You Have What It Takes to Evangelize
Dear Father John, Sometimes I get nervous, even scared, at the thought of evangelizing. Is this normal, and how can I overcome these feelings?
THE CHURCH’S DEEPEST identity is found in her mission to evangelize, to proclaim and foster the growth of Christ’s kingdom. And God calls every Christian, every member of the Church, no matter how apparently small or unqualified, to join in that mission and make a unique, unrepeatable contribution to it that will reverberate throughout eternity. Making that contribution is every Christian’s best way to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
This mission can make us feel excited. But it can also make us feel scared, intimidated, and inadequate. You might think, The great saints were capable of something like that, something so transcendental and amazing, but that’s not for me. I can barely keep myself together in the hustle and bustle of daily duties and never-ending mini-crises! Who am I to think that I can help build Christ’s kingdom and love like that?
Feelings Bolstered by Faith
It’s understandable to feel that way. But sometimes our spontaneous feelings only give us a partial glimpse into reality, especially in the realm of faith. Feelings need to be educated, taught to incorporate the truths of our faith into all the information they process and communicate to us. And on this point, about the capacity of every Christian to become a saint and make a unique, unrepeatable contribution to Christ’s kingdom, our faith rescues us from every feeling of fear or inadequacy, for one simple reason: Our efforts are not just our efforts.
Naturally, depending only on hard work and our own natural powers and gifts, the call to holiness and evangelization is indeed far beyond our capacities. Christ’s kingdom, as we have seen, “does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). It is a supernatural kingdom, built up by the power of grace and the Holy Spirit. If we were to try to take our place in that kingdom by leaning solely on our earthly smarts and strengths, we would be perennially frustrated, fruitlessly aiming again and again and again at a target impossibly beyond our reach.
New Things Have Come
But part of the good news Jesus brings is that, through baptism and confirmation, our natural gifts and talents—however many or few they may be—are healed and enhanced by grace. They are plugged into the divine life itself. Baptism makes us adopted children of God, not just as some kind of formality, but in truth. Anyone who is baptized has “come to share in the divine nature…. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Peter 1:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17).
We are members of Christ’s own body, and through the sacrament of confirmation, the same Holy Spirit that animates Christ and the Church has been abundantly poured into our own lives, animating each one of us as well: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us…” (1 Corinthians 12:27, Romans 5:5). And so our human and material limitations, our wounds, our struggles, and hardships—none of these things have to inhibit us from engaging in this uniquely fulfilling mission of evangelization. God can work through them all, and when we let him do so, he is glorified even more than when we try to serve him from a place of self-satisfaction and self-confidence.
When We Are Weak, We Are Strong
St. Paul learned this lesson the hard way—through a mysterious struggle against what he calls “a thorn in the flesh” that he simply could never get rid of:
Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, emphasis added)
The same Holy Spirit that comes to us through the grace of baptism and confirmation, truly uniting us to God and gradually leading us to spiritual maturity, also equips us and spurs us on toward the fulfillment of our mission in Christ’s kingdom. Some Christians are called to carry out dramatic and highly visible missions, like St. Bernardine of Siena, who would habitually preach to crowds of 10,000 people. Others are called to carry out hidden but still beautiful and powerful missions, like St. Joseph, who silently cared for Jesus and Mary, without speaking even a single word in the Bible.
You Are Not Lacking
Whatever he may ask of each one of us, “God is faithful,” and through Christ, he doesn’t call and equip us for something beyond our reach—that would be torture. Rather:
…in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus [Christ]. (1 Corinthians 1:9, 5–8)
When Jesus sent his twelve apostles out on their first mission, St. Matthew tells us that he “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority…” (Matthew 10:1, emphasis added). When he sent the larger group of seventy-two followers, St. Luke tells us that “the Lord appointed” them (Luke 10:1, emphasis added). At his Ascension, Jesus prefaces his great commission that the Church “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” with an explanation of whose power will truly be at work within the Church’s efforts to fulfill that command: “Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore…’” (Matthew 28:18–19).
As Christians, through the mysterious communion with God given by baptism and confirmation, Christ’s own life surges through our veins. His own power gives supernatural force to our evangelizing efforts. Insofar as we intentionally and consistently nourish this communion through a growing prayer life, through a humble and determined participation in the Eucharist and in confession, and through a decent effort to obey the Lord’s will in all things, it will mature and expand, bringing God’s unique dream for each one of us to fulfillment.1
Truly, your part in building up Christ’s kingdom is beyond anything you could ever do—on your own. But in the Lord, you really do have what it takes.
1 Those are essential aspects of our Christian discipleship, and they were treated in greater detail in the author’s two previous works: The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer and Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.
Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s book “Go! 30 Meditations on How Best to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: All Saints Catholic Church (St. Peters, Missouri) – stained glass, sacristy, Holy Spirit detail, Nheyob, 8 July 2014, own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; Twelve Apostles, Arthur Alyoshin, photograph 8 January 2013 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, both Wikimedia Commons.