EN 15 is a key section. We’ll cover it in a few posts rather than just one:
15. Anyone who rereads in the New Testament the origins of the Church, follows her history step by step and watches her live and act, sees that she is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being:
– The Church is born of the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the Twelve. She is the normal, desired, most immediate and most visible fruit of this activity: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations.”[Mt 28:19] Now, “they accepted what he said and were baptized. That very day about three thousand were added to their number…. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.”[Acts 2:41, 47] – Having been born consequently out of being sent, the Church in her turn is sent by Jesus. The Church remains in the world when the Lord of glory returns to the Father. She remains as a sign – simultaneously obscure and luminous – of a new presence of Jesus, of His departure and of His permanent presence. She prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called upon to continue.[Cf. Lumen Gentium 8; Ad Gentes 5] For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself. The intimate life of this community – the life of listening to the Word and the apostles’ teaching, charity lived in a fraternal way, the sharing of bread[Cf. Acts 2:42-46; 4:32-35; 5:12-16] this intimate life only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole.
Pope Paul VI makes a strong case that evangelization isn’t just one of a number of ministries of the Church. It’s not part of the body like a foot, an ear, or an organ. It’s more like the bones, supporting everything. Or the skin, covering everything. Or the muscles, perhaps most of all, powering everything.
The Scriptural witness is undeniable: from the Church’s very inception, evangelization was its chief activity and best success.
The Church is the chief agent of evangelization because we are the way Christ continues to be presented to the world. It is part of a God-given mission.
Note that the internal expressions of the Church: the proclamation of the Word, catechesis/formation, internal charity and social life, and the liturgy–all of these lack “full meaning” without the public witness and proclamation to non-believers. This is a fairly audacious statement for a Church concerned with liturgy and internal things, not to mention the letter of the law. If we take Pope Paul VI at his word, many institutional aspects are “incomplete” without the outward focus.
Does every Christian pray? Learn? Love and offer charity? Most Christians would say yes, even if they acknowledge their best individual gifts don’t lie in all these areas. If we take EN 15 seriously, evangelization is as much a part of the “full” Christian as liturgy, formation, and apostolic action are. Does the Holy Father overstate? Or is he right, and we’ve just been missing it?