Pope Paul VI on Evangelization

Paul VIThe Apostolic Exhoration, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Proclaiming the Gospel
By Pope Paul VI

We must remember firstly that Pope Paul VI was the pilgrim pope who named himself after the greatest missionary apostle, St. Paul. Although Pope Paul VI is best known for his work at the close of the Second Vatican Council, he was also the first pope to engage in extensive world travel. His encounter with the devastating poverty and conflict of the Third World caused him to write an important social encyclical on peace and development, called “Populorum Progressio” or “On the Development of Peoples.” He was also drawn to express a deep fatherly concern for evangelization.

Evangelii Nuntiandi is an apostolic exhortation which followed a synod of Bishops in 1975. Pope Paul VI begins by discussing the model of Christ as evangelizer. Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God and caries this out through innumerable signs. Those who accept the Good News become a community which in turn evangelizes. Pope Paul VI notes that the task of evangelization is the essential mission of the Church, “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” (EN 14). The whole Church receives the mission to evangelize.

Pope Paul VI discusses what he calls the essential elements of the concept of evangelization in continuity with the Second Vatican Council. He notes, “Evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new” (EN 18). This transformation reaches the depth of human culture.

For the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation (EN 19).

Pope Paul VI notes that there is a need to evangelize culture (more correctly cultures). This evangelization cannot proceed in a merely decorative manner. Rather than “applying a thin veneer “cultures must be evangelized “in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots, in the wide and rich sense which these terms have in Gaudium et spes, [GS 53] always taking the person as one’s starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God”(EN 19). Every effort must be made to ensure the full evangelization of culture starting with a proclamation by witness. The lives of Christians will stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of others which can be a form of initial evangelization, which must then be made more explicit by “a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Speaking of the steps involved in full evangelization Pope Paul VI observes,

In fact the proclamation only reaches full development when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it. An adherence to the truths which the Lord in His mercy has revealed; still more, an adherence to a program of life – a life henceforth transformed – which He proposes. (EN 23).

Fully understood evangelization is “a complex process made up of varied elements: the renewal of humanity, witness, explicit proclamation, inner adherence, entry into the community, acceptance of signs, apostolic initiative” (EN 24). The center and foundation of all evangelization is the clear proclamation that Jesus Christ, died and rose for the dead offering salvation to all men and a gift of God’s grace (EN 27). Evangelism also needs to take into account our personal and social life. Pope Paul VI clarifies, “This is why evangelization involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible,[60] about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development . . .” (EN 29). This involves a properly understood notion of preaching liberation, of building structures which are more human (EN 36). He notes that the Church cannot accept violence and revolution as a means of liberation (EN 38). We must ensure fundamental human rights and freedom of religion (EN 39).

On the question of the methods of evangelization he notes that they will naturally “vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation” (EN 40). Again he highlights the necessity of the witness of an authentically Christian life (EN 41), and of the necessity of preaching (EN 42), as well as systematic catechetical instruction (EN 44). Again he notes that evangelization must touch lives and give them new meaning (EN 47), especially through the sacraments, and carefully guided popular piety.

The recipients of evangelization are firstly those who have never heard the Gospel, but also those who have been baptized but who live outside the Christian life (EN 52). He notes, “This first proclamation is also addressed to the immense sections of mankind who practice non-Christian religions” (EN 53). Even though the interaction with these immense groups raises “delicate questions that must be studied in the light of Christian Tradition and the Church’s magisterium” it is also true that “the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ” (EN 53). Pope Paul VI addresses the problem of secularism and the development of small communities, as well as the universal vocation to mission that individual Churches share in. (EN 62). He then discusses the problem of inculturation. Evangelism “loses much of its force and effectiveness” if it is not adapted to the people (using their language, their signs and symbols), but it must not sacrifice its truth and universality (EN 63).

In his final section Pope Paul VI notes that the whole Church is called upon to evangelize, but that there is a “diversity of services in the unity of the same mission” (EN 66). The Holy Father has the “preeminent ministry of teaching the revealed truth” (EN 67). The bishops as successors to the apostles receive authority to teach the revealed truth and are teachers of the faith (EN 68). The religious bear witness to holiness and the radical demands of the beatitudes (EN 69). They play a role in evangelization when some men and women live a life consecrated to prayer, silence, penance and sacrifice. “Other religious, in great numbers, give themselves directly to the proclamation of Christ” (EN 69). Lay people who live there vocations in the midst of the world, “exercise a very special form of evangelization” (EN70). The lay faithful exercise this evangelization through their ordinary lives.

Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering (EN 70).

In this last field of life Pope Paul VI the special importance of “the evangelizing action of the family in the evangelizing apostolate of the laity” (EN 72) as well as the apostolate among young people (EN 72). Finally he notes that some lay persons may also feel called “to work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community for its growth and life, by exercising a great variety of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord is pleased to give them” (EN 73).

Pope Paul VI concludes with some foundational notions related to evangelization. First, he reminds us that it is not a matter of technique but a work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization (EN 75). The evangelizer must be authentic and not artificial. We must seek to promote unity among Christians (EN 77). The evangelizer must have reverence for the truth (EN 78), and “an ever increasing love for those whom he is evangelizing” (EN 79). The evangelizer must not impose on the consciences of others. We must propose the truth with clarity and respect for free opinions (EN 80). Pope Paul VI concludes by entrusting the task of evangelizing “the hands and the heart of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin Mary” (EN 82).

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