Evangelii Nuntiandi 60: Two Convictions

These two convictions are really the same quality. Evangelization is an ecclesial act carried out in Communion with the Church.

60. The observation that the Church has been sent out and given a mandate to evangelize the world should awaken in us two convictions.

The first is this: evangelization is for no one an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial. When the most obscure preacher, catechist or pastor in the most distant land preaches the Gospel, gathers his little community together or administers a sacrament, even alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act, and his action is certainly attached to the evangelizing activity of the whole Church by institutional relationships, but also by profound invisible links in the order of grace. This presupposes that he acts not in virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name.

From this flows the second conviction: if each individual evangelizes in the name of the Church, who herself does so by virtue of a mandate from the Lord, no evangelizer is the absolute master of his evangelizing action, with a discretionary power to carry it out in accordance with individualistic criteria and perspectives; he acts in communion with the Church and her pastors.

We have remarked that the Church is entirely and completely evangelizing. This means that, in the whole world and in each part of the world where she is present, the Church feels responsible for the task of spreading the Gospel.

This is not only about those “institutional relationships;” evangelization is also a cooperation with the grace of Christ. What does this mean? To be totally honest, we cannot excise aspects of the Church we dislike or about which we harbor serious disagreements. Seekers may be drawn to the individual faith witness of an individual: a friend, a lay person, a priest, or a religious. They might be attracted to the overall charism of a faith community. It might be an intellectual path, too. But all of these aspects combine to form a living Body, the Church. Difficult teachings and difficult people are part of the salvific path.

I appreciate the inclusion of those “profound invisible links in the order of grace.” If we bristle at sharing “our” evangelical ministries with far-away Rome or bishops, we should respond with humility to the notion that God works his grace independently of our skilled or clumsy attempts at sowing the seed of the Word. We evangelize not to gain personal disciples, but to pass them on to the Church (the whole Church, not just the parts we like) and to Christ.

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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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