Just as St. Paul had a life-changing encounter with the living Jesus on the road to Damascus that impelled him to proclaim the Good News far and wide, we too are invited to know Christ’s love in a personal way and share it with others, Archbishop John Nienstedt says in his new pastoral letter.
“The fact is that every Christian is called to be an evangelist,” the archbishop writes in the letter titled “I believed, therefore I spoke,” which is printed as an eight-page insert in this issue of The Catholic Spirit.
Focused on the “new evangelization” in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the letter gets its title from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. It comes as the Catholic Church is about to launch a Year of Faith Oct. 11 “to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith” and as the archdiocese prepares to unveil a multifaceted program of evangelization and catechesis titled “Rediscover” starting in Advent.
“I see this [letter] as the kickoff for the Rediscover program,” the archbishop said.
“There’s a quote in the letter from St. Francis: ‘Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words,” Archbishop Nienstedt said during a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit about the letter. “I think the most telling form of evangelization is the way we live our lives.”
Catholics are also called to be “salt and light in the world” in order to witness the love of Christ and influence the broader culture, he writes.
And, he adds, he wants every parish in the archdiocese to ask itself “how it can become a welcoming and evangelizing parish where people can find ways to grow in their faith and learn to share it with others.”
“Parish councils with their pastors need to sit down and ask: ‘How do people see us? When they come on Sundays, is there somebody there to greet them? Is there somebody there to answer their questions?” Archbishop Nienstedt told The Catholic Spirit. “It’s so important that people be received with hospitality.”
Meeting today’s challenges
The pastoral letter is the second one Archbishop Nienstedt has written as head of the archdiocese, and it follows last November’s letter on the Sacred Liturgy.
“I believed, therefore I spoke” is divided into five sections and includes citations from documents of the Second Vatican Council as well as Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
There have always been challenges to preaching the good news of the Gospel, and the letter acknowledges the hardships faced earlier by men such as Father Louis Hennepin, Father Lucien Galtier and Father Augustin Ravoux and the first Sisters of St. Joseph as they brought the Gospel message to this area’s native people and immigrants.
“Knowing those stories can be inspirational to us,” Archbishop Nienstedt told the newspaper. “While those were the heroes of yesteryear, we can be the heroes today in a different way, but nevertheless using the same energies and relying on the same faith.”
Today’s challenges include rampant secularization, materialism and individualism that seek to draw people away from the Gospel, the archbishop writes. These factors are among what has prompted the Church’s call for a “new evangelization” or “re-evangelization” to help Catholics rediscover the beauty and depth of the Catholic faith.
Such an effort, the archbishop writes, begins with nurturing our own personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and practices such as eucharistic adoration and “lectio divina,” the slow, meditative reading of Scripture.
It also must be nurtured through participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church as well as charitable works. The archbishop also encourages Catholics to develop their personal faith testimony and to practice giving it to a confidant or prayer group “so that you grow comfortable in sharing your faith.”
Witnesses in thought, action
It’s clear that the task of evangelization today is the responsibility of not only clergy and religious, but also the laity, Archbishop Nienstedt said.
“My great desire for our Year of Faith is that everyone in this great archdiocese will come to a deeper lived relationship with the Lord Jesus,” he writes in the letter’s conclusion.
“If the flame of faith is burning in our hearts to its fullest extent it cannot but be spread to others by our own spoken testimony and lived witness to this same Christ,” he said.
“We must become evangelists in thought and in action.”