“Ad Gentes” is the Latin title of the Vatican II document on mission and evangelization. If the Council had been convened today, it probably would have joined the “Big Four,” the constitutions–the super-important core topics addressed. Gentes is a plural term for a word that covers nations, peoples, races, regions, etc.. In other words, everybody out there. The Lord’s intent in sending his people on a mission was to catch “everybody.”
The Lord Jesus sent his apostles to every person, people and place on earth. In the apostles, the Church received a universal mission-one which knows no boundaries-which involves the communication of salvation in its integrity according to that fullness of life which Christ came to bring (cf. Jn 10:10). The Church was “sent by Christ to reveal and communicate the love of God to all people and nations.”(Ad Gentes 10)
The person Jesus is the subject of the mission. The object, as ad gentes suggests, is everybody. What else do we know about the mission?
This mission is one and undivided, having one origin and one final purpose; but within it, there are different tasks and kinds of activity. First, there is the missionary activity which we call mission ad gentes, in reference to the opening words of the Council’s decree on this subject. This is one of the Church’s fundamental activities: it is essential and never-ending. The Church, in fact, “cannot withdraw from her permanent mission of bringing the Gospel to the multitudes the millions and millions of men and women-who as yet do not know Christ the Redeemer of humanity. In a specific way this is the missionary work which Jesus entrusted and still entrusts each day to his Church.”(Christifideles Laici (1988) 35)
Here, John Paul II cites his summary document on the 1987 Synod of Bishops topic of the role of the laity. As we continue to unpack this document, we’ll see a progression from the initial proclamation of Jesus. This is basic evangelization, of telling “good news” to a person who has yet to hear it. From here, a person progresses from a seeker, to a believer, to a disciple active in the practice of the faith. Eventually, the disciple is called to give some witness to a new seeker, and the process continues.
The challenge today is that this circuit has shorted out in most baptized persons. Belief is present in many, but large numbers of baptized Christians have abandoned the practice of faith. Discipleship is also lacking on the whole: many Christians have found satisfaction in being placekeepers of sorts, and many Church leaders seem satisfied with this state of affairs. They have members. And they have a lot of work to do themselves.
How does the “New Evangelization” come into play? Stay tuned. Vast horizons are ahead.
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