There can be no bystanders to evangelization

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron

Editor’s Note: Over 20 issues, The Michigan Catholic is bringing you, in bite-sized chunks, Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. Below is the 13th of 20 excerpts, taken from the letter’s fifth guidepost, “No Bystanders.” To read the whole letter — or to catch up on sections you’ve missed — visit www.unleashthegospel.org.

“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Christ calls every priest, deacon, religious and lay person in the Archdiocese to embark upon the new evangelization, to employ new methods and a new fervor in unleashing the Gospel. “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization.”

The Laity

The special calling and privilege of the lay faithful is to bring Christ into the secular world. “Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.” Their role is to transform every aspect of the culture through the Gospel — family life, education, government, business, the media, entertainment, sports, science, the arts. They do so both by “engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God” and by “revealing Christ by word to those around them.”

The engagement of every lay person, according to their gifts and state in life, is essential for the mission of the Church to be fulfilled. “Each member of the lay faithful should always be fully aware of being a ‘member of the Church’ yet entrusted with a unique task which cannot be done by another and which is to be fulfilled for the good of all.” Each one should reflect on how the Lord is calling them to bring the Gospel into their particular spheres of influence both through their deeds and their words.

Priests and Deacons

The leadership of our priests and deacons in unleashing the Gospel is crucial for this mission; every pastoral work must make a contribution to the new evangelization.

As priests, we must resist the idea that we are ecclesiastical civil servants whose primary task is to maintain the organization. Rather, the organization is always at the service of the Gospel. Our role is to be spiritual fathers who bring God’s children to birth and nurtures them to maturity in Christ (1 Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19). We lead the sheep to green pastures where they can be fed, refreshed, and spiritually built up so that they themselves can then be sent out into the harvest.

A priest is a servant of the word of God. “The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God. He is consecrated and sent forth to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith….” Although a priest’s highest role is the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it is preaching the Gospel that draws people to Christ in the first place and enables them to receive the full saving benefit of the sacraments. Priests and deacons need to be bold in proclaiming all the elements of the Gospel, not only those parts that people want to hear. Preachers need ongoing formation in how to do so with compassion, conviction and clarity.

Consecrated Life and Movements

The Lord has raised up in our local Church men and women in consecrated life, as well as lay people who belong to ecclesial movements, so that they can employ their unique charisms in the new evangelization. We thank God for every religious order, congregation, society, and movement that is present in the Archdiocese, each with its particular gifts.

Consecrated men and women bear witness by their lives to the priceless treasure of Christ — “the pearl of great price” that is worth selling everything to attain (Mt 13:46). Their lives of prayer, service and self-sacrifice cause the fragrance of Christ to fill the atmosphere, so that others are drawn to him (cf. Jn 12:3; 2 Cor 2:14-15). Those in contemplative life are particularly indispensable to our local Church. If our mission is fruitful, it is largely because of their hidden prayers and sacrifices. Those in active apostolates make the good news of Christ visible and tangible to those they serve. I entreat all those in consecrated life to pray fervently and frequently for the success of our efforts to unleash the Gospel.

The ecclesial movements, many of which have sprung up since Vatican Council II, kindle fervor in lay people and bring fresh creativity and dynamism to evangelization. As John Paul II noted, “There is so much need today for mature Christian personalities, conscious of their baptismal identity, of their vocation and mission in the world! … And here are the movements and the new ecclesial communities: they are the response, given by the Holy Spirit, to this critical challenge.” I invite each of the movements to reflect on how they can contribute, in accord with their specific charisms, to our archdiocesan effort to unleash the Gospel.

Youth and Young Adults

The youth and young adults of our local Church have a particular call, which the Church wholeheartedly supports, to bring the light of the Gospel into southeast Michigan.

On the day of Pentecost St. Peter proclaimed, quoting the prophet Joel, that the Holy Spirit gives to both young and old the ability to prophesy (Acts 2:17) — that is, to speak God’s word under the influence of the Spirit such that it touches people’s hearts and brings conversion. We address our preaching of the Gospel to young people, but we must not forget that they themselves are also agents of the new evangelization. They have a unique ability to reach the people of their own generation, and they can help us think in new ways. We must make every effort to encourage, challenge, mentor, and raise up the young to take up their rightful roles in the mission of the Church, entrusting responsibility to them as appropriate. As Pope Francis wrote, there is an “urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership.”

To read more of the archbishop’s letter, or to catch up on sections you’ve missed, visit www.unleashthegospel.org.