From the Pastor – July 3, 2016

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. … Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ (Lk 10:1, 7-9)

The mission of the 72 disciples of Jesus has been spoken about by the Fathers of the Church in several ways.  St. Augustine thought the 72 to be the first priests of the Church working in concert with the 12 Apostles (bishops).  Other saints, such as St. Cyril, saw the 72 as the first worshipping community of Christians sent out to teach.  Either way, the 72 brought the Gospel (Good News) of Christ to those whom had never received it.  Theirs was the work of “evangelization,” from the Latin word meaning to “spread the Gospel.”

The work of evangelization stills go on throughout the world.  There are people living in countries like China and Saudi Arabia and parts of Africa whom have never heard the Gospel message.  In order to continue to “evangelize,” there is a Vatican office totally dedicated to supporting missionaries – those who seek to establish churches where there are none.  That Congregation has changed names in recent years.  It was once called the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (in Latin, “Propaganda Fide”) and was formed in 1622 when it was discovered that vast, undeveloped areas of the world had not received the Gospel, especially large parts of the Americas.   The name of that Congregation was changed to the “Congregation for the Evangelization of the People” by John Paul II in 1982 to better reflect its mission.

Several years ago, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, made an announcement:  “I have decided to create a new body with the aim of promoting a renewed evangelism in countries that are going through progressive secularization of society.”  The “Pontifical Council for New Evangelization” will try to reinvigorate belief among Catholics in rich, developed countries.  That office is headed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella (incidentally, one of my seminary professors!).

What was important about this new office is the Holy See’s recognition that large parts of the world which have already received the Gospel have abandoned it, and need to be “re-evangelized.”  On one hand, that seems pretty dramatic, but on the other hand, it’s pretty obvious.  In the United States, fewer than 35% of Catholics attend Mass on Sundays, and the percentage is even lower in Europe.  People need to hear the Gospel message in a new way so that they can respond to it.

In truth, even those of us who practice our faith can use a “re-evangelization” every now and then.  We come to church to practice our faith, but there’s always more to absorb.  And how can we preach the Gospel without living it?  May we be evangelized so that we can be part of the mission of the 72!  Let us hear the Good News, live it, and share it.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty