In my years of leading seminars and conferences in parishes across the country, I have found that many Catholics want to evangelize. They just do not have a comprehensive way to go about it. Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde’s pastoral letter “Go Forth with Hearts on Fire,” offers many Catholics what they are looking for: a how-to guide for the New Evangelization. In this condensed version, we will explore the letter’s practical advice on being an evangelist in the twenty-first century.
Bishop Loverde states, “Each of us needs and desires a relationship with Jesus Christ in his Church.” The brokenness of our culture makes this truth more relevant than ever. As divorce, abortion, and the redefining of marriage and family prevail, the yearning for God in our hearts does not grow more faint. It just becomes less understood as we lose sight of our place in God’s great story.
“Amid such brokenness, Pope Francis’ analogy of the Church as a field hospital has never seemed more fitting,” the bishop continues. “Now is the time to find a language of mercy that is expressed in gestures and attitudes even before words. A nearly frantic search for peace, meaning, and hope is evident all around us. Yes, we experience a true hunger and thirst within us for something more—indeed, for Someone more.”
That is why we, as baptized Catholics, need to evangelize. “When we evangelize, we meet people where they are in their lives, amid all of their joys and trials,” says Bishop Loverde. “In so doing, we help others to understand that the desires of their hearts—however they may be directed at present—are a summons from the infinite God of love and mercy, who wants them to have the fullness of life.
Evangelization allows people to become aware of the presence of God already within them, made as they are in his image and likeness. Evangelization invites others to identify that sense of yearning within themselves.”
Me, an Evangelist?
In our secular culture, it is easy to lose sight of the need to evangelize. Even among those who see the need, there is a fear that they will lose something great by witnessing for Christ.
While acknowledging this fear, Bishop Loverde encourages Catholics to believe the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great … Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.”
Another obstacle to evangelizing is our busy lives. When faced with a busy schedule, Bishop Loverde reminds Catholics that evangelization is not just another task to add to the list: “It is not a new ‘spoke in the wheel’; it is the entire wheel.”
We are not just dealing with another thing we should do to fulfill some personal ambition in life. Evangelization is a much more overarching matter. Faith in God is concerned with our very existence. “God created us! He did not have to, but in his desire to love human beings made in his image, male and female, he created us,” Bishop Loverde says. No other purpose has greater potential to fill us with a deep sense of mission. The bishop reminds us that our mission territory is all around us, in our homes, our neighborhoods, and wherever we go, and he recommends the following tools as we go forth in the New Evangelization:
The Evangelist’s Tool Box
- The Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of the Christian life,” helping us to love and be loved by Christ.
- Confession, where the weight of our sin is lifted, allowing us to evangelize with new energy.
- Daily prayer, which is essential to maintaining a close relationship with the Lord. One hour at Sunday Mass is not going to be enough.
- Joy, which attracts people to Christ.
- Acts of loving service, which are crucial to witnessing to Christ.
- Family time, which can be used to promote faith, virtues, and character.
- Strong friendships, which can build up our faith and strengthen us in love and good works.
- Study, which gives us the tools we need to engage others intelligently and with sensitivity. As we grow in love for the Lord, we will want to grow in knowledge as well.
- Humility, which strengthens us to say honestly, “I am a sinner.”
- Hospitality, which is an essential element of evangelization.
- Mary, who has only one desire for us: that we know and love her Divine Son.
- One another, to encourage each other to become stronger disciples of Christ.
As Catholics, we may already know that some or all of these things are good for the soul and for evangelizing, and we may embrace one or more of them occasionally. But assimilating these powerful gifts into our daily lives can be a challenge. Bishop Loverde offers suggestions on how to make these gifts the lifeblood of a daily routine.
Evangelist’s To-Do List
- Think of three ways God has blessed you recently. Thank him for these blessings.
- Pray for and seek to develop a right relationship with Christ, which alone brings joy and right relationships with others.
- Allow your joy to be increased through the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church.
- Volunteer or take part in charitable service, and find ways to discuss charity with others.
- As part of your deepening friendship with Christ, find one concrete way to love him and to love your fellow disciples through him.
- Ask for forgiveness when you hurt someone.
- Receive Communion on Sundays and, if possible, more often during the week.
- Ask God’s forgiveness each night for the sins of the day, and receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly.
- Set aside time for reading or listening to the Scriptures, spiritual works, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to increase your knowledge of Jesus Christ.
- Look for a men’s or women’s Bible study group or a prayer group to join to receive support as a disciple and to offer your support to other disciples.
- Invite others into your home to share a meal. Pray the Rosary. Consider Mary’s obedience to God.
- Seek her intercession for your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.
How to Evangelize in Your Parish
The parish or local faith community is the place where we live out our calling as evangelists most fundamentally. It is the Catholic answer to the lack of answers in the secular culture. Through the parish, Catholics from all walks of life have created a culture that is not just a response to the world around us, but offers its own dynamic vision and worldview centered around Christ.
Our Catholic culture offers many things that are “good, true, and beautiful,” Bishop Loverde states. “These treasures—great literature, art, architecture, and music, among others—help us to see the glory of God’s creation and can move our hearts to love God and to understand our role in his creation.” The parish is the ideal place to express and share this Catholic culture.
The bishop continues, “Perhaps the most insidious message of the [secular] culture’s ‘anti-evangelization’ campaign is that the ‘institutional Church’ is to be ridiculed and rebelled against, like an unjust and old-fashioned parent.” The parish community needs to be ready to counteract this mentality and offer a positive vision of Christianity.
In his letter to parishes in the Diocese of Arlington, Bishop Loverde recommends that parishes ask themselves the following questions:
- Do all members of our parish feel the personal love of God?
- Do visitors to our parish experience an atmosphere of joy in us when they arrive for Mass on Sunday?
- Does our parish have a sense of “mission” when participating in activities?
- Does service in our parish offer an opportunity for participants to grow in relationship with Jesus.
- Are there areas of sin in the lives of members of our parish that are common enough to warrant a teaching series on the topic?
- Are there routine (weekly or monthly) opportunities to build fellowship among all age groups in our parish?
- Does our pastoral team consciously use special events (such as weddings, sacraments, and funerals) as opportunities to teach everyone, including guests, about Christ?
- How much do parishioners in our parish value the Eucharist?
- Is there a growing acknowledgment in our parish of a need to improve our relationship with Jesus through the forgiveness of sins?
- How often does our parish have groups getting together to engage in Eucharistic Adoration, lectio divina, devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Marian devotions such as the Rosary?
- How does educating our youth (through our Catholic school and religious education program) support the networking of families in our parish?
- Do adults in our parish know about opportunities to study the Catholic Faith?
Finally, the bishop asks, “Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, are you ready to accept your commission to evangelize in the twenty-first century? … We go forth, with hearts on fire! Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord today, tomorrow, and every day until we see him face to face in our eternal home!”
This article is an abridged version of “Go Forth with Hearts on Fire,” a pastoral letter by Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington. It was originally published in Ascension’s 2015 catalog.