Gospel is a Verb

If catechesis is the most confusing word in my job description, the word “evangelization” is probably the most misunderstood. Personally, I have to be careful not to throw this word around to much. As Catholics this word makes us feel very uncomfortable! It conjures up some very un-Catholic images – images of men in suits knocking on doors, of soap boxes in town squares, and  pamphlets being shoved in your face informing you that you are on your way to hell. I’m sure all of us have had the uncomfortable experience of being proselytized at moments we least expected it. Surely the Church is not asking us to do these things; and if She were, surely this would be the job of our priests and religious, not a regular Joe-schmo Catholic as myself!

The truth is, the Church has some very strong words to say about evangelization. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church exists to evangelize. These are strong words. Let’s make them even stronger. You are a Catholic, you exist to evangelize. Are you still feeling a little uncomfortable with the word? Maybe now you are feel really uncomfortable with the word.

Let’s clear something up now that we realize it is our Catholic calling to evangelize. Evangelization is not proselytizing. Very few of you will need a soapbox in order to evangelize. Feel a little better? In case you are, let me help you feel a little uncomfortable again. The word evangelization comes from the Greek word “euangelion” which is the exact same word we use for Gospel (or Good News). Evangelization is Gospel put into action. Gospel is a verb.

So what does this mean on a practical level? We exist to bring others the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church tells us that we bring the Gospel to others in two main ways, each relies on the other, each is incomplete (even counterproductive) without the other. We bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to others explicitly, by our words, and implicitly by our actions.

You may be saying to yourself, “O.K. I get that I need to live a good life, but isn’t living a good life enough? It’s not really necessary to go around talking openly about my Catholic faith is it?” The Church answers these questions in no uncertain terms; “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.” (On Evangelization in the Modern World). This may seem like a high order, but even the simple act of making the sign of the cross as you bless your meal in public explicitly witnesses to others something about the promise and the mystery of Jesus Christ!

We must keep in mind as well, that all our explicit words of evangelization will be of no avail unless our actions implicitly proclaim  the Good News. We should never forget the wise words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words.” We all know the harmful affects of someone who says one thing, yet does another – especially when it comes to religion.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has a wonderful Faith Sharing assessment tool that I think all of us should take some time to reflect on.

Faith-Sharing Frequency Scale

How many times did you perform the various activities listed below during the past week:

____I tried to establish a friendly relationship with someone whom I didn’t know at all (or not well).

____I visited a stranger (home, hospital, neighborhood or other visit).

____I shared what it means to be Catholic (or Christian) to someone.

____I spoke with high regard of the Catholic Church in general, my own parish, or my parish priest/staff.

____I encouraged someone to turn to or draw closer to God.

____I shared my faith in God with someone.

____I told my “faith story,” an incident when I felt God had intervened in my life.

____I assured someone of how much God loves them just the way they are.

____I assured someone of God’s power.

____I shared what difference Jesus has made in my life.

____ I prayed with someone privately or in a small group (other than family, at Mass, or Parish Ministry).

____I prayed with someone specifically inviting Jesus into his/her life in a more personal and powerful way.

____ I invited someone to go to Mass.

____ I invited someone to go to a Parish Ministry or activity (other than Mass).

____ I encouraged someone to be of service to others.

______________ Total Number of Evangelistic Behaviors Per Week

I scored a 16. How well did you score?

I Echo – what about you?

I love my job. There are many things I love about it, I have a wonderful staff, I work at a dynamic, faith-filled parish – I get paid to talk about Jesus! One of the nice things about my job is my job title – Pastoral Associate of Evangelization & Catechesis. That just sounds important doesn’t it? I find that if you have a job title that no one else can understand it automatically comes off as extremely complicated and important.

The downside of such a job title, though, is actually attempting to define the big, complicated words therein: Evangelization? Catechesis? As Catholics we love to use confusing vocabulary – transubstantiation, Eucharist, indulgence, bingo…I find that in my line of work I have to take a lot of time defining these things.

Catechesis is one of those words. What exactly is catechesis? This is an important question – it is the theme of this entire blog. The word catechesis comes from a Greek term that literally translates as “to echo.”

I must admit, when I first learned this I was a little disappointed. My general understanding of catechesis was much like the definition given by the late, great Pope John Paul II:

“…the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ.” (Catechesi Tradendae)

Now that sounds very important. In my mind, at least in the beginning, to simply “echo” the teaching of Jesus and Church doctrine seemed to make me just an automaton – a non animated tool that simply relays the information that it was given.

It turns out that I was way off the mark! The further I studied the Church’s understanding about catechesis, the more I understood what it means to “echo” as a catechist. Catechesis really is best explained by John Paul II. It’s about making disciples! A catechist is not meant to simply echo the words and teaching of Jesus Christ and the Church. Our job is to do nothing more than echo Jesus Christ himself! Here is the bottom line – we do not echo a message, a word, or even a doctrine. We echo a person – the person of Jesus Christ!

What is an echo? It is an exact representation of it original. If we echo Jesus Christ – we are his exact representation resounding 2000 years later. St. Francis of Assisi was the perfect example of this. His life so mirrored that of his Savior, people of his time named him the “second Christ.” What an honor! His life was such a perfect echo of Jesus, that all who encountered him truly encounter Jesus Christ!

All of us are called to be catechist in our own way. Some catechize in an official capacity to our children, or young people, or our adults. All of us, though, are called to echo Christ to our spouse, our children, our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. How many of us have heard in a homily that “we may be the only Gospel a person encounters today.”

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