What is Evangelization?

The following is an excerpt from our recently published book Disciples of All Nations: A Practical Guide to the New Evangelization by Dr. Josephine Lombardi. We share it with you today as we celebrate the feast of St. James the Apostle.

Jesus is the source of all evangelization. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 7). The Greek word euangelion, which gives us the word “evangelization,” means “gospel.” The gospel is the “good news” or the “good message.” Before the time of Jesus, Roman emperors would send out “good news” or the gospel to their citizens to announce something new or good that was happening. The early gospel writers (the evangelists) adopted this term and applied it to Jesus Christ.

What is the good news for Christians? That Jesus is the saviour of the world. Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ. He is God’s Son and our redeemer. The gospel is the story of his life, death and resurrection. This story, once you engage with it and try to live it, changes you forever. Salvation is the change you experience. The New Evangelization inspires a “new you.”

Evangelization involves spreading the good news that Jesus gives meaning to our lives and walks with us as we search for truth, love and wholeness. We can proclaim Christ using words and actions, signs and symbols: “in preaching, catechesis, baptism and the administration of the other sacraments” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 17). The hope is that people will encounter Christ as they participate in these activities. The goal is “to make oneself an instrument of his presence and action in the world” (CDF, Doctrinal Note, n. 2). In other words, an evangelized person becomes another Christ and inspires others to do the same.

John’s Gospel describes Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria. She is part of a rival tribe, and contact with anything she touched or served would make a Jew unclean. Jesus could have taken another path to get to his destination, but he passes through Samaria instead, knowing how his community regarded this group. Not only does he ask for a drink, he offers her everlasting life from a source that will quench her thirst for love forever (John 4:1-42). She learns that all other passions leave one thirsty and hungry; he is the only encounter that satisfies. This story reminds us that an encounter with Christ transforms individuals.

A typical search through current TV shows reveals that many people have a distorted sense of pleasure and happiness. One piece of chocolate cake leaves them wanting more sugar; one sexual encounter leaves them wanting more; one promotion increases their desire for success and status. If any one of these actions or habits truly satisfied us, we would stop craving them. But the craving is endless and may seduce us into engaging in habits that are far from life-giving. The New Evangelization offers Christ as the only source of spiritual satisfaction: “We re-propose Christ as the answer to a world staggering under the weight of so many unanswered questions of the heart,” says Cardinal Wuerl.

This re-proposing involves a whole range of activity and action the Church is undertaking to spread the gospel message, including the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The same power that raised him from the dead can redeem our losses, pain and suffering (Romans 8:11). There is hope for a new life in Christ because an encounter with Jesus offers a whole new way of being and living.

Spreading the gospel message also involves word and deed. In fact, by virtue of our baptism, we have no choice but to evangelize, because Jesus commissioned us to do so. The key, however, according to the Decree on Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes (1965), is that no one should evangelize who has not been evangelized and converted (n. 40). In other words, you must know the message well.

When a person falls in love, she wants to share the good news with family and friends. No doubt she will describe the love of her life with great joy and satisfaction. When people ask her, “How do you know he’s the one?” she will just know. A person in love with the Lord Jesus Christ just knows. She knows him and knows the gift he offers: salvation.


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