For several months I have been writing on the universal call to holiness. At this point it is important to emphasize that the call to holiness is not a license to indulge in a privatized and individualistic spirituality. On the contrary, it is a radical call to communion. Living our faith from the heart of the Church, sharing in the very life and love of the Holy Trinity, moves us to serve the needs of others, as Christ served. “I am among you as one who serves.” (Lk 22:27).
To be holy is to live in union with Christ, to know him, to love him and to imitate him in his concern for all. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council is insistent on this point: “The Christian message does not inhibit men and women from building up the world, or make them disinterested in the welfare of their fellow human beings; on the contrary, it obliges them more fully to do these very things.” (GS 24). Our response to the call to holiness and communion opens the eyes of our heart and sharpens our sensitivity to the needs of those around us, especially those who are spiritually and materially poor.
Holiness and communion lead to mission. We cannot separate the call to holiness and communion from the universal call to mission, that is, to the work of evangelization. In his apostolic exhortation, “On Evangelization in the Modern World,” Pope Paul VI insisted that “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to re-concile sinners to God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of his death and glorious Resurrection.” (EN 14).
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the One in whom all people find salvation. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations.” (Mt 28:19). Again, let me emphasize, this is the reason the Church exists. It is the fundamental purpose of each of our parishes, and all of our Catholic institutions. We exist in order to bear witness to Jesus Christ in all that we do: in our teaching, in our worship, in our service to others. The Church by its very nature is missionary! We dare not lose this missionary impulse and vision lest we become like the worthless salt which has lost its saltiness and is good for nothing except to be thrown out. (Mt 5:13)!
There are still people who have not heard the Good News. There are places in the world, and even in our nation where the Church has not yet taken root or lacks the resources to effectively pursue its saving mission. Our participation in the mission “to the nations” (ad gentes), and the “home missions” in rural America, is a vital expression of our faith. We are all called to cooperate in this missionary effort through our prayers, our financial support and sometimes even by our direct involvement through volunteer missionary service.
A robust and healthy personal faith, like a robust and healthy parish and archdiocese, can never be satisfied with mere maintenance of the status quo. It will always realize that its deepest identity and calling is mission. “The love of Christ urges us on!” (2 Cor 5:14)
There is still another aspect of evangelization which is particularly urgent in our time and place. I will address the work of the so-called “New Evangelization” in my next column.