation, to catechesis like religious education classes, and apologetics. Pope Paul VI stated that “even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified … and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus…. 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 explained.”

We have had in the Church a long tradition of wonderful proclaimers and teachers, writers and missionaries who have given a powerful witness to this model. Today I am amazed at the tremendous generosity of so many teachers who involve themselves in catechetics. A few months ago I was celebrating the sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist, and the students’ teacher said to me, very simply but with great truth, “I love doing this.” This work is important in the Church, especially these days. This model also demands a response from all of us who need to be evangelized and catechized.

The third model of evangelization is Christian worship. We are very blessed in the Church with our rich tradition of ritual, especially Eucharist. We Catholics can be struck by the intensity and sincerity of the Church’s relationship to God, but that intensity and sincerity also touches those who do not necessarily share our Faith. Cardinal Dulles told the story of John Adams at the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, who commented after attending a Mass, “Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant.” Our worship not only touches us profoundly, but also can be a source of wonderment, searching, and appreciation as a person seeks a relationship with God. This model calls us to celebrate well and carefully, faithful to the tradition of our Church. Some months ago, I heard a comment about the Church’s funeral liturgy by a person attending, who observed, “This celebration is enough to make me want to become a Catholic.” We must not underestimate the power of ritual well done.

The fourth model is community. In our secularized and mechanized world, we can find ourselves in a collective anonymity. Community should be such that it is not only a reality that has profound meaning for its members, but is an attraction for others who want to come in. The cardinal makes a strong point in this regard: “If the Church is seen as a cordial community of love and mutual support in which all have one heart and one soul, it will attract new members almost without trying.”

The fifth model of evangelization is inculturation. These days we are much more sensitive to the good and negative aspects of our culture.

All of us are certainly touched by the culture in which we live. But we also have the responsibility of evangelizing the culture, to make it more humane, sensitive to the needs of all, especially the poor. It’s easy to criticize culture today, but it’s quite another and more important matter to skillfully have a positive impact our culture.

The sixth and last model is the works of charity, or the social apostolate. That model is very much in evidence in our diocese through Catholic Charities and other institutions in the Church. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta captured the imagination of the world by her simple yet profound ministry in this regard. This model needs little explaining, since so much work and effort of the Church is dedicated to this mandate of the Gospel.

I have found my own reflection on these models to be very fruitful. As we begin another “new year” in the Church in September, we can reflect on these models and respond to them in ways that demonstrate that we take the mission of evangelization seriously.

May God’s peace and joy be with you.

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