Let’s commence an examination of the US bishops’ 1992 document Go and Make Disciples (GMD). This document is subtitled, “A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States.” Like many conference documents of the 80’s and 90’s, it was conducted with wide consultation “with dioceses, state Catholic conferences, religious communities, and national organizations,” as Msgr William Fay, USCCB General Secretary, cites on the bishops’ website.
Cardinal George’s Foreword to the 2002 edition of GMD is worth a read. He cites the initial challenge of Pope John Paul II at the start of his pontificate in 1978.
Open wide the doors to Christ! . . . Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ . . . to serve the human person
and the whole of (hu)mankind.
Phrasing it in this way didn’t seem to inspire the Church as a whole. The Holy Father was the world-striding figure, bigger than life. His powerful personality and holiness was inspiring to many individuals. And no doubt, many people discerned a movement into ministry as a result of the Holy Spirit, and the pope’s witness. Cardinal George accurately frames the real question:
One thinks of that day on which Jesus saw the people in need of food and responded by telling his apostles, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves” (Mt 14:16). He says the same thing to us who have been made rich by his gifts of grace, truth, and eternal life. All around us people are starving for faith and love, for hope and meaning in their lives. Because the Lord Jesus has done so much for us, we cannot refuse to share the gifts we have been given.
Unfortunately, all too many believers refuse the call. Possibly because most have not been formed in how to listen for that call and respond when it does come. The Catholic Church is very good at steering people into “comfortable” roles. We know how to discern religious life and clergy, more or less. How a worker, student, family member, parent, teen, elderly person, or an oppressed person spends one, five, or twenty hours a week spreading the Gospel–this is something for which there is no easy answer.
Cardinal George retained great optimism for GMD when he penned this foreword in 2001:
I hope that Go and Make Disciples will be taken up by all pastors and their people in the Church in the United States, by catechists, by all engaged in education in the faith and in projects of evangelization, and by those who serve in parish and diocesan ministries nationwide. It is an instrument none can afford to overlook. If we adopt its goals intelligently and wholeheartedly and follow the strategy it proposes, we shall be faithful stewards of the gifts that Jesus has given us in his Church.
I align with this optimism. After we take a good look at GMD, I hope you readers will agree.