The challenges to evangelization today can be daunting. How can we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and draw people into, or back into, to the Church today? Secularism is a powerful force and many choose to invest in communities organized or animated by things other than faith or religion. The Catholic Church, sadly, is not perceived as an attractive option to many. And yet the Catholic faith, the faith handed down by the Apostles, is not something for us to keep for ourselves. Rather, it is a gift to share according to the Great Commission of Jesus to “go make disciples of all nations.”
The season of Easter is an important time to reflect on how to best evangelize in our current world. Regarding the Resurrection of Jesus, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” Without the cross there is no Christianity. Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity. We are called to be people of both the cross and Resurrection if we are to authentically bear witness to believers and nonbelievers alike. Like the earliest Christian disciples, we are called in both word and deed to proclaim the kerygma, the essential Gospel message that through the dying and Rising of Jesus Christ, we are saved.
Sometimes we serious and committed Catholics tend to bemoan the fact that it is difficult to proclaim the Gospel in a world that has lost a sense of sin. Increasingly, we feel that we are living in a post-Christian culture. While this may be true, was it not more of a challenge for the earliest Christians in their world? Was their task any less daunting than our own? Rather than complain about the world around them, they went about the task of transforming it. Some of those who heard the early Church evangelists were Jewish, but most were Gentiles who would have had very little sense of sin. And yet, they knew something was lacking in their lives. They knew that desire for fulfillment that no earthly or material thing, or human relationship, can fill. Many would have felt the void of a life spent searching for meaning in pleasure, power or material possessions. Are people today all that different?
And yet the earliest Christians, small in numbers but great in faith, proclaimed Christ crucified and Raised. Why were they so successful? Their own faith in the Risen Lord had transformed their own lives. One can imagine that the earliest converts experienced something very different about the earliest Christians. They did not conform to that which was typical or ordinary, but stood out in some way. Perhaps it was their total commitment to Jesus and His mission? Perhaps it was the love and unity among one another in the early Church communities? Perhaps it was the novelty of the mercy they displayed? Perhaps it was their goodness that stood in contrast to the world around them? Perhaps it was the recognition of the truth they proclaimed? Perhaps it was their openness to being led by the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it was in the beauty and simplicity of their worship, and the power of the Eucharist? Perhaps it was their courage and willingness to be martyred for Christ?
Of course, all of these characteristics were present in the early Church, leading to rapid conversions. Is there any reason to believe that it would be any different today if we displayed the same type of faith?
The power to spread the Gospel is quite simple. Focus on the transformative power of the cross and Resurrection of Jesus, and led by the Spirit, become people of commitment, love, mercy, goodness, truth and the Eucharist. Bear witness to the truth that the ugliness in our lives can be transformed into beauty, the hurt we experience can become joy, and the injustices we face can be made straight. If we live in this manner, and become utterly dependent on God’s grace like the earliest disciples, we will proclaim the Gospel, make new disciples, and re-build the Church.
Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ’30).