There’s a Christian ministry called “The Jesus Film Project” in which missionaries go about in Third World countries with a portable movie screen and projector. They set up their equipment in empty fields near towns and villages and then invite all the residents to come that night and watch a powerful and inspiring movie about Jesus Christ dubbed in the local language. Many conversions occur as a result—thereby infuriating the devil, who tries to use his servants to stir up serious trouble for the missionaries. Once in a Buddhist country the local people all worshipped an entity they called the “Evil Spirit,” so the Christians prayed for special protection, knowing they were on the front lines of a great spiritual battle. As it happened, the local shamans or witch doctors heated up red-hot coals and hurled them at the missionaries and their movie projector—but as these coals flew through the air, they were miraculously transformed into flowers, which then floated harmlessly to the ground. The village’s entire population witnessed this in amazement, and when the film ended all of them immediately and happily opened their hearts and accepted Jesus as Lord, for He was obviously stronger than the Evil Spirit they had fearfully worshipped until then (homily notebook, “Evangelization Miracles”).
Almost two thousand years ago Jesus sent His disciples out to bear witness to the Gospel, giving them authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal diseases and cure the sick—and this contemporary story shows that Our Lord’s command, and His promise of protection, still apply today. We belong to an evangelizing Church, commissioned to proclaim God’s saving Word and empowered to conquer the forces of evil opposing us—and God will one day judge each of us on whether we tried to fulfill our assigned role in helping spread the Gospel.
Contrary to what some Christians seem to believe, Jesus did not come to earth to establish a “personal relationship” with every single human being on the planet; because of the sheer numbers of people involved (including more than fifty million persons in the Roman Empire alone), that was physically impossible. Instead, He came to establish a Church, through which His grace would be made available to all His disciples through the Sacraments and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as we see in the Gospel of Mark (6:7-13), Jesus entrusted to His followers the responsibility of sharing His Good News of salvation. While we can understand this idea in theory, it’s very tempting for us to say, “Okay, but not me—I’m not a professional religious person.” However, in the Book of Amos (7:12-15), we see that the prophet could have tried that same excuse, for he was just a shepherd and tender of sycamore trees—but God chose him to go out and proclaim the truth. St. Paul (Ephesians 1:3-14) tells us that God has redeemed us through the blood of Christ, lavished His graces upon us, and made known to us the mystery of His Will—and it’s His Will that we share with others the Good News of salvation that we have received.
As a result of Synod 16, the three-day gathering of laypersons and clergy from across the Archdiocese of Detroit held four-and-a-half years ago, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, echoing the words of Pope Francis, declared that Catholics in southeast Michigan must become a “joyful band of missionary disciples,” helping transform the world around us through our Gospel witness, our active commitment to our Catholic Faith, and our good example. The Synod also called our parishes to move from an attitude of maintenance to one of mission, so that instead of closing more churches and managing a decline in numbers as gracefully as possible, we instead help our local Church grow and become more vibrant or alive by bringing in new members. The recently-implemented restructuring called Families of Parishes is, among other things, intended to help facilitate this process.
Exactly how this will unfold isn’t yet entirely known, but we will be building upon services and ministries already occurring throughout the Archdiocese (many of which, I might add, are funded all or in part by the Archdiocesan Catholic Services Appeal). Imitating the apostles, who received authority directly from Christ, the Church in Detroit fights evil by means of charismatic and other prayer groups, by persons trained in deliverance ministries, and by officially-appointed priest exorcists. We care for and heal the sick not only in our extensive health care facilities, but also through the Sacrament of Anointing and different healing ministries. Our local Church proclaims the Gospel not only in our parishes, but also through groups such as St. Paul Street Evangelization, numerous outreach programs, and various social media platforms. At my parish, we have an active evangelization committee, the Sacrament of Anointing is readily available, and we hold a monthly Mass of Reparation which includes a Eucharistic healing service—and spiritual, emotional, and even physical healings have occurred.
We not only belong to an evangelizing Church; we are each personally called to share our faith in some manner. You in particular are in the front lines of this effort—for you encounter persons at home, at work, or in your neighborhood needing the strength, healing, and spiritual freedom that only Jesus can give. Your willingness to listen to someone hurting or confused, your words of encouragement and support, and your trust and courage in talking about how Jesus has made a difference in your life, may be the only opportunity another person has to hear and accept the Gospel. This is a heavy responsibility—and an exciting mission and a wonderful opportunity. If you don’t know what to do, the first step is simple: pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and help, so you’ll recognize the proper time to speak and be given the right words to say. Our Lord warns that not everyone will welcome or listen to the Gospel, but He reminds us that our words and example of genuine faith are not only a part of our personal response to Him, but may also help save someone who would otherwise be forever lost.
When we stand before Jesus as our Judge, how happy we will be if we can look back on our lives and see that we truly lived out our faith in a way that made a real difference. The Lord asks not that we be successful, but that we be faithful—and He promises that through His grace and our membership in His Church, we will be victorious over evil and fulfill our mission in this world.