Although written many years ago, St. John Paul II’s reflections are still very relevant today, especially as the BCBP is a lay evangelistic community. A must read for all BCBP members! –Editor
Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and capable of fostering a viable and working community of faith, are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism. This particularly concerns countries and nations of the so-called First World, in which economic well-being and consumerism, even if coexistent with a tragic situation of poverty and misery, inspires and sustains a life lived “as if God did not exist.” This indifference to religion and the practice of religion devoid of true meaning in the face of life’s very serious problems are not less worrying and upsetting when compared with declared atheism.
Sometimes the Christian faith as well, while maintaining some of the externals of its tradition and rituals, tends to be separated from those moments of human existence which have the most significance, such as birth, suffering and death. In such cases, the questions and formidable enigmas posed by these situations, if remaining without responses, expose contemporary people to an inconsolable delusion or to the temptation of eliminating the truly humanizing dimension of life implicit in these problems.
On the other hand, in other regions or nations many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religion are still conserved; but today this moral and spiritual patrimony runs the risk of being dispersed under the impact of a multiplicity of processes, including secularization and the spread of sects. Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom. Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is to
At this moment the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church. Their responsibility, in particular, is to testify how the Christian faith constitutes the only fully valid response — consciously perceived and stated by all in varying degrees — to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society. This will be possible if the lay faithful will know how to overcome in themselves the separation of the Gospel from life, to again take up in their daily activities in family, work and society, an integrated approach to life that is fuly brought about by the inspiration and strength of the Gospel.
To all people of today I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: “Do not be afraid! Open, indeed, open wide the doors to Christ! Do not be afraid! Christ knows ‘what is inside a person.’… Too often people are uncertain about a sense of life on earth. Invaded by doubts they are led into despair. There — with humility and trust I beg and implore you — allow Christ to speak to the person in you. Only he has the words of life, yes, eternal life.”
This vital synthesis will be achieved when the lay faithful know how to put the gospel and their daily duties of life into a most shining and convincing testimony, where, not fear but the loving pursuit of Christ and adherence to him will be the factors determining how a person is to live and grow, and these will lead to new ways of living more in conformity with human dignity. Humanity is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is wed to humanity by the Church. Each Christian’s words and life must make this proclamation resound: God loves you, Christ came for you, Christ is for you “the Way, the Truth and the Life!” (Jn 14:6)
This re-evangelization is directed not only to individual persons but also to entire portions of populations in the variety of their situations, surroundings and cultures. Its purpose is the formation of mature ecclesial communities, in which faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and his Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service. The lay faithful have their part to fulfill in the formation of these ecclesial communities, through an active and responsible participation in the life of the community, through a testimony that only they can give.
The activity of the lay faithful, who are always present in these surroundings, is revealed in these days as increasingly necessary and valuable. … Even Christian married couples, in imitation of Aquila and Priscilla (c. Acts 18; Rom 16:3 ff), are offering a comforting testimony of impassioned love for Christ and the Church through their valuable presence in mission lands. … Only a truly consolidated effort to assume responsibility by all members of the Church, both individuals and communities, can lead to the hope for a more fruitful response (to the need for re-evangelization).
What is first needed for the evangelization of the world are those who will evangelize. … This should be done by relying on every appropriate means, but without ever neglecting the privileged means of prayer, for according to the very words of the Lord Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest!” (Mt 9:37,38).
Source: Selections from St. John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, Nos. 34-35.