The Church exists to evangelize. These words from Pope St. Paul VI are both obvious and a little striking. By her very identity, the Church evangelizes. It is not simply something that she does but rather a constitutive element of who she is. She (the Church is referred to in the feminine, she the Church is the bride of Christ) is a community with the goal of creating new disciples. New disciples come from the word of God being preached … especially to those who have not heard it. Therefore, the Church exists to evangelize.
Many people both inside and outside the Church can easily miss this point. We can see the Church as a club or a family. Viewed solely through this lens, the Church becomes inward focused. The mission of a family is to take care of those who are part of the family. The mission of a club is to care for those who are part of the club. Clubs have rules and expectations and a level of commitment required for entry into it.
The Church’s mission is the mission of Christ who was not simply content with those who found him; he was active in finding others. When his disciples pressed to stay where his preaching appeared to be fruitful, Jesus responded, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk. 1:38) Christ was always on the mission, on the move ready to receive all who came to him but mostly to go out and “seek and save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10)
Our Lord’s mission was both particular and universal. Our God-man Jesus was born into a specific area in a specific time. He could only travel a certain distance in a day. He had to sleep and eat and pray. In his humanity, he was limited in where he could go and what we could do. He even gave conditions at time to his preaching and healing, focusing on the children of Israel even to the exclusion of the Gentiles. (Mt. 15:21-28)
But Jesus’ mission did not end at his death or even when he rose from the dead. He gave his mission to the apostles to carry out. They were entrusted with his authority, to preach and teach in his name, and they were commanded to “make disciples of all nations” even to the ends of the earth. (Mt. 28:16-20) Therefore, the work of Christ continues in his Church. This is the work of teaching and preaching, sanctifying and governing so that all may hear the good news of our salvation in Christ.
The early apostles took up this mission in earnest. They went to far corners of the world telling the story of Jesus. These few men who were cowering in the upper room on the first Easter Sunday preached fearlessly, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, in synagogues, marketplaces and even before rulers throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Tradition tells us that St. James traveled to the westernmost coast of the Iberian Peninsula and that St. Thomas evangelized the Indian subcontinent. The Church grew in the Middle East and North Africa as well during these years. In the face of violent, sadistic torture and death, the apostles and their successors obeyed the command of Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples.
Centuries later, missionaries spread to “the New World” of the Americas and into the Far East of China, Japan and Korea. They traveled great distances at tremendous personal cost —risking their comfort, safety and finances — to share the Gospel. Reading the stories of the great missionaries of the Church, from Francis Xavier to Katherine Drexel, reminds us of this essential truth about the Church’s identity: she exists in order to evangelize.
Today, standing on the shoulders of these great men and women through the centuries, we take our part in this reality of the Church’s mission. Few of us will be asked to make such tremendous sacrifices, although certainly some are invited to an intimate relationship with Christ which comes only from this level of personal sacrifice. But we all have the obligation to share the Gospel. Each of us have some definite service to do for Christ and his Church in proclaiming the Gospel.
This proclamation of Jesus Christ is demanded of each of us. We cannot not take part in the Church’s mission. It is not something for someone else to do but requires us to ask with humility and generosity: “Lord, what is my role in the mission of the Church? How do you want to use me to bring salvation to others in the world?” Our mission territory is often “our own neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and even our own homes.” We do not need to go away to be part of this mission. We need only to have eyes, ears and hearts to share the wondrous love of Jesus through our words and our witness with a wounded, weary world.
The Latin motto for St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s coat of arms was “cor ad cor loquitur.” In English, this translates to “heart speaks to heart.” Newman took these words from St. Francis de Sales and incorporated them into his own life of teaching. In his preaching and his teaching, Newman was not merely imparting some facts or information. Rather, he was sharing the deepest aspects of what he knew and believed with the listener. His heart was speaking to another’s heart. Here I hope to do something similar, sharing words that come from my heart and hopeful speak to yours: cor ad cor.