This week we continue our close look at Pope St. Paul VI’s 1975 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World). As we have seen in previous posts, this document has become programmatic for the Church’s approach to evangelization, and how to evangelize in a world that is so drastically different from the world that came (even so shortly) before. There are unique challenges we face as evangelizers — and ALL of us are called by Christ to evangelize.
In the sixth paragraph, Pope Paul frames evangelization in the context of Jesus’ own ministry. Proclaiming the Good News is what He was sent to do (cf. Luke 4:43). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the covenantal promises God made, and every action of his life was part of this evangelization. The Holy Father refers to a common theme of the synod: “Jesus Himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer; He was so through and through: to perfection and to the point of the sacrifice of His earthly life.” (7) The question then becomes: what did evangelizing mean to Jesus?
Evangelization, to Jesus, is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, compared to which everything else is simply icing on the cake. “Only the kingdom therefore is absolute and it makes everything else relative.” (8) The kingdom of God becomes the measuring stick according to which everything else is assessed, and it is the favorite subject of Jesus in his ministry.
Evangelization is also, at its very core, about the message of salvation, “this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him.” (9) This is the mission of Jesus Christ, and it is accomplished once and for all (and lacking nothing) by His death and resurrection. “But it must be patiently carried on during the course of history, in order to be realized fully on the day of the final coming of Christ, whose date is known to no one except the Father.” (9)
Pointing out that these things are obtained by the faithful through toil and strife, through suffering, through self-denial and conversion, the pope frames Christ’s own evangelization by the terms “kingdom” and “salvation”. Christ, he says, proclaimed the kingdom through untiring preaching, changing the hearts of men.
But more than just his words, Christ preached the kingdom through signs and wonders, “which amaze the crowds and at the same time draw them to Him in order to see Him, listen to Him and allow themselves to be transformed by Him: the sick are cured, water is changed into wine, bread is multiplied, the dead come back to life.” (12) And chief among these signs was was His suffering, death, and glorious Resurrection, by which he accomplished defeat over death and won salvation. This is the Gospel, and this is what we should have before our eyes at all times, preaching it to the whole world.
The acceptance of the faith, of the Gospel as it is preached, is unifying, and these are gathered together in the name of Jesus “in order to seek together the kingdom, build it up and live it.” (13) Here we come full circle: the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to all the world, and those who hear it and accept it then turn around and take the Gospel out, themselves. It is an evangelizing community, one which is living the command to go out and proclaim the gospel to all the nations. “Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it.” (13)
And this is the heart of the matter! Can and must. When we hear the Good News, we are enabled to preach it, and we are deputized, we are sent out! The joy of the gospel enlivens us, enkindles in us the fire of God’s love through the work of the Holy Spirit, and calls us out to bring that Good News to the whole world.
We will continue our look at Evangelii Nuntiandi in our next installment.