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Vatican Teaching on Evangelization
Ad Gentes continues,
Pope Paul VI’s Nostra Aetate, October 28, 1965, states, 4 “The Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.”
Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, 14 says:
John Paul II declared in Christifideles Laici § 33, December 30, 1988, “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization.”
Nothing in any of these definitive and universal statements suggests an exception for evangelizing Jews.
Perhaps most striking of all, the Church’s definitive statement of its relationship with the Jewish people has no exception for evangelizing Jews. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at § 839, states: “When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God. The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. Rom 9:4 ’To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,’ for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
The New Evangelization
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, explained it with particular clarity.
Father John McCloskey’s assessment of the state of the Catholic Church in the United States at the beginning of 2006 is that it is still winter but there are clear signs of spring. Father McCloskey has had extraordinary success as a Catholic evangelist. His ideas on how we can evangelize are well worth reading.
Myth and Reality
There is a myth that the Catholic Church discourages evangelizing Jews. The truth is exactly the opposite. The misunderstanding came from a speculative document called Reflections on Covenant and Mission.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church § 674 declares, “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by ‘all Israel’, for ‘a hardening has come upon part of Israel’ in their ‘unbelief’ toward Jesus.”
Let us review the teaching of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at § 1226, states: “The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans.”
The four Gospels tell us that Jesus’ entire public ministry was devoted to evangelizing Jews.
Jesus told Nicodemus, a prominent Jew and member of the Sanhedrin, Jn 3:5 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Could He have intended an exception for Jews? He told the twelve, Mt 10:5 Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He added, Mt 15:24 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Before ascending to the Father, He commanded, Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s miracle highlighting the universality of the Catholic Church was an evangelization of Jews. Acts 2:5 “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”
We begin, as always, with what the Catholic Church says about evangelization, and particularly about the new evangelization.
At the most basic level, evangelizing is spreading the good news. When people who live on a dirt road hear that the county is going to come and pave it, they hurry to tell one another. “Have you heard? The dirt road, where every time it rains the water streams across the road and brings all the rocks and we always get flat tires. The county is going to come and pave it.” “That’s wonderful. Do the Joneses know?” Each neighbor hurries to tell all the others, and soon everyone who lives on the road can rejoice in the good news.
We Catholics have good news aplenty to tell everyone. Jesus Christ died at Calvary to reconcile us with the Father and open the Father’s kingdom of heaven for us. Yet, people react to the good news in different ways. We see people who root for their favorite sports team, and when the team wins they get all excited and go tell their friends. It will have no significant effect on their lives. In another day there will be another game, and soon this one will recede into the mists of memory. Yet, when we tell them that they can have eternal life, they say, “Shhh, the score is tied and this may be the deciding play. Tell me later.”
Man, created in God’s image and likeness, has inherent dignity and free will. Jesus asks us, Jn 21:15 “Do you love Me?” The appearance of love can be coerced, but true love can only exist where free will precedes it. God quietly waits for us to come to Him, so we cannot be pushy in His name. God is truth and demands truth, so we cannot deceive in His name.
Jesus commanded us, Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” We recognize Jesus as the foretold Messiah, and know that through Him we enter heaven. If a Catholic invites a Jew to look at the Church it is a loving expression of concern for his immortal soul. That is why, in Second Exodus, the initial contact is by a close family member or friend, who is likely to know whether a particular man or woman would be receptive, and how to approach.
Only the Holy Spirit can truly call a person into the Catholic Church. We can certainly offer to teach the person about the Catholic faith, but the person will show real interest only if the Holy Spirit has placed it in his heart. The best way we can help the Holy Spirit is by living an exemplary life. We are a fallen race, but if we truly and deeply try to follow Christ’s two great commandments, by practicing the fourteen virtues and struggling against the seven capital sins, for God alone without any regard for whether others will see us, we will radiate the testimony of life.
Copyright © 1999-2010 Martin K Barrack. All rights reserved.