This is a key section of the General Directory for Catechesis. Casual readers, and perhaps too many bishops and clergy, who expect the transmission of faith to be focused on classroom learning and catechetical preaching, err gravely by overlooking the essence of cooperating with God’s relevation to the world. This footnote appended to the title of this section is very illustrative:
Dei Verbum and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 150-175) speak of faith as a response to Revelation. In this context, for catechetical pastoral motivation, it is preferred to associate faith more with Evangelization than with Revelation in so far as the latter, in fact, reaches (people) normally by way of the evangelical mission of the Church.
The evangelical mission is primary. Catholics who have gone astray in speaking of a smaller, purer Church will likely achieve only the quality of smallness. They have no guarantee of purity–the nature of sin and human fallibility gives ample illustration of that. And they will cease being a Church by the very rejection and denial of the evangelical mission demanded of believers. GDC 46 doesn’t hesitate to throw down the gauntlet: we exist in order to evangelize. We do not exist for ourselves. We do not exist to edify a God who clearly has far wider and grace-filled intentions than catering to sycophants focused on their own status.
46. The Church “exists in order to evangelize” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14) that is “the carrying forth of the Good News to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of (people) and renew the human race”. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 18)
The missionary mandate of Jesus to evangelize has various aspects, all of which, however, are closely connected with each other: “proclaim”, (Mk 16,15) “make disciples and teach”, (cf. Mt 28:19-20) “be my witnesses”, (Acts 1:8) “baptize”, (Mt 28:19) “do this in memory of me”, (Lk 22,19) “love one another” (Jn 15,12) Proclamation, witness, teaching, sacraments, love of neighbour: all of these aspects are the means by which the one Gospel is transmitted and they constitute the essential elements of evangelization itself.
Indeed they are so important that, at times, there is a tendency to identify them with the action of evangelization. However, “no such definition can be accepted for that complex, rich and dynamic reality which is called evangelization”. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 17) There is the risk of impoverishing it or even of distorting it. Evangelization, on the contrary, must develop its “totality” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 28) and completely incorporate its intrinsic bipolarity: witness and proclamation, (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 22a) word and sacrament, (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 47b) interior change and social transformation. (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 18) Those who evangelize have a “global vision” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 24d) of evangelization and identify with the overall mission of the Church. (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 14)
You can see the heavy influence of Pope Paul’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi in this section. And naturally, the actual call of Christ from the New Testament.
If this were a live parish workshop, we could easily spend an entire workshop on GDC 46 and discuss the paths for our particular faith community. So what does it mean for you readers and your faith communities, and even the internet Catholic community to suggest we exist mainly for evangelization?
GDC 46b would have us ask which of these missionary aspects is my forte or my community’s strength? For a community, the reflection should naturally lead us to consider which is weakest, and how that weakness might be remedied. It might be too much to suggest any single believer be a preacher, a catechist, involved in liturgy and charity and social justice. But a healthy community certainly needs all of these. It would be incumbent on any pastoral ministry to ensure all of these missionary aspects are strong in a parish or diocese. This is not a matter of “discernment,” but a mandate from the Biblical witness of the Lord himself.
GDC 46c cautions us–rightly–that we cannot boil down the evangelical ministry into these categories easily. I love the expression of “bipolarity.” Many aspects of ministry are deliciously combined. I can attest that through staff colleagues and parishioners, my experiences in ministry have been enriched by people’s strengths. It enables us, in these various combinations, to serve more fully the needs of the proclamation of the Gospel. It works against the human tendency to narcissism, to thinking of “my” ministry, “my” efforts.
After taking some time to ponder this very rich section, especially perhaps its Scriptural roots (and doesn’t it make you want to read Evangelii Nuntiandi?) what have you readers to say? Advocates of a smaller, purer church, do you feel dismayed or challenged? And for all: how does this mandate of missionary focus align with your faith community’s actual efforts?
Talk it up, if you wish–this is as good as it gets in Church documentation.