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Proclaim Christ
Evangelization Is the Responsibility of Every Catholic

by Father John Hardon, S.J.

Whenever St. Paul is referred to without identifying him, he is simply called the Apostle.

He was so completely identified with the mission of preaching Christ that his name and the apostolate are almost synonymous. No one in the Church’s history is more worthy of the title Apostle, because no one more than he zealously proclaimed Christ to the world. He is called Apostle of the Gentiles. It means Apostle of the world.

His apostolic zeal led him over mountains and across the seas; and his description of the trials he underwent in preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified remains for all times a marvel for others to imitate.

All of this is only by way of prelude to look behind the labors and sufferings that Paul experienced, and try to see what finally motivated him to such heroic lengths, even to the final shedding of his blood for the holy Name.

The setting in which Paul declared, for all future generations, why Christ must be proclaimed, occurs in his letter to the Romans, the tenth chapter. In context, he is speaking sorrowfully about the way Israel as a nation rejected the Messiah when He came. Paul sympathized with the Jews of his day, especially those who regretted to see the ancient law come to an end with Christ. Paul understood. He, therefore, pleaded with his own people to reread the prophets and see for themselves that a day had to come, for that was the name of the Messiah, the One who would come; and that day had dawned!

Faith in Christ makes a person pleasing to God. Paul then goes to the logical steps that faith in Christ, as a condition for salvation, implied. Paul’s account will be for all times the divinely established formula for the apostolate. We listen to Paul: “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord; and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart, you are made righteous. By confessing with your lips, you are saved. All belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask for help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But they will not ask His help unless they believe in Him. And they will not hear of Him unless they get a preacher. And they will never have a preacher unless one is sent.”

Five Stages of Evangelism

Here we have in capsule form the whole logic of evangelization. It comes in five stages. First, we are saved if we profess Christ. Second, we shall profess Christ if we believe in Him. Third, we shall believe in Him if we have heard of Him. Fourth, we hear of Christ if someone who believes in Him proclaims Him. And fifth, Christ is proclaimed if a proclaimer is sent. Evangelization, therefore, consists of five activities, one following on the other, and each depending absolutely on the one that precedes. These activities are: mission, proclamation, faith, profession and salvation. Let us look at each in sequence, and as we go along apply its implication to ourselves.


A mission is a sending, and in fact it corresponds exactly to apostolate. “Mission” is derived from the Latin, and “apostolate” from the Greek. Evangelization begins with an apostle being sent. Call it being assigned by superiors, or commissioned by the bishop, or directed by the Pope. No matter; it assumes that someone is authorized by the Church to evangelize. This authorization is of the essence of the apostolate, and may take on a variety of forms. Ecclesiastical approval for publication is a type of authorization. So is canonical confirmation of the constitutions of a religious institute. So are all the rules or by-laws of organizations of zealous lay people. If they are to merit the title of apostolates, they must somehow be approved by the Church. In the Catholic Church no one, even intelligibly, can be said to send himself. And there is no apostolate unless or until or insofar as Church authority in some definite way entitles a person or an institution to evangelize. The blessings of divine grace are tied in with this authorization.

Compare two men in the sixteenth century, both ostensibly proclaiming Christ, Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola. The one was careful in the extreme to obtain the approval of the Pope on his efforts, and received a mandate from the Vicar of Christ. The other rejected the Pope, and went off on his own. History is the judge as to which one helped the Church of Christ and unified the People of God; and which one did just the opposite.

St. Paul calls the second stage preaching the Good News or proclaiming the word of Christ. There is deep mystery implied in this proclamation. In God's ordinary providence He uses external means to confer internal grace. So true is this that normally He requires some kind of verbal communication by word of eye or ear in order to communicate actual grace to the mind and heart. Christ spoke. He spoke often. He spoke in detail. He spoke in sermons and parables and allegories. He spoke to individuals and He spoke to crowds. He spoke; it seems, for hours at length. And more than once He became exhausted from the verbal communication, but He never ceased speaking. Even to His dying gasp on the cross, He was still preaching. And after the resurrection, He spoke until the day He left the earth, in visible form, to return to the Father. His final message to the Apostles was to continue the verbal communication to tell nations, passing on to generations yet unborn, what they had been given by Him, and what He had received from the Father, the mysteries hidden in the bosom of the Godhead from all eternity.

So it began and so it has continued ever since. Peter opened the proclamation on Pentecost Sunday; it was carried on by the other Apostles, and extended by them literally as Christ ordered them, to the ends of the earth. The apostle James reached Spain; Thomas penetrated India; and Paul’s missionary journeys leave us breathless, even today, to realize in how many places he preached, and how many people he reached in answer to the Master’s command.

What is beneath this, however, is that no Christian is exempt from doing the same, according to his or her state in life, and the circumstances in which they find themselves. What Paul said of himself, “Woe is me if I proclaim not Christ,” all of us should say of ourselves. Not only our sanctity but also our salvation depends on many things. Among them is our practice of charity whereby unconsciously or deliberately, consistently, and even aggressively, we bring Christ and His teaching to the attention of others.

Those who do not share our faith—you name them, (cults and sects)—put us often to shame with the zeal they have to proclaim what little of the truth they possess, and much of it is downright error!

As the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, declared in his first encyclical, the world has a right to Christ. Habet jus ad Christum. Do we hear that word “right”? If others have the right, then we have the duty to proclaim the Savior, and make known His word of salvation! And our salvation depends on how zealously we fulfill that duty!

Faith and Profession

As we look back to apostolic times, we ask: Who were the persons who zealously proclaimed Jesus? Many even to martyrdom? Were they not those who believed in Christ? After all, no one even talks about, let alone proclaims, what he doesn’t believe in. And no one makes the effort to convince others, unless he himself is convinced. Reread St. Peter’s two letters or Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. Every chapter, almost ever verse and word reveal men of deep faith, the kind that Christ said would move mountains, and that He promised would fructify from a mustard seed to a great tree. This is exactly what happened. James in Spain, Irenaeus in France, Augustine in England, Patrick in Ireland, Anscar in Scandinavia, Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs, Boniface in Germany, to mention some countries in Europe. They were all men of deep faith. Their faith converted millions. Only faith generates faith. Only believers beget other believers. This is the divine law of supernatural propagation. Ever since Christ promised the miracles of conversion that would be performed by those who believe, our responsibility is too clear to require explanation. We shall be as zealous proclaimers of Christ as we are firm believers in Christ. And all the books written to the contrary notwithstanding, there are no exceptions!

It is not, however, enough to just get people to believe in Christ, as necessary as faith is. St. Paul distinguishes between believing in the heart, and professing with the lips. This was not a clever turn of phrase. It spells out the difference between internal faith and external practice; between calling oneself a Christian and behaving like one; between saying one’s prayers, even attending Mass and receiving the sacraments, and living the kind of life that a true follower of Christ is supposed to live. Here no one is deceived! Why is this important? Because while God is pleased with our faith and requires belief in His Christ for salvation, He wants this faith to be animated by charity. Profession of the Catholic faith has always been demanding. Let me add, provided it’s the Catholic faith! As one Jewish executive recently told me on an airplane flight, “If I ever become a Christian, it will be a Catholic. The Catholic Church makes demands on its people.” I like that. What a pity that some people misunderstand this plain fact of religious psychology. The true faith cannot be soft! If it’s true, it must be from God. And whoever thought that God is not demanding? The cozy gods of the Gentiles are the concoctions of their brains.

It must take generosity to profess what is true. In fact, every deviation from the true faith, since the time of Christ, has been a misguided attempt to make Christianity easy. Easy to believe. Easy to practice. And easy to live by, as though the Master had never said, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow in My footsteps is not worthy of Me.”

The salvation that Christ promised, and that St. Paul proclaimed, is not only the final attainment of heaven after death; it is also, and already in this life, the possession of God’s friendship and the enjoyment of His grace. Every letter of St. Paul preaches salvation through Christ. It might be useful to stress that salvation means deliverance. We are saved from something. Those who hear the word of God, believe in His Son, and profess their faith in their lives are promised deliverance many times over. They, let’s change the pronoun, we, are delivered from sin by the infusion of divine grace into our souls. We become friends of God. We are delivered from the guilt we incurred by our sins. Guilt always produces sadness, the sadness of a disordered spirit, out of harmony with God. Being saved, we acquire a deep sense of peace. We are delivered from the fear of God’s punishments that we deserved for our sins, and are given the assurance that God loves us. We are finally delivered from our weakness, and in St. Paul’s words, receive the strength to live according to the Good News.

Those who experience Christ’s saving grace, not only look forward to its consummation in the life to come, but experience it here and now. They understand, as no one else can, what it means to be truly happy.

That’s the reward of salvation already in this life, the kind of happiness that Christ promises to those who, believing in Him, do His will. But they want to share what they have undeservedly received with everyone who comes into their lives. Proclaiming Christ means telling others, “what Jesus has done for me, He will also do for you, if only you believe in Him.”

Vol. 27 - #1, January - March 1994, pp. 14-17

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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