CNS photo/Chaz Muth

The new evangelization begins with ourselves

  • May 11, 2023

On the fifth Sunday of Easter in the Byzantine rite we commemorate the Samaritan woman at the well who meets Jesus and hears the Gospel preached. To Jews such as Our Lord the Samaritans were distinctly the “other,” worshipping God in a way that the Jews rejected. Among the many important aspects of this Gospel passage one that merits greater discussion in our day is the preaching of the Gospel to those who are not “us.” We encounter in the Gospels many occasions when Jesus meets non-Jews such as when He meets the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), or when the Roman centurion requests healing for his slave (Luke 7:2-10), or when He heals the Gerasene. Our Lord does not limit His saving ministry to His fellow Jews; He comes as the promised Messiah calling all people to salvation.

In the epistle reading appointed for the same Sunday we read in Acts 11 about the disciples who go to Antioch to preach the Gospel to the Jews and end up also preaching to the Greeks, many of whom are converted. This was unexpected. Only a verse earlier we read that Stephen in the same region only preached to the Jews. Barnabas is sent from Jerusalem to see if the Greeks had indeed come to believe. When he reaches Antioch, Luke records in Acts that “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose;…”

The disciples followed the example of Our Lord and reached out to those whose hearts and minds were ready to receive the Word of God. As baptized disciples of Jesus Christ we must do the same. Our call is to evangelize, to be missionary disciples, to go to Antioch — our baptism in action.

In embracing our baptismal call today we must proclaim the Gospel to those whom we meet who do not know Christ, whether they be curious, apathetic or hostile. Viewed through the prism of Acts 11 these are the Greeks in our midst. But wait, the disciples also proclaimed the Gospel to the Jews, in other words to their own. Again, looking through the same prism, who are the metaphorical Jews to us? They are none other than our fellow Christians. Just as the disciples in the first century went into the synagogues to preach the Gospel to their fellow Jews we must preach the Gospel and teach and strengthen our fellow Catholics who do not know their faith. And, sadly there are many who have been incompletely evangelized and insufficiently catechized.

Consider the following data contained in the Christian think-tank Cardus’ report The Bible and Us. Based on a survey of 4,016 Canadians including 2,765 Christians and 1,413 Catholics we are able to learn a lot about how Catholics read, engage and think about the Bible. According to the survey, 35 per cent of Catholics have not read the Bible since they were in school and 76 per cent of Catholics report they never or hardly ever read their home copy of the Bible. Only 35 per cent of Biblically-engaged Catholics (those who have engaged the Bible in the past few years) engage the Bible at religious services. Forty-one per cent of Catholics believe either that the Bible is an ancient book with no relevance today or that it is an important and wise book of fables, history and moral stories, i.e. not the Word of God. And 66 per cent of Catholics believe the Scriptures of all religions teach essentially the same things, despite the fact no other sacred text speaks about God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying on the Cross, rising on the third day and ascending in glory. Only 19 per cent could identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament, only 26 per cent could identify St. Paul as the author of the letters to the Ephesians, Romans and Corinthians.

These results are shocking. They should be a clarion to all of us to take our faith far more seriously so that we might heed Peter’s call “to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The new evangelization must take place in our own churches, not only among the Greeks of today. We must evangelize our own people so that we might go out as Our Lord asks: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

(Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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