Parishes Continue Jesus’ Evangelizing Ministry
THE early Christians enthusiastically carried out the mission mandate given them by Christ in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus gave several imperatives to his followers: “Go … Make disciples … Baptize … Teach.” Indeed, the disciples courageously traveled great distances, evangelizing, teaching and proclaiming the Good News.
Jesus’ missionary mandate has lost none of its urgency for the Church today. This has been emphasized by several recent popes. Paul VI in his Evangelii Nuntiandi (14) asserted that “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church…. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (20) speaks of “the Church’s mission of evangelization” and asserts that “all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth.’ Each Christian and every community [every parish] must discern the path that the Lord points out.” We all must “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
Empowered for Ministry. The vocation to be dynamic “missionary disciples,” to serve in the Church, to be engaged in ministry, is grounded in the sacrament of baptism, which configures us to Christ who is anointed as priest, prophet, and king. Thus, every Christian by virtue of baptism has the responsibility to serve and minister to others; this is inherent in the Christian vocation.
Certainly, the ministries of the ordained and of laypeople are complementary—not competing—ministries; all originate in baptism. Thus, laypeople do not have their ministries somehow “delegated” to them by the clergy or religious. This reality means that in a vibrant parish, laypeople along with the ordained collaborate closely in building up the Church, the Body of Christ. All generously put their gifts and talents, the sacramental graces of their baptism and ordination, at the service of the Lord.
To Live is to Evangelize. It is often thought that the persons primarily responsible for “mission” in the Church are the ordained, vowed religious, catechists, or other parish staff persons tasked with the specific ministry of evangelization. This view is erroneous. Rather, each member of the parish community bears the responsibility for evangelization.
Each Christian is a unique person, possessing unique gifts; thus, he or she is the only one who can use these gifts for evangelization. Indeed, the Holy Spirit works in and through the individuality of each person. Applied in a parish context, this means that all persons, no matter on what particular committee they may serve (e.g. liturgy, education, finance, etc.) must be imbued with an evangelizing spirit. The dynamism of evangelization should permeate every aspect of parish life. Evangelization is not one more task to be handled by a special committee.
Rich Diversity of Gifts. Parish ministry can draw much insight from Saint Paul’s analogy of the body found in his first letter to the Corinthians: “There is a variety of gifts, but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord” (12:4). The majority of Christians can find countless ways of exercising ministry. Where is there a genuine need in society? Seek to respond; just begin. Remember Mother Teresa has said: “If you can’t feed a hundred hungry persons, just feed one”!
You need not be in a high-profile position to exercise ministry (recall ministry means to give service). Stephen Covey, a noted writer on leadership, asserts that one need not be “in-charge” to be a leader. One becomes a leader as soon as he or she begins influencing others—through genuine service. Your contribution, whether great or small, contributes to building a vibrant parish!