Evangelii Nuntiandi 75: The Role of the Holy Spirit

It should be obvious, but we can’t evangelize the world without a lot of outside help:

75. Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends on Jesus of Nazareth at the moment of His baptism when the voice of the Father- “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”[Mt. 3:17]- manifests in an external way the election of Jesus and His mission. Jesus is “led by the Spirit” to experience in the desert the decisive combat and the supreme test before beginning this mission.[Mt. 4:1] It is “in the power of the Spirit”[Lk 4:14] that He returns to Galilee and begins His preaching at Nazareth, applying to Himself the passage of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And He proclaims: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.”[Lk 4:18], 21; cf. Is 61:1] To the disciples whom He was about to send forth He says, breathing on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”[Jn 20:22]

Our biblical tradition suggests that the Passion, Death, and Resurrection was not enough to get the early disciples moving:

In fact, it is only after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that the apostles depart to all the ends of the earth in order to begin the great work of the Church’s evangelization. Peter explains this event as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: “I will pour out my spirit.”[Acts 2:17] Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit so that he can speak to the people about Jesus, the Son of God.[Cf. Acts 4:8] Paul too is filled with the Holy Spirit[Cf. Acts 9:17] before dedicating himself to his apostolic ministry, as is Stephen when he is chosen for the ministry of service and later on for the witness of blood.[Cf. Acts 6:5, 10; 7:55] The Spirit, who causes Peter, Paul and the Twelve to speak, and who inspires the words that they are to utter, also comes down “on those who heard the word.”[Acts 10:44]

The Spirit is active in both evangelizer and seeker:

It is in the “consolation of the Holy Spirit” that the Church increases.[Acts 9:31] The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. It is He who explains to the faithful the deep meaning of the teaching of Jesus and of His mystery. It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows (herself or) himself to be possessed and led by Him. The Holy Spirit places on (her or) his lips the words which (they) could not find by (themselves), and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed.

Human skill, even the highest realization of communication effectiveness is not quite up to par with the agency of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit:

Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without Him the most highly developed schemas resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless.

An optimism about the world one would not be reading or hearing from a pope today, I think:

We live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit. Everywhere people are trying to know Him better, as the Scripture reveals Him. They are happy to place themselves under His inspiration. They are gathering about Him; they want to let themselves be led by Him. Now if the Spirit of God has a preeminent place in the whole life of the Church, it is in her evangelizing mission that He is most active. It is not by chance that the great inauguration of evangelization took place on the morning of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Spirit.

I think this is true about people today. I think many are searching, seeking, and longing. They want a leader. They want a way of life that has meaning.

It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood.[Ad Gentes 4] But it can equally be said that He is the goal of evangelization: He alone stirs up the new creation, the new humanity of which evangelization is to be the result, with that unity in variety which evangelization wishes to achieve within the Christian community. Through the Holy Spirit the Gospel penetrates to the heart of the world, for it is He who causes people to discern the signs of the times- signs willed by God- which evangelization reveals and puts to use within history.

It is essential that we be open to this. Prayer is certainly implied here: every believer asks the Holy Spirit for divine grace and for a fruitfulness of the Church. In this final paragraph of EN 75, “study” is urged. And yes, I think we should study. Bishops and priests themselves need to give better witness and themselves study and be seen studying–it’s only a good example. But I also think that Pope Paul missed a vital piece. Even without reading below, my friends can probably guess what I’ll suggest.

The Bishops’ Synod of 1974, which insisted strongly on the place of the Holy Spirit in evangelization, also expressed the desire that pastors and theologians- and we would also say the faithful marked by the seal of the Spirit by Baptism- should study more thoroughly the nature and manner of the Holy Spirit’s action in evangelization today. This is our desire too, and we exhort all evangelizers, whoever they may be, to pray without ceasing to the Holy Spirit with faith and fervor and to let themselves prudently be guided by Him as the decisive inspirer of their plans, their initiatives and their evangelizing activity.

Discernment.

We have the message, the tools to deliver it, and a people to whom we bring it. But we also need discernment, an awareness of God’s subtle nudge to speak up when the moment is upon us, to shush when we’re too tired or angry or stupid, to use this or that tool to better effect when we have a choice. I think an evangelical believer must pray for seekers, and earnestly desire their relationship with God. And we must pray to overcome our own worst impulses. We can desire to be so effective in cooperating with the Holy Spirit that every seeker we encounter will surpass us in knowledge of God, love for God, and fruitfulness in gaining even more believers and disciples.

What do you think?

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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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