Laity for the New Evangelization.
Card. Stanisław Ryłko
Pontifical Council for the Laity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvpn9R32YbQCard. Stanisław Ryłko
Pontifical Council for the Laity
Laity for the New Evangelization
“The Church today ought to take a giant step forward in her evangelization effort, and
enter into a new stage of history in her missionary dynamism”.1 This statement in
Christifideles Laici is still very relevant today, and the role of the laity in this process continues
to be irreplaceable. Christ said “you too go into my vineyard” (Mt 20: 3-4), and this invitation
should be seen as a clear call to an ever-growing number of lay men and women to take on their
responsibility in the life and mission of the Church. This refers to their responsibility in the life
and mission of all the Christian communities – dioceses and parishes, and ecclesial associations
and movements. The engagement of lay people in evangelization is already changing the life of
the Church, and this is a major sign of hope for the Church.
The enormity of the harvest to be collected for the sake of the Gospel today gives a note of
urgency to the Divine Master’s missionary mandate: “Go into all the world and proclaim the
good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Unfortunately, nowadays a mentality of
relativism has taken root and is spreading even among Christians. This creates a great
deal of confusion for our mission. Some examples are the following: the tendency to
replace mission with a kind of dialogue in which all positions are equal; the tendency to
reduce evangelization to human advancement and no more, being convinced that it is
enough to help people to be better people or to be more faithful to their own religion; a
false concept of respect for the freedom of others that refrains from teaching the need for
conversion. These and other doctrinal errors are addressed in the encyclical Redemptoris
Missio (1990), then in the declaration Dominus Iesus (2000) and later in the Responses to
Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (2007) issued
by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These documents deserve to be studied
in depth. Evangelization is an explicit mandate from the Lord and therefore it is not of
secondary importance. It is the reason why the Church is a sacrament of salvation.
Redemptoris Missio tells us that evangelization is a question of faith, “an accurate indicator
of our faith in Christ and his love for us”.3 As Saint Paul says, “the love of Christ impels us”
(2 Cor 5:14). It is therefore not unreasonable to stress that “there can be no true
evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord”4 by word and through
1 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, n. 35.
2 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, n. 2.
3 Ibid., n.11.
4 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, n. 19.
a life of witness. “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience
than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories”.5 Those who know Christ have a
duty to make him known, and those who do not know him have the right to receive this
news. Saint Paul understood this well when he wrote: “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives
me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not
proclaim the gospel!” (1Cor 9:16). This missionary concern should always be with each
person who has been baptised.
In an address delivered in the year 2000, the future Pope Benedict XVI made some very
good points that invite us to return to the essential. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was
speaking about evangelization, and he set out from a basic premise: “the true problem of
our times is the ‘Crisis of God’, the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity
[...] Everything changes, whether God exists or not. Unfortunately – we Christians also
often live as if God did not exist (si Deus non daretur). We live according to the slogan:
God does not exist, and if He exists, He does not belong. Therefore, evangelization must,
first of all, speak about God, proclaim the only true God: the Creator – the Sanctifier –
the Judge (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church)”.6 He also said: “Speaking about God
and speaking with God must always go together”.7 Prayer is irreplaceable as the wellspring
from which every true and authentic missionary initiative is born. The subject of
God then becomes the subject of Jesus Christ: “Only in Christ and through Christ does
the subject of God become truly concrete: Christ is Emmanuel, the God-with-us—the
concretization of the ‘I am’, the response to Deism”.8 Taking this as his basic premise,
Cardinal Ratzinger formulated three laws that guide the process of evangelization in the
Church, laws that are well worth recalling. He called the first one the law of
expropriation. We Christians are not the proprietors. We are humble servants of God’s
action in the world. Saint Paul wrote: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2Cor 4:5). This is why
Cardinal Ratzinger strongly emphasised that “evangelizing is not merely a way of
speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the Father. ‘He
will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak’, says the Lord
about the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13) [...] The Lord and the Spirit build the Church,
communicate through the Church. The proclamation of Christ, the proclamation of the
Kingdom of God presupposes listening to his voice in the voice of the Church. ‘Not to
speak on one’s own authority’ means: to speak in the mission of the Church”.9
5 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, n. 42.
6 J. Ratzinger, La nuova evangelizzazione, “L’Osservatore Romano”, 11-12 dicembre 2000, p. 11. [Address of
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Jubilee of Catechists and Religion Teachers, 10 December 2000)]
Evangelization, therefore, is never a private affair. Behind it there is always God and there is
always the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger said: “We ourselves cannot draw people. We must
acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer. The
word of proclamation must always be steeped in an intense life of prayer”.10 This certitude
gives us great support and it gives us the courage needed to deal with the challenges that
are presented to the Church by the world.
The second law of evangelization springs from the parable of the mustard seed, “the
smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the
greatest of all shrubs” (Mk 4:31-32). “All great things begin in humility”,11 Cardinal
Ratzinger emphasised. In fact, God is particularly fond of all that is small: the “remnant
of Israel” that brings hope to the chosen people; the “little flock” of disciples that are told
by the Lord never to fear because it is to them that the Father wishes to give his Kingdom
(cf. Lk 12:32). The parable of the mustard seed tells us that those who proclaim the
Gospel must be humble. They must not expect to obtain immediate results – neither
qualitatively nor quantitatively. The law of great numbers is not the law of the Church.
God is Lord of the harvest, and it is God who decides the rhythm, times and method for
sowing. This law keeps us from becoming discouraged in our missionary engagement,
yet it does not exempt us from giving everything we can. We are reminded by the apostle
to the gentiles: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows
bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2Cor 9:6).
The third law of evangelization is the law of the grain of seed that dies in order to bring
forth fruit (cf. Jn 12:24). In evangelization, the logic of the Cross is always present.
Cardinal Ratzinger said: “Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words but with
his suffering and death. His passion is a never-ending source of life for the world; the
passion gives power to his words”.12 This explains the importance we find in
evangelization of the witness of martyrs for the faith. Tertullian was right when he wrote:
“the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”.13
The witness of faith sealed by the blood of so many martyrs is the great spiritual
patrimony of the Church and a shining sign of hope for its future. Christians can join
Saint Paul in saying: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not
driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always
carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in
our bodies”. (2Cor 4: 8-10).
13 Tertullian, Liber apologeticus 50, 13
The importance of the tasks facing the Church at the start of the third millennium of the
Christian era can make us feel inadequate and helpless. Our work for God and the Gospel
in the world is constantly being hindered and contested by various hostile forces.
However, we are heartened by words of hope by Benedict XVI. In a homily on “God’s
failures” given when the Swiss bishops were on their ad limina visit, he said: “initially
God always fails, he lets human freedom exist and this freedom constantly says ‘no’; but
God's imagination, the creative power of his love, is greater than the human ‘no’[...]
What does all this mean for us? First of all, it means one certainty: God does not fail. He
‘fails’ continuously, but for this very reason he does not fail, because through this he
finds new opportunities for far greater mercy and his imagination is inexhaustible. He
does not fail because he finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great
house so that it is completely filled”.14 This is why we should never lose hope. The
Successor of Peter assures us that: “even today the message spreads along the roads to the
very ends of the earth and people crowd into God's hall for his banquet. Today too, he
will find new ways to call men and women. He wants to have us with him as his
messengers and servants”.15
14 Benedict XVI, Homily during Mass with the Swiss Bishops, 7 November 2006.