We are being encouraged to no longer be passive recipients but actively engaged in sharing our faith life.
''Let us envision and pray about ways of renewing the culture of faith within our own parishes and communities. Let us continue to create communities where those who have been renewed can find continued nourishment and strength in their journey of faith." ("Living as Missionary Disciples," p.8)
Everywhere we turn in Church circles these days, we are hearing the words discipleship, evangelization, disciples in mission and missionary discipleship. All of these words and phrases point to one important reality, that as baptized followers of Christ, we are also missioned to go forth and share the Good News with others. So many Catholics grew up thinking that their faith was something that was private and to be kept to oneself. Catholics have been reluctant to speak to others about their faith life or their relationship with Christ. The bishops, religious communities of women and men along with lay leaders in the Church are seeing the need to counter that silence with calls for engagement, encounter and renewal. One of the loudest voices, of course, for this renewal is Pope Francis! "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: indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love." (Evangelii Gaudium, 120)
This call for renewal reminds us of the words of Isaiah, "See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43:19) Catholics throughout the world are feeling encouraged by this sense of openness and renewal that is being promoted. People have a growing sense of the Holy Spirit being at work in this call for renewal. Parishes are responding in a variety of ways. Some are encouraging people to learn or become re-acquainted with different prayer methods such as Lectio Divina, examen, and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. These and other forms of liturgical and sacramental prayer give people the opportunity to encounter Christ.
A new resource, "Living as Missionary Disciples," has recently been published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This new resource emphasizes that the work of evangelization will mean trying new methods and using new expressions to communicate the faith. The publication is intended for use in any parish, diocese and church ministry and sets out new paths for the Church's journey of evangelization. This book points out the fact that Christ himself gives us the method of formation for missionary discipleship: "Come and see" (Jn 1; 46) -- encounter; "Follow me" (Mt 9:9) -- accompany; "Remain with me" (Jn15:4) -- community; and "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19) -- send. Taking each of these aspects -- encounter, accompany, community and send -- this resource lays out in practical terms the ways that we are called to be missionary disciples and what that requires of us.
There is a great deal being written to help people understand evangelization and what it means to be "disciples in mission" or "missionary disciples." Here in the archdiocese, we encourage people to participate in the "Forming Disciples in Mission" workshops, to learn about evangelization in a parish setting. We also strongly encourage people to read any of the following books: "Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic" and "Rediscovering Catholicism" by Matthew Kelly, "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry Weddell and "Divine Renovation" by James Mallon. These books give concrete examples of how to bring to life the work of evangelization that is needed at this time in our history.
Often in the past, Church leaders and lay staff in parishes relied on programs as the way to develop disciples. While some programs have indeed helped people to confidently speak about their relationship with Christ, there is no easy solution. It takes work! The most effective method of evangelization, as Pope Francis says, is when we speak about how we have experienced God's saving love in our lives. We are being encouraged to no longer be passive recipients but actively engaged in sharing our faith life. It is abundantly clear that the work of evangelization requires all of us to put aside the notion that we don't know enough to speak about Christ to one another and to be personally more intentional and deliberate in sharing the faith.
Sister Pat Boyle is associate director of the Archdiocese of Bostonís Office of Pastoral Planning.