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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XIX No. 2
Pentecost 2004

Carrying the Message

by Sheila Gribben Liaugminas

Once it happened, this dramatic event of historic importance seared itself into the consciousness of people everywhere, to some degree or another. It significantly changed life as we knew it, and generated many lasting signs of its gravity, and a call to unity.

One of those signs reads "NEVER FORGET", and I have seen it in many places. With just those two words, we all know what the message means: September 11, 2001.

"Never forget" is a solemn and powerful reminder, and generates strong emotions. Looking at it attached to the car in front of me at a stop light, I thought it the perfect message to carry for another cataclysmic event. After the world was rocked by the unprecedented experience of seeing "The Passion of the Christ", Mel Gibson's graphic re-creation of the truth of the death of Jesus altered many lives dramatically. It generated prolonged coverage and debate and human interest features around the world. But it is in human nature for memories to fade and impact to lessen. That's why we see so many reminders everywhere of what happened on 9/11. Who is doing the reminding? Those who were so deeply affected that they were compelled to carry the message on.

Seeing Christ
In our last issue, I talked about really meeting Jesus and being so moved by the experience that you can never be the same. ("The Passion for Christ", Eastertide 2004) You know you have new responsibilities to bring Him to others, or bring others to Him, much as Andrew ran to his brother Simon Peter with the news "We have found the Messiah". (Jn 1:41)

Jesus Christ is "the human face of God and the divine face of man". Those sublime words of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (EA), The Church in America, describe the indescribable: the face of unimaginable love.

The Gospels relate many meetings between Jesus and the men and women of His day. A common feature of all these narratives is the transforming power present and manifest in these encounters with Jesus (EA 8)

To encounter Him is to proclaim Him, so powerful is the transformation.

The Samaritan woman at the well, the pope writes, "feels impelled to proclaim to the other townspeople that she has found the Messiah (Jn 4:28-30). Similarly, the most precious fruit of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) is the conversion of the tax collector, who becomes aware of his past unjust actions and decides to make abundant restitution...."

Mary Magdalene meets the risen one, and as a result overcomes her discouragement and grief... (Jn 20:11-18) In His new paschal glory, Jesus tells her to proclaim to the disciples that He has risen:
"Go to my brethren". (Jn 20:17) For this reason, Mary Magdalene could be called "the apostle of the apostles". The disciples of Emmaus, for their part, after meeting and recognizing the risen Lord, return to Jerusalem to recount to the apostles and the other disciples all that had happened to them (Lk 24:13-35).... Later they would recognize that their hearts were burning within them as the Lord talked to them....

One of the encounters with the risen Lord which had a decisive influence on the history of Christianity was certainly the conversion of Saul, the future Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, on the road to Damascus. There his life was radically changed.... (EA 8)

Radically Changed
Conversion from an old way of life to a totally new one, informed by new truths. Metanoia. "The Greek word for converting means to rethink -- to question one's own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of one's life; to not merely judge according to the current opinions. Thereby, to convert means: not to live as all the others live... begin to see one's life through the eyes of God... in other words, to look for a new style of life, a new life". This is how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explains the results of encountering Christ in "The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love":

Conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the Other, a love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my own life... Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man's fundamental question is: How will this be realized... Which is the path toward happiness? This is why we are in need of a new evangelization -- if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life -- he who is the Gospel personified. (Address to Jubilee of Catechists, December 12, 2000)

Making Evangelization New Again
"Jesus Christ is the 'good news' of salvation made known to people yesterday, today and forever; but He is also the first and greatest evangelizer". (EA 67)

At the beginning of His public life, Jesus proclaimed the prophecy of Isaiah in announcing His mission here. (Lk 4:16-18) Using Scripture that was familiar to His listeners, Jesus declared that He was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord "to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed".

Pope John Paul II bases his entire encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Mission of the Redeemer, on the need in our day to continue this work, because "an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning". (RM 1)


The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the [Second Vatican] Council it has almost doubled. When we consider this immense portion of humanity which is loved by the Father and for whom He sent His Son, the urgency of the Church's mission is obvious... I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes [to the nations]. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples. (RM 3)

Pope John Paul II has carried that commission on with an urgency that matches the problems and perils in civilization in current times. With concern that is "all the more prominent", he calls for "a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a new evangelization -- new in ardor, methods and expression".

Jesus Christ "makes all things new again". "Re-launching" evangelization, as the Holy Father has put it, must draw new ardor and expression from a personal encounter with Christ.

Where and How to Encounter Him?
In Ecclesia in America (12), the Holy Father lists "specific times and places" to find Christ, so no one has to search for Him:

+ "Sacred Scripture read in the light of Tradition, the Fathers and the Magisterium, and more deeply understood through meditation and prayers". And "the Gospels, which proclaim in words easily understood by all the way Jesus lived among the people of His time. Reading these sacred texts and listening to Jesus as attentively as did the multitudes... as He preached from the boat, produces authentic fruits of conversion of heart".

+ Mass. "A second place of encounter with Jesus is the sacred Liturgy... Christ is present in the celebrant who renews at the altar the one and only sacrifice of the cross; He is present in the sacraments through which He exercises His efficacious power. When His Word is proclaimed, it is He Himself who speaks to us. He is also present in the community... He is present 'especially under the Eucharistic species'. (Cf. Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium 7) Under the species of bread and wine, 'Christ is present, whole and entire..."

+ And "a third place of encounter with Christ": the poor with whom He identifies. "At the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI recalled that 'on the face of every human being, especially when marked by tears and sufferings, we can and must see the face of Christ (Mt 25:40), the Son of Man'".

A Great Source of Hope
First, we have to prepare to undertake this mission of carrying the message, of proclaiming Christ, of being "missionaries". We have to receive before we can give, as Jesus Himself received His mission from the Father. "The ultimate purpose of mission is to enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son. The disciples are to live in unity with one another... so that the world may know and believe. (Jn 17:21-23) This is a very important missionary text. It makes us understand that we are missionaries above all because of what we are as a Church whose innermost life is unity in love, even before we become missionaries in word or deed". (RM 23)

To be a Church united in love, we have to return to the beginnings, says the Holy Father. "The first communities, made up of 'glad and generous hearts', (Acts 2:46) were open and missionary: they enjoyed 'favor with all the people'. (Acts 2:47) Even before activity, mission means witness and a way of life that shines out to others". (RM 26)

Much as the early Church grew from these small first communities, parishes can model this unity and sense of mission.

The parish is a privileged place where the faithful concretely experience the Church.... [It] must continue to be above all a Eucharistic community ... welcoming and fraternal, places of Christian initiation, of education in and celebration of the faith open to pastoral projects which go beyond the individual parish, and alert to the world in which they live... The institution of the parish, thus renewed, "can be the source of great hope". (EA 41)

Part of the urgency the pope expresses for a new evangelization is a worldwide need for hope in dark times in which some countries with ancient Christian traditions are becoming de-Christianized, cults and sects are spreading and "religious and social upheaval" are obscuring the Gospel message. "People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community, which reveal a new way of living". (RM 42)

It is the embodiment, in every word and action, of the answer to the ubiquitous question "What Would Jesus Do?" "The missionary who, despite all his or her human limitations and defects, lives a simple life, taking Christ as the model, is a sign of God and of transcendent realities... in many cases it is the only possible way of being a missionary".

"Brethren, What Shall We Do?"
That question from Acts 2:37 was put to Peter and the Apostles after the crowd realized whom they had crucified. They encountered the truth of who Christ was.

The good news is that He still is, and Peter's response to "repent and be fully converted" applies today. His Successor is calling the "brethren" of today to do the same. When Pope John Paul II wrote Redemptoris Missio, he stressed the urgency of the lay apostolate. "The need for all the faithful to share in this responsibility is not merely a matter of making the apostolate more effective; it is a right and duty based on their baptismal dignity... Furthermore, because of their secular character, they especially are called to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering these in accordance with the will of God". (RM 71)

First, we must know the faith. And that begins at the level of the local church. "The parish will necessarily be the center of the new evangelization, and thus parish life must be renewed in all its dimensions", said Pope John Paul II in addressing American bishops in March 1998. He stated that "the parish is not an accidental collection of Christians who happen to live in the same neighborhood. Rather, because the parish makes present and in a sense incarnates the Mystical Body of Christ... [it] must be a place where... the members of Christ's body are formed for evangelization and works of Christian love".

The Holy Father continued this concentration on the parish as the source of spiritual renewal in Ecclesia in America . "It can gather people in community, assist family life, overcome the sense of anonymity, welcome people and help them to be involved in their neighborhood and in society. In this way, every parish, and especially city parishes, can promote nowadays a more person-centered evangelization and better cooperate with other social, educational and community work.... Parishes in America should be distinguished by their missionary spirit..." (EA 41)

From the parish, each member can go out and transform their own part of the world, much as the early Church grew from the original small communities. "Of course", recalls Cardinal Ratzinger in "The New Evangelization", "at the end of his life Paul believed that he had proclaimed the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, but the Christians were small communities dispersed throughout the world, insignificant according to the secular criteria. In reality, they were the leaven that penetrates the meal from within and they carried within themselves the future of the world".

Sheila Gribben Liaugminas, a member of the Voices editorial board, was a writer for Time magazine for many years. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two sons.

An earlier version of this article, "We Have Found the Messiah", appeared on


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