“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
In the past, I was happy to leave the work of evangelization to missionaries serving in foreign lands, or to those who make it a habit of going door-to-door to share their faith. Today, that is no longer the case. As a Dominican I feel compelled to preach the Gospel, to those who have never heard of Jesus, but also to those who have. Since we typically think of evangelization as being directed towards those who do not know Christ, this might seem a bit strange. However, in the last 30 years a different concept of evangelization has come to the foreground. In a number of countries we are now seeing “a weakening of faith in Christian communities, a diminished regard for the authority of the magisterium, an individualistic approach to belonging to the Church, a decline in religious practice and a disengagement in transmitting the faith to new generations.”1 This phenomenon has resulted in what many in the Church refer to as the “new evangelization,” i.e., outreach to those who identify themselves as Christian, but are no longer practicing their faith.
Not surprisingly, this “new evangelization” was the main concern of Dominican brothers from the provinces of the United States, Canada, Poland, and the Vietnamese Vicariate, who met at St. Albert’s this past weekend to discuss the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document now under review by the Synod of Bishops currently meeting in Rome.
In my small group we focused on chapter two of the text, which looks at some of the influences that shape modern society, and their effect on the faithful. These influences fall into seven general areas: society, culture, civic life, the economy, science, communications, and religion. Each area, or “sector” as they are referred to in the document, has its pros and cons, elements which can lead to a deepening of faith, and those which can lead to “silent apostasy”2 – which isn’t so much a hostility to the faith, as it is a general sense of apathy towards Christianity. For example, a positive component in the sector of communications would be our ability to converse with individuals on the other side of the globe, even if we don’t speak the same language. Sadly, there is a downside to the advances made in communications technology in recent years. Because there is now so much information available on the Internet, and so many other voices competing for the attention of the faithful, it becomes more and more difficult to share the truth of our faith.
This is why each of us must heed our baptismal calling. Every Christian has been commissioned to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has a responsibility to share our faith, and to provide a reason for our hope.3 At times we might be tempted to leave this work to those who are more qualified, those with a charism of missionary service, or a degree in theology. While those things are helpful, they are not absolutely necessary. All that the Lord asks is that we talk about how he has changed our life, our experience of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. This is what the first apostles did, and what each of us can do to bring our neighbors back to the faith.
1Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith," #48.
3 cf. 1 Peter 3:15