Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship


Are You Ready?

A Message from Pope Francis

In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization.

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

Of course, all of us are called to mature in our work as evangelizers. We want to have better training, a deepening love and a clearer witness to the Gospel.

The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast…

I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.          ~excerpts from Joy of the Gospel

 

What Is The New Evangelization?

For many of us, the word "evangelization" can provoke a number of uneasy images in the Catholic minds-eye.

Inspired preaching, talking to strangers on the street, or going door-to-door are actions that we can't imagine ourselves ever doing.  And so, the Church's call to the New Evangelization may not elicit much response from us.

However, of all the things the Church does, evangelization is what the Catholic Church exists to do.  And actually, the kind of evangelization required in our time and situation is much different than we might think. St John Paul II put it beautifully when he said, "The Church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life..." (Redeemer of Man, 13)  Helping people to come to know Jesus is something we can do in our own sphere of influence, whether we are a stay-at-home mom, a teen in a public high school, or a professional in the workplace.  In fact, it's even something we can do in the context of our own parishes.

Numerous studies have shown that for various reasons, upwards of 70% of young people are no longer practicing their faith by the time they reach adulthood.  Upwards of 60% of the people in the pews of Evangelical Churches are former Catholics.  The main reason they give for leaving the Catholic Church and going to a different one is that they did not come to know Jesus in a meaningful way as a Catholic. 

The Church has long relied on the waning influence of ethnic Catholic cultures to transmit the faith to the next generations.  However, cultural Catholicism has been no match for the corrosive impact of secularism.

The 2015 Pew Survey—Religious Landscapes study is one of the more recent investigations of the patterns of Catholic practice in the US.There is no sign of reversing the trend so far.

All of this points to a profound crisis of faith within the Church itself.  In fact, we all know people who have ceased to practice the Catholic faith, or who practice it in only a nominal way.  That is why the Church needs all of us who love Jesus and who love being Catholic to be part of reversing the trend, by being part of the New Evangelization.  And it starts by developing a culture of discipleship in our families, parishes, and schools.

The New Evangelization was the key of St John Paul II's magisterial teaching.  He gave the Church a more personalistic evangelical language by which to speak of our faith.  He spoke emphatically of the necessity for each person to experience personal conversion through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  Each of us are invited to grow into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, lived in the Church and nourished on the Sacraments.  His successors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, have both maintained this vision and direction for the church.  Here in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Office of New Evangelization (now the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship) was established in October of 2013 upon the publication of Archbishop Coakley’s Pastoral Letter, Go Make Disciples.  There, he wrote:

"The work of evangelization that is particularly urgent in our time and place, however, is what St. John Paul II an Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to as the new evangelization.  Its focus is on the nations and cultures where the Gospel has been proclaimed, but where the flame of faith has been reduced to a barely glowing ember.  A once fervent faith has given way to a lukewarm indifference.  We all know many people today who are nominally Christian or nominally Catholic.  They still claim to believe but act as though God does not exist.  They compartmentalize their faith, as though it pertained only to Sundays or certain religious exercises.  Their faith has little or nothing to do with the way they live their lives each day.  Though they have not formally rejected Christ or his Gospel, the lives of many Catholics are informed far more by the conventional values of the secular culture than by the liberating truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. [...]

But we cannot give what we do not have.  To evangelize others is to invite them into friendship and relationship with Jesus Christ.  Before we invite others, we the evangelizers must ourselves be truly evangelized.  The evangelizers must first become disciples.  We have to be in relationship with Jesus.  We have to know him and know that we are loved by him.  It is not enough to know about Jesus.  We have to become his friend."

 

The Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship exists in order to effectively promote this friendship, this personal conversion to Jesus Christ in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, at the personal, parish, communal, institutional and cultural level. We earnestly want to develop the means of formation that will make the baptized competent witnesses to the Catholic faith in their own spheres of influence. It is the Church’s conviction that giving attention to the personal conversion of each of the baptized will transform our parishes and communities, and in turn that converted Catholics will transform the culture around us.

In the National Directory for Catechesis, the United States Catholic Bishops tell us:

The new evangelization is directed to the Church herself: to the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secularized culture to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated.  It is also directed to all human cultures so that they might be open to the Gospel and live in harmony with Christian values. The new evangelization is aimed at personal transformation through the development of a personal relationship with God, participation in sacramental worship, the development of a mature ethical and social conscience, ongoing catechesis, and a deepening integration of faith into all areas of life.  The purpose of this evangelization is to bring about faith and conversion to Christ.  Faith involves a profound change of mind and heart, a change of life, a “metanoia.”  Such a change can only arise from deep within the interior of one’s being, where one faces the truly important question about human life.  Such a change, engendered by the action of the Holy Spirit, shows itself in the transformation of one’s life.

Helping the Church to Have Clarity of Purpose

Many parishes are busy places, but their many activities can inadvertently obscure the reason the parish exists: to lead people to intimacy and communion with Jesus Christ! St John Paul II, quoted above, gives a strikingly clear statement of purpose: "The church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, so that Christ may be able to walk with each person the path of life."  Does your parish have a reputation for being the "go to place" for people who want to know Jesus? Are the people in the parish inspiring people to want to know Jesus?  If not, the parish needs greater clarity about its purpose.

How can we get there?

Since, as the Archbishop pointed out, one cannot help others to find Christ if one hasn't found him oneself, the first priority is to make sure that baptized, practicing Catholics have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church.  The Church recognizes that this typically happens in a series of "slow stages".  Those stages unfold somewhat differently if one is becoming Catholic as an adult, versus someone who received the sacraments of initiation as a child.  Either way, personal conversion to Jesus Christ is necessary.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1231 tells us that "Where infant Baptism has become the form in which this sacrament is usually celebrated, it has become a single act encapsulating the preparatory stages of Christian initiation in a very abridged way.  By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth."

The model of the post-baptismal catechumenate focuses on the stages of personal conversion. It helps an adult who has already been sacramentally initiated to consciously choose to follow Jesus. Once this has happened, the person is "apprenticed" or mentored in the heart and habits of a disciple. A framework for formation, based on the idea of the "post-baptismal catechumenate" would aim to offer baptized people the same kind of explicit encouragement to place Jesus at the center of their life as someone who is converting to Catholicism for the first time; it gives the the opportunity to be intentionally "mentored" in the Christian life. The General Directory of Catechesis (29) puts it this way:

...[T]he missionary character of contemporary catechesis and its ability to secure adherence to the faith on the part of catechumens and those to be catechized in a world in which religious sense is obscured must also be underlined: in this dynamic there is an acute awareness that catechesis must have a catechumenal style, as of integral formation rather than mere information; it must act in reality as a means of arousing true conversion.

The Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship is proposing the adoption of a common frame of reference throughout the Archdiocese, to help us to picture the process by which people become intentional disciples.  The rationale for this framework pdf (166 KB)is drawn from the 1997 General Directory of Catechesis (GDC) and Pope Francis' Joy of the Gospel. This is the pedagogy prescribed by the Church. This frame of reference will form a sound basis for each parish that is ready to develop a plan of evangelization, but it is also useful for diocesan offices and other formational settings.

Parishioners who have been formed in an atmosphere where the kerygma is regularly re-visited, and which has an intentional process of discipling people at every turn, will be able to bring people to parishes that are fully equipped for the disciple-making process! To that end, the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship offers training and mentoring for parish leadership teams to help them form an evangelistic strategy addressed first to the internal culture of the parish, and secondarily towards outreach.

In order to become a parish where it's easy to get to know Jesus, the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship especially recommends pdf the small group discipleship process developed by Catholic Christian Outreach (88 KB)for adult Catholics.   These five faith studies provide solid stepping stones for developing a personal relationship with Jesus, developing the heart and habits of a disciple, and basic skills for leading others to faith in Jesus and the Church. To see how these studies fit around the baseball diamond, CLICK HERE.  This is a "multiplying discipleship model", so it starts small and grows from there.  Here is an excerpt from a talk given by Angele Regnier, who authored these studies, explaining the pedagogy of their method.

 

 

Here is a short documentary about one parish that is making the discipleship journey a central feature of their strategy.

For more information about how it works, or for help getting started, please contact the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.  Of course, this is not the only resource available. To see a menu of items that can support a culture of discipleship at each stage of the formative journey, pdf click HERE. (976 KB)

Is it just a Matter of Better Planning?

While good planning is absolutely necessary, there is another even more important aspect of evangelization. The Holy Spirit is the "principle agent of evangelization". Without him, we can do nothing! Pope Paul VI wrote, "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. 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." (Evangelization in the Modern World 75)

We do ourselves a favor to ask for the explicit involvement of the Holy Spirit in all that we do, but especially in directing our inspirations and thoughts and planning for the New Evangelization. To that end, parishes are encouraged to participate in the Novena to the Holy Spirit in the 9 days leading up to Pentecost each year. But it's good to pray a novena as an especially intense request for the assistance of the Holy Spirit before any initiative related to evangelization, and to cultivate devotion to him at all times. 

Let's be game changers.  What would that look like?  We'll know when conversations like the one below become "normal" for us.

 

After you watch this video, imagine for yourself the following questions:

1. What did it take for Jenny to be prepared for this encounter?

2. Imagining that all went well, and Kate went to Confession on Saturday, and Mass on Sunday--what would happen if Kate showed up at your parish on Monday morning?  How would your parish be prepared to help her to grow in her discipleship?

If you don't know, please contact the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, and let us help you!

 

*Baseball Diamond Analogy adapted and used with permission from Evangelical Catholic.

Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship

Carole Brown, Ph.D.

Director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship

(405)709-2721

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