So when as a family we were going through our little Q&A catechism, and I read a question in the section on Sacraments about whether the Church is necessary for salvation, an alarm went off in me with his answer. At first he adamantly said No. Because, he said, what about all those people who don't have the Church, who don't have Sacraments. Surely God wants them to have a chance to be saved, too!
My alarm wasn't first and foremost about the gap in my son's understanding. Good heavens, we all have those. My alarm was that I saw clearly that he was reflecting back to me the lived experience of Catholics that he has experienced. He has been very blessed in the community with which we live. It has great riches and vibrancy, and he has many spiritual opportunities that are not so easily had in other areas of the country. For example, we have Franciscan University of Steubenville in our backyard and often go to hear outstanding speakers who come here. My son has heard many admonitions: to pray, to serve, to help the poor, to speak out for justice, to defend truth, to give one's life to God, to embrace one's vocation. But apparently he has not so often heard it emphasized that each Catholic is obligated to participate in the missionary endeavor of the Church by preaching the truth and explicitly leading people to embrace Her Sacraments. In other words, we act like the eternal salvation of the souls of others has absolutely nothing to do with us, our witness, with preaching, with the Church.
If the Church is not missionary, then what is it? A feel-good club for us? One of many generic service organizations by which humanitarian good is done, if you happen to like the brand we offer?
Then today I read this article on Catholic.org: Church Exists to Evangelize! Pope Calls every Catholic to Become a Missionary. The New Evangelization is no new idea. But I am so grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for sounding this call again. Especially in the West, and in the United States, this is a radical call, meaning it is one that takes us back down to the root of who we are. Evangelizing is not synonymous with obnoxiously arguing or manipulating or venting our religious spleen on unwitting victims. Evangelization is the fruit of conversion and penance and the following of God's call. It is not a program we can implement. I think of it in terms of living a healthy marriage relationship. Programs don't work where relationships must lead, but systematic teaching can be of assistance to us to discover common pitfalls that harm our relationships. I believe that one of these common pitfalls that stop us from evangelizing is the religious relativism that says as long as people are good, it doesn't really matter what they believe. Another pitfall is that of fundamentalism that says if you don't know all of the answers according to the book, there's no way you are good. Catholics are squeezed by both into staying in the pews, praying, and hoping that all those seekers of truth who want to become Catholics somehow wander in the right direction and find us.
The answer seems simple enough: Fall in love with Jesus Christ, give Him all your life, then follow where He leads. He's going to lead you to His People, and He's going to send you out to love others with a message written into your life. Live that life!! There are specific truths, and they make people deeply happy and free. Be deeply happy and free, and others will see and want this too.
I can't help but think of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute which helps people discern and employ their spiritual gifts, so that they can understand God's call to them. On their blog, they also share lots of good information about the state of Christianity in the world that should shake us out of our pew-sitting ways to realize God doesn't have another normative plan for the salvation of the world but us.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.