We Catholics have the message. But do we have the ability to overcome the obstacles we ourselves place in front of the Gospel?
80. Our appeal here is inspired by the fervor of the greatest preachers and evangelizers, whose lives were devoted to the apostolate. Among these we are glad to point out those whom we have proposed to the veneration of the faithful during the course of the Holy Year. They have known how to overcome many obstacles to evangelization.
Such obstacles are also present today, and we shall limit ourself to mentioning the lack of fervor. It is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope. We exhort all those who have the task of evangelizing, by whatever title and at whatever level, always to nourish spiritual fervor[Cf. Rom 12:11]
And how do we nourish this fervor? One obvious key is respect for the various gifts and offices that have a role. In my experience, clergy are often weak in this. Many lay ecclesial ministers serve with a lack of respect and regard–and that doesn’t even begin to touch the ordinary parishioners who, after all, are in the front lines of evangelization in the world.
This fervor demands first of all that we should know how to put aside the excuses which would impede evangelization. The most insidious of these excuses are certainly the ones which people claim to find support for in such and such a teaching of the Council.
Thus one too frequently hears it said, in various terms, that to impose a truth, be it that of the Gospel, or to impose a way, be it that of salvation, cannot but be a violation of religious liberty. Besides, it is added, why proclaim the Gospel when the whole world is saved by uprightness of heart? We know likewise that the world and history are filled with “seeds of the Word”; is it not therefore an illusion to claim to bring the Gospel where it already exists in the seeds that the Lord Himself has sown?
I think people misunderstand the means of presenting the Gospel. They might assume that because they are good teachers, then teaching is essential in all their evangelical efforts. It is not. Suppose a person, even a bishop, can only teach and do it well. If a situation calls for the cultivation of trust and the seeker is disinclined to be taught, then the teacher needs to be silent, and permit other gifts to be utilized. One of the Church’s biggest self-obstacles is a dogmatic approach to gifts. If a gift worked in one instance, it will work in all or many.
Anyone who takes the trouble to study in the Council’s documents the questions upon which these excuses draw too superficially will find quite a different view.
So what do we do? We simply provide ourselves as a living example.
It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents- “without coercion, or dishonorable or unworthy pressure”[Dignitaties Humanae 4]- far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty, which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting. Is it then a crime against others’ freedom to proclaim with joy a Good News which one has come to know through the Lord’s mercy?[Dignitaties Humanae, 9-14] And why should only falsehood and error, debasement and pornography have the right to be put before people and often unfortunately imposed on them by the destructive propaganda of the mass media, by the tolerance of legislation, the timidity of the good and the impudence of the wicked? The respectful presentation of Christ and His kingdom is more than the evangelizer’s right; it is (a) duty. It is likewise the right of (our) fellow (human beings) to receive from (believers) the proclamation of the Good News of salvation. God can accomplish this salvation in whomsoever He wishes by ways which He alone knows.[Ad Gentes 7] And yet, if His Son came, it was precisely in order to reveal to us, by His word and by His life, the ordinary paths of salvation. And He has commanded us to transmit this revelation to others with His own authority. It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: (people) can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame- what St. Paul called “blushing for the Gospel”[Cf. Rom 1:16] – or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it? For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this grows into trees and produces its full fruit.
Let us therefore preserve our fervor of spirit. Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow. May it mean for us- as it did for John the Baptist, for Peter and Paul, for the other apostles and for a multitude of splendid evangelizers all through the Church’s history- an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench. May it be the great joy of our consecrated lives. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world.
I think if we asked different people: pope, bishops, clergy, religious, lay ministers, parishioners, neophytes–we would find many different answers to the question of what obstacles we ourselves place in the way of the Gospel. Pope Paul’s input here is worthy of consideration. But it is not the whole picture. And it is not the reality everywhere in local circumstances.