It is my great pleasure to announce that I have been appointed director of evangelization and formation for the Diocese of Orange, California. I assume this role while continuing my work as president of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, which engages in evangelization and support for the foreign missions.
When speaking of evangelization, I am reminded of a time when I heard a priest ask his congregation at Mass, “what is the purpose of the Church?” He looked at the congregation. Crickets! No one answered.
They either didn’t know or were afraid to give the wrong answer. He put a big smile on his face and said “evangelization!” Did you know that was the answer? Our purpose individually and as a Church is to evangelize and to bear fruit that will remain.
John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
What is the fruit that will remain? It is to share the truth about Jesus Christ and His plan for us! When someone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior that is fruit that will remain for all of eternity!
The word evangelization in the root Greek means “good news.” Think about how often we love to share good things happening to us or our family and loved ones with others. There is no greater good news than telling people they have a Savior and if they trust and believe they will be with Him forever in heaven. If you asked 100 people what was the Good News of Jesus Christ, what would they say? Most would look at you as if you had two heads.
How many of you want to be an evangelist? How many people do you know have a burning desire to be an evangelist? All of us who are baptized are given the power of the Holy Spirit and anointed with Sacred Chrism to be priest, prophet and king. This is our calling, to proclaim the Good News, and be part of God’s kingdom forever. We are bringing heaven to earth, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the Second Vatican Council we are reminded that “evangelization is at the very heart of the church.” Pope St. John Paul II told us, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty: To proclaim Christ to all the peoples.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called a synod, a gathering of 250 bishops from around the world, in October 2012 to declare a year of Faith and better define the “New Evangelization.” He told us, “Directed to the whole world, its many cultures and peoples, to those who have never heard of Christ and those who have heard the good news but have forgotten what it means to follow Christ.” To be an evangelist doesn’t just mean to go to a distant land. For nearly all of us, it means reaching out to those closest to us: our family, friends, co-workers, and those who come into our lives. It is the greatest mercy we can ever give anyone to tell them the truth regarding salvation and Jesus.
Jesus made very clear the importance of evangelization. When He was ready to ascend into heaven, giving His last orders, Jesus told His disciples,
Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
These were the marching orders to the disciples but they also are ours! Also, we see this focus to spread the “great commission” in Matthew 28:18-20,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The Gospel of Mark (15:15) is also very poignant, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”
We have not been left orphans but have been given the power of the Holy Spirit!
1 Corinthians 4:20 “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”
How do we get this power? By saying yes to the Holy Spirit! Incredible miracles will happen when we accept the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives. How do we get this power? We ask for it, desire it, and expect to receive it. God created us to have this power to build up His Church and the kingdom of God. Most people either are not interested in getting this power or don’t believe they can get it.
Catholics make up 16% of the world’s population at 1.2 billion. Over the past 100 years, there has been great growth but not in the traditional area of strength, Europe. I believe it is where the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are manifested that there is growth in the Catholic population. The Philippines continues to be strong, where 81% of the population is Catholic. The largest Catholic country continues to be Brazil with 127 million, 65% of the population. However, Africa is where we have the biggest growth. In the last 100 years Catholics have grown from one percent of the population to 21%. The Congo is exciting with 31 million Catholics, 50% of the population. In North America our Church is growing, primarily through immigrants, at 24% versus 10% of non-Catholic Christians.
Our purpose in life is to let people know that Jesus loves them and wants them to be in heaven with Him forever! We are to make a difference in proclaiming the Good News. We were born to know Him, love Him and serve Him. Most of you will feel that you are too busy, don’t have a desire, aren’t qualified, don’t know what to say, are not trained, and, of course, the most prevalent, they “don’t want to offend anyone.” That’s my favorite. They would rather not offend, even if their family and friends might go to hell? It doesn’t make sense if you think about it. I believe it is the sins of omission that we will lament when Jesus wipes every tear from our eyes as depicted in the Book of Revelation. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Wiped them clean by His love and mercy!
How do we surrender to the mercy of Christ to tell the Good News to wherever Jesus sends us?
1. Relationship with Jesus. In order to give mercy, we must be able to have a close relationship with Jesus. When that happens, we are seeking holiness! We need tools to be the personification of mercy for Christ. These weapons are frequent Reconciliation and daily Communion whenever possible. It is important that you augment your prayer life. To what extent are you one with God in prayer? Let God lead you in mental prayer, rosaries, the Divine Mercy chaplet, Scripture and other forms of prayer whenever possible with people.
2. Desire. I often say that to the extent you want to be used; you will be used. One example of living a life and ministry of mercy was an idea I had in 2008. People came to me and expressed the need for help in finding jobs. I strongly believe that God will use your experience and skills to help His people and build up the Body of Christ. I had run a recruiting company and also had a strong background in teaching interview skills. So, several people in our parish and I started an employment initiative. We taught people how to create a resume, how to interview, use the internet to find open positions, follow up and any other thing required to find jobs.
3. Be the Love of Christ.
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
God is love. The more we love with the love of Christ, the more miracles God will work through you. It starts with loving God with all our heart, soul, might and strength!
Mark 12: 30-31 “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It is important that we are used to praying to bring love and mercy into the lives of people that God sends to you.
There was a woman who reported to me as a nurse calling on hospitals. She told me one day that she was pregnant, and she had a high-risk pregnancy. For months, I was praying over her every time I saw her. She went full term and upon delivery the doctor gasped. The wall of the uterus was so thin that the doctor said it was a miracle that she and the baby survived! A few weeks later the Lord showed me in a dream that the mercy I had, prayers, and healing love saved her life and that of the baby! God is good!
4. Obedience. God’s mercy flows especially profoundly when we are obedient. One day I was flying a short flight and I was in the window seat with no one in the middle seat. However, there was a woman in the aisle seat and the Lord told me to talk to her so she could be healed. I didn’t want to do it. I was tired and was reading the Bible in between trying to doze off. About halfway through the flight, I sneezed, and the woman said, “God bless you!” I felt a bell go off and I looked at her and asked her, “Are you going home?” She said yes. She was going to see her husband. She then said she was having an affair, but she was a Christian (she saw my Bible.) I asked her if she felt closer to Jesus having the affair and did it strengthen her marriage. She repented and started crying and said she would leave her boyfriend and turn her life to Jesus.
Another example of God’s mercy was at the beach. A group of young adults were playing volleyball and a young woman left and started looking for something in the sand. Soon four other young adults began looking also. Twenty minutes went by, and my wife said “Deacon, aren’t you going to help her?” I got up and the Lord told me that she lost something important, and He was going to show her love and mercy. I asked her what she had lost, and she said: “I lost my watch that my mother gave me, and I treasure it.” She said that it was probably about 20 yards away and left me. The Lord showed me that it was close to me. I walked 10 steps in the opposite direction from where she went and looked down. The watch was on top of the sand with no sand on it. To add to it, the sun was shining off the face (like a Nativity scene!} With the mercy that God demonstrated, I walked to her and said, “Is this what you were looking for?” She began crying. I then asked, “Do you go to church?” She looked at me and said, “I will now!”
5. Power of the Holy Spirit. God loves us so much and gives us His mercy nonstop. One important part of mercy is the healing that God will demonstrate to people. I was at a large convention in an arena holding 10,000 people. I was on the stage and the Lord had me go to the podium. On the way, the Lord told me to tell these people He was healing macular degeneration. This is a severe eye disease of narrowing of the vision of the eye. The Lord told me to point in three directions in the arena and say that God was healing this specific eye disease. The next day the priest who led the healing service said that three people showed up and said they were instantly healed when I called out the healing! God is good and merciful!
6. Bloom where you are planted. Wherever God has you in work, ministry or just being with other people, He will use you. One day I was working with a sales representative in Philadelphia. She had her wrist in a cast. She said to me, “aren’t you a deacon?” I said yes. She then said, “Please pray to heal my wrist.” I had her park her car and prayed fervently. A few months later, I saw her in a meeting, and she was so excited! She said she went to her doctor shortly after I had prayed for her, and the physician could not find any evidence of a break! A true miracle of mercy!
7. Be a person of invitation. Have you invited anyone recently to share God’s love and mercy? Go to have coffee or some other visit with others to share your faith and stories of love and mercy. You are the “fifth gospel.” We don’t always realize how the stories of God’s miracles, mercy and love will have a huge impact on other people. Ask to be used and you will be used!
I ask your prayers as I assume my new role as director of evangelization and formation for the Diocese of Orange. I also encourage you to ask the Lord to use you and your gifts. You are the personification of mercy, love and healing to the people around you. It is incredibly exciting to be used by the Lord to build up the body of Christ!