Jesus gave each believer and the community of believers a great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Vatican Council II (our 21st ecumenical council), we recall that it declared unambiguously the reality that you and I are the Church. We have come to understand that the family is “the basic Church” and community of believers. Therefore, in order for our Church to grow into God’s marvelous Light, our basic Church must be nourished and supported in this great commission.
Throughout these two millennia, our Church has sought to fulfill this commission and it has learned that the best and most effective way to evangelize is by welcoming people. And, we need to do better at welcoming people…especially within our families.
Ten years after Vatican Council II, Pope Paul VI issued his apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Nuntiandi. The Pope wrote that our words of proclaiming the good news of salvation matter in the world. In paragraph 28, Pope Paul VI writes that each of us is to preach “…and this is always urgent — of the search for God Himself through prayer which is principally that of adoration and thanksgiving, but also through communion with the visible sign of the encounter with God which is the Church of Jesus Christ….”
In 1990, Blessed John Paul II continued this holy mission when he wrote an encyclical entitled Redemptoris Missio. It begins, “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion.” Blessed John Paul II proclaimed that now is the time for a new evangelization and he identified three specific groups of people whom we need to welcome: (1) those who have never heard the Gospel, (2) those who are present in Christian communities, and (3) those members of Christian communities who “have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church.”
In his recent Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI has taken up this same great commission by declaring October 11 as the beginning of the Year of Faith throughout our Church. Pope Benedict XVI calls you and me to return to our central duty. He states clearly that we are to evangelize within our modern culture by confronting the cultural crisis brought on by secularization.
To this same end, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued recently a resource entitled Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization. It reminds each of us of our great commission within the context of welcoming others. It states, “How often do we fail to realize that we are called to be Christ’s witnesses to the world? Do we realize that our Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of the Eucharist bestow on us the grace we need to be disciples? Are we like the disciples staring at the sky rather than inviting those around us to experience Christ’s love and mercy through the Church? How often do we reach out to our missing brothers and sisters by inviting them to join us at Mass or by asking why they no longer feel welcomed at the Lord’s Table? The answers to these questions underlie the evangelizing mission of the Church, especially in the call of the New Evangelization.”
Bishop Pfeifer has stressed that Family Life and Marriage is the number one priority of our Diocese. There is no better place to begin evangelizing and welcoming people (back) into the faith than within our own family. By welcoming those nearest to us, we become evangelizers.
In an effort to promote and assist us as we live out this great commission, plans are being made for several events. For example, the Year of Faith is going to begin with a special Mass that will be celebrated in each of the deaneries within our Diocese (San Angelo, Abilene, and Midland/Odessa). These Mass celebrations will occur on the same date, October 11, and be of the same format (with the same scripture readings and the same prayers). Furthermore, there will be entries in parish bulletins throughout the upcoming Church year. These are intended to offer you and your family an opportunity to reflect upon and discuss the wisdom of our Church. In addition, discussion questions will be presented at each Pastoral Council meeting. These are intended to help the leadership by giving them opportunities to reflect upon and discuss how our parish community is reaching out to families in an effort to better enable them to welcome people (back) into the faith and/or Church. In upcoming months, expect to read articles about these and other opportunities in the West Texas Angelus.
It begins with you and it begins with me. So, let us begin by welcoming people, inviting them to come and worship our God through the Sacraments.
(Editor’s Note: Each of these documents noted above can easily be found through your favorite search engine. They are worthwhile reading.)