The key to massive worldwide evangelization is the Holy Spirit. Empowerment to be witnesses to the ends of the earth is from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Since the Church is a missionary Church and is called to missio ad gentes, and since we are all to participate in the Church’s life and mission, then we are all called to live a life in the Holy Spirit. Entry into the life in the Holy Spirit is through baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1:5). Baptism in the Spirit confers spiritual gifts that are intended to build community for the work of evangelization. Baptism in the Spirit results in charismatic spirituality.
We can see all these in the life of the early Church from the day of Pentecost. Unfortunately, through the centuries as the Church evolved and necessarily had to put in structures and strictures, the free blowing of the Holy Spirit became more restricted. Eventually the Church, still and always the body of Christ on earth, became more corporate and organizational. Sin came back with a vengeance. There had been bad popes. In recent years we saw the widespread sex abuse among clerics. Nuns shed their habits and became liberal. Lay Catholics left the Church and became nominal in their faith.
Charismatic renewal came to the Catholic Church in 1975, and brought restoration and renewal. Then, for the work of the third millennium, the Lord raised new ecclesial movements, many of them charismatic. Now we are all called to the New Evangelization. For New Evangelization to happen, we need to rediscover the “formula” and “methodology” for massive worldwide evangelization. We look to Pentecost and the experience of the early Church as recorded in the book of Acts. At the center of it all is the Holy Spirit at work. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4a).
What is the work of the Holy Spirit?
Jesus gave “instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:2). Jesus continues to guide us today through his Spirit. Jesus’ final instructions were to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15). It is the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers us to do that.
We proclaim Christ so that people might meet Christ. But there are those who have met him but continue not to know him. Why? Because they do not know the Bible. St Jerome says that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ. Now it is the Holy Spirit who speaks through the Bible. “My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16a). We must read, meditate on, and study the Bible. The Holy Spirit grants us the grace for that.
To be effective witnesses, we must be growing in holiness. To grow in holiness we need to have a deep personal relationship with God, including coming before Him in worship with awe. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to engage in deep worship, in ecstatic prayer in praise of God. “And they were all filled with the holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” (Acts 2:4).
The Church is called to missio ad gentes. It is the Holy Spirit who gives instructions for worldwide mission (see Acts 13:2). It is the Holy Spirit who sends (Acts 13:4a, 20:22a). It is also the Holy Spirit who restricts mission if need be (see Acts 16:6-7).
It is the Holy Spirit that gives gifts in order to build community, which will then do worldwide mission. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:4). “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor 12:7). “But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.” (1 Cor 12:11). Notice that each person is to receive at least one gift. This enables all to participate in the life and mission of the Church.
Power for mission comes from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). We are empowered to witness. But the Holy Spirit not only empowers us, but witnesses with us. “We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32).
Boldness in mission comes from the Holy Spirit. The disciples “were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31b).
It is our faith in Jesus that drives us to proclaim him to all. Faith and the Holy Spirit go together. Stephen was “a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5b). Barnabas was “filled with the holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24a).
Paul tells us to rejoice always, even as he did in the midst of trials and tribulations. This can only happen with the Holy Spirit. Joy and the Holy Spirit go together. “The disciples were filled with joy and the holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).
The ultimate witness is martyrdom. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace and strength for martyrdom. Right before being stoned to death, Stephen, “filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
The Holy Spirit guides the Church in making major decisions (see Acts 15:28). Now the Holy Spirit has caused the Church, through the popes, to issue a prophetic call to the New Evangelization.
It is unfortunate that in our Church today, the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization and mission is generally unknown. If one does not know why there is a Holy Spirit, then one does not know the Holy Spirit. The situation seems like that of the Ephesians. “We have never even heard that there is a holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2b).
It is unfortunate that Catholics today by and large are unaware of the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, which are intended to build community (see 1 Cor 12) for the purpose of worldwide evangelization. If one does not know these gifts, then one cannot look to them, and if one does not look to them, then how can one participate in the massive work to be done? The situation would be like that of the Corinthians, when Paul told them, “Now in regard to spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware.” (1 Cor 12:1). Unfortunately, most Catholics, and not just the lapsed ones, are unaware.
It is unfortunate that most Catholics do not know the gift of tongues. Paul said, “Now I should like all of you to speak in tongues” (1 Cor 14:5a). But very few Catholics do so. Tongues is a major manifestation of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they “began to speak in different tongues” (Acts 2:4). When the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household, they were “speaking in tongues and glorifying God.” (Acts 10:46). When the Holy Spirit came upon the Ephesians on whom Paul laid his hands, “they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6).
How are we to proceed with the New Evangelization? We need to meet Christ, to live Christ, and to share Christ. For that to happen, we need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and enter into the wonderful world of a life in the Holy Spirit. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, we can go and fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.
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God bless you all.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)