November 2, 2016
I once heard about a mega-church in Texas that is about as evangelistic as it is large (everything’s bigger in Texas, after all). The members of this church take their identity as missionary disciples so seriously that they posted signs at each exit out of the church’s parking lot that read: “You are now entering mission territory.”
These signs serve as a reminder to the congregation that their mission as Christians doesn’t end on Sunday morning, but, rather, it is just beginning.
Those people have a mission mindset. They understand that missionaries are not just those who are digging wells in Africa, but that all Christians, no matter one’s state in life, are called to be everyday missionaries.
This truth matters much more today than perhaps it ever did in the past. We now live in a society that does Christianity no favors. Public schools avoid the name of Jesus like the plague, our universities actively attempt to undermine the Christian faith, and society as a whole preaches a gospel of moral and religious relativism (a message that has taken young people out of the Church in droves) while at the same time pulling no punches when it comes to attacking Christians who have beliefs contrary to the rest of society when it comes to certain social issues. With hostility on every front, can we afford to continue living the sort of comfortable, complacent Catholicism we have for the past half-century?
Pope Saint John Paul II gave us the answer. He said, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes [which means “to the nations”]. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples" (
Redemptoris Missio, 3).
Our Holy Father, a prophet for his time, realized that the days of cultural Catholicism where the Faith could be transmitted unintentionally or merely by accident were over. After 2,000 years of existence, the Church is entering into a new era: the era of the Church of the new evangelization, or the era of “evangelical Catholicism.”
Pope Saint John Paul II realized that it was not just going to be a select few that would be involved in evangelizing the 21
st century world, but every believer in Christ and every institution of the Church.
However, for most Catholics, the word “evangelization” can be quite unsettling and even intimidating. So how do we change our mindsets to begin living lives of mission?
I propose a few practical tips.
First, we have to pray for the grace to see our lives as the missions they are. When you were baptized, you received a missionary mandate and were given the grace from God to lead a life of courageous witness to Jesus Christ. How often do we pray for God to reignite the flame of our baptism in our hearts so that we may see our lives as living testaments to the truth of the Gospel?
Second, we must be lifelong learners. Today’s mission field is littered with post-Enlightenment individuals with intellectual objections to the faith. Our adversaries never rest in their efforts to undermine the Church’s influence in the world, so how can we afford to be lukewarm when it comes to educating ourselves and engaging our culture? In the spirit of such heroic figures as St. Thomas More, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman, we must learn how to make arguments and how to be apologists. The truth will become extinct if there is no one in our culture willing to stand up and speak it in love.
Finally, we have to begin thinking of ourselves as missionaries. We have to look for opportunities each day to share the Gospel and consider everywhere we go mission territory. If we cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be amazed to see how many little opportunities there are to evangelize each day. We must also strive to be men and women of joy and faith. To be an everyday missionary means to live with such radical joy and love that those you come in contact with can’t help but ask: “What’s different about you?”
For two millennia the Catholic Church has been a powerhouse of evangelization. We are the Church that brought the Faith to Japan, Africa, South America and to the ends of the Earth. Isn’t it about time that we break out our “You are now entering mission territory” signs and return them to their rightful places at the exits of our church parking lots?
Zac Johnson is the parish evanglist for St. Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola.