Evangelii Nuntiandi 21: Evangelization By Witness

What is that Franciscan principle? Preach the Gospel–use words if necessary.

21. Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization. The above questions will ask, whether they are people to whom Christ has never been proclaimed, or baptized people who do not practice, or people who live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or someone whom they sense but cannot name. Other questions will arise, deeper and more demanding ones, questions evoked by this witness which involves presence, sharing, solidarity, and which is an essential element, and generally the first one, in evangelization.”[Cf. Tertullian Apologeticum, 39: CCL, I, PP. 150-153; Minucius Felix, Octavius 9 and 31: CSLP, Turin 1963, pp. 11-13, 47-48]

All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers. We are thinking especially of the responsibility incumbent on immigrants in the country that receives them.

Consider those “baptized people who do not practice,” presumably the target of the “new evangelization.” Some of those believers were turned off by repulsive behavior within Christian communities. An antigospel witness, in other words. It’s a difficult burden for us who remain–some of us who may well have participated in such behavior. How do we correct and reform ourselves and then wait patiently for others to notice? Vatican II was an act of evangelical witness. We have undone much of that, sadly, by taking the path of the elder son.

Dissatisfaction with just living a Christian life is understandable. It is a witness that depends on patience and faith. Patience that we might well be in an era of planting seeds, not harvesting a bounty. And faith that God truly works through us in unexpected ways, and by methods that confound human logic. However, it is essential that Christian continue to witness, and also to be prepared for those who approach us with these questions.

My younger brother, alienated from the Church, once asked me why I stayed. And more–why I worked for it. I don’t know that my younger self was prepared to give an evangelical answer. I hope I would be for the next person who asks me. What about you? What is the reason for your hope? And is that hope evident in your life? And if not, how can you get there?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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