September 21, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of the priorities of our diocesan vision,
The Church Fully Alive!, is to invite others to the faith through our evangelization efforts and ministries. But, what does it mean to be an evangelizing and missionary Church? This is a theme which was reflected upon by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation,
Evangelii Gaudium (EG) – The Joy of the Gospel.
First and foremost, an evangelizing Church is one that goes forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. This commission was given to us by the Lord himself when he said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)
It seems clear that Jesus has commissioned all the baptized to be “missionaries” who go forth. When we think of missionaries, we often think only of those who travel to other countries to engage in ministry and to teach those who may never have heard of Jesus Christ. However, we need to adopt a new way of thinking about being a missionary.
We live in mission territory right here in our own diocese! Did you know that the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee is one of 90 dioceses in the United States which is classified as a “Mission Diocese” because of the relatively small number of Catholics who live here and the number of rural parishes, particularly in the central part of the diocese?
Since our diocese was founded in 1975, the percentage of Catholics relative to the general population has consistently been about 5 percent. This is compared to the national average which about 25 percent, and other dioceses in the country where the Catholic population exceeds 50%.
Each time that we exit the doors of the Church after Mass we enter into “mission territory”. We are missionaries and evangelizers to our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, those who have left the practice of the Catholic faith and those with no faith, and finally, those we encounter in our daily lives. Pope Francis affirms this in stating, “The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” (EG 23)
One who embraces the call to be a missionary in our local community today will on occasion experience challenges and rejection, but will also experience missionary joy which is born of the Gospel. Pope Francis states, “This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit. Yet the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed, remains ever present.” (EG 21)
Being a missionary today often requires that we come out of our “comfort zone”. Pope Francis states, “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” (EG 20)
In overcoming our fears about evangelizing, we find confidence in knowing we are not alone and that the Lord is with us. Therefore, as we engage in missionary work, it is most important that we ourselves stay close to the Lord – in prayer and in the celebration of the Sacraments – particularly in the Eucharist. It is our own personal encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ which will enable us to confidently share Him with others.
It is my hope and prayer that each of us and this local Church becomes an “evangelizing community”.
Pope Francis reflects on this type of community in stating, “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf.
1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (
Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.” (EG 24)
Let us remember to pray for one another and support one another as we enter into “mission territory”!
Sincerely in Christ,
+ Bishop Gregory L. Parkes
Taken from the July/August edition of the Catholic Compass