Some Reflections on Evangelisation
Today is Mission Sunday so I thought it would be appropriate to give a few reflections on Evangelisation. In order to really engage perseveringly in the work of evangelisation one would need to be convinced of its supreme importance. Pope Paul the sixth wrote: ‘Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.’ The Legion too exists to evangelise; it is her deepest identity. But what exactly does it mean to evangelise? Basically it means to introduce Jesus to another person. To meet Jesus will spill out into many other activities but without that meeting with Him the rest is largely froth. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a recent document on Evangelisation puts it very succinctly: ‘In any case, to evangelise, does not mean to teach a doctrine, but to proclaim Jesus Christ by one’s words and actions, that is, to make oneself an instrument of His presence and action in the world.’
Just take a look at one of the great Patrons of the Legion: St. Paul. He writes: ‘I believe that nothing can happen that can outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For Him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and have a place in Him. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.’ Or again he says: ‘I am determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.’ Or yet again he cries out: ‘For me to live is Christ.’ It is this kind of love of Our Lord that must be at the heart of all evangelisation. This kind of conviction is a grace and we need to pray for it. And we need to keep on striving after it. Dear Legionaries there is no greater deprivation in any human being than the deprivation of not knowing and meeting Jesus in friendship. To remove that deprivation is the reason for the very existence of the Legion.
How does the Legion go about evangelisation? First, we turn to Mary. Her vocation and mission, her very identity is concerned with bringing Jesus into the world. There is not even a fraction of a moment of her existence that is not a reference to Jesus. She introduces the whole world and all history to Our Lord. Mary is the most effective way of evangelisation. She is the perfect instrument of Our Lord’s presence and action in the world. The Legion knows this from long experience. We evangelise with Mary, in Mary and through Mary. We give ourselves entirely to her that with her we might bring Jesus to every person we meet. In a year of evangelisation we cannot do better than to start with Mary and introduce her to everyone and share our treasure of true devotion to her. Where Mary is you will always find Jesus. This insight was at the core of the inner life of Frank Duff.
Secondly, where do we find Jesus in our world today? Of course, we find him really and truly and personally present as sheer gift in the Eucharist. John Paul II puts it so well when he writes: “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift - however precious - among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.” If evangelisation is bringing Jesus to others and involving them in the redemptive activity of Jesus than it is very easy to understand why the Second Vatican Council stated that ‘the Eucharist is the source and summit of the total work of evangelisation’. When I was a young Legionary in the ninety-fifties, a phrase we used a lot to describe our work was ‘bringing people back to the Sacraments’. I remember the extraordinary joy we experienced when we were instrumental in some way in bringing someone back to the sacraments. It simply means bringing people to Our Lord. More than fifty years later I still see this apostolate as a top priority with the Legion. Mary is the expert in bringing people back to Jesus and we as her Legion must strive to become experts in this work too.
Several years before he founded the Legion, Frank Duff began the League of Daily Mass. Later the whole spirit of this movement became embodied in the Handbook. The Eucharist must be the source and summit of the total work of evangelisation in the Legion. Along with the Eucharistic Apostolate is the work of bringing people to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a major part of Legion evangelisation. Also, of course, Legionaries sought to bring the priest to the sick and dying for the Anointing of the Sick. However, we shall have to postpone to other allocutios a development of these themes in what evangelisation should mean to legionaries. People often ask me what should we do during a year of Evangelisation. My first suggestion is that we go back to our roots and engage in all our great apostolates with renewed courage and enthusiasm.
Let me close with a quotation from a document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which I think describes so accurately the spirit and method of the Legion’s work of evangelisation: ‘The primary motive of evangelisation is the love of Christ for the eternal salvation of all. The sole desire of authentic evangelisers is to bestow freely what they themselves have freely received. Evangelisation is not only accomplished through public preaching of the Gospel nor solely through works of public relevance, but also by means of personal witness which is always very effective in spreading the Gospel. Indeed, side by side with the collective proclamation of the Gospel, the other form of handing it on, from person to person, remains valid and important. It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual’s personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique word that he receives from someone else.” Person to person, that’s one of the secrets of our Legion apostolate too.