Last week, Francis Cardinal George died in Chicago, at the age of 78. Cardinal George was a brilliant and holy Churchman, and his leadership will be missed across the United States. This week, I have chosen to run one of his finest columns in place of my own column. I hope you will read his words, and pray for his soul.
- Bishop James Conley
Recent popes have often reminded all of us that we are called to preach the Gospel everywhere. The tag word now is the “new evangelization.” Telling the world who Christ is has been the mission of the church for 2,000 years. It will continue to be her mission until Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Pope Francis brings a new note to this proclamation of the Gospel: joy. He has famously written that one who speaks of Christ to others should not look like someone who has just returned from a funeral. Joy is a sign of the presence of the risen Christ, the Christ we proclaim in various ways, judging always how to present Christ so that people have a chance of hearing and obeying him.
The Gospel, which is Good News, brings joy. The Good News that Christ wants to live in union with us here and forever brings lasting joy. The joy of the Gospel needs to be shared with everyone whom Jesus died to save. We evangelize for our own sake, because we are disciples of Jesus Christ in his body, the church. We evangelize for the sake of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ, who think of him as a dead hero or an ethical role model or an esoteric teacher rather than a savior whom they need to know so that their sins may be forgiven.
Joy cannot be found in falsehood. A Jesus of our own invention cannot save. The true Jesus has risen from the dead. Free from all limitations, he acts now through the sacraments of the church. This is the connection between evangelization and Eucharist. We preach a Eucharistic Christ.
St. Mary Magdalene, whose feast day we celebrated on July 22, learned quickly from the risen Christ himself that he was now transformed by his sufferings, death and resurrection. He could not relate to her as he had before his death. Unlike St. Mary Magdalene, none of us knew Jesus before he died. Our only encounter is with the risen Christ, but we also have to take time to learn how to know and love someone who is one of us and yet now transcends every age and culture.
Pope Francis has said that he ends his day with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes he falls asleep, but even asleep he is in the presence of the Lord. Pope St. John Paul II spent many hours before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for his people, thinking and writing and, most of all, adoring. Before the Blessed Sacrament, we encounter the risen Lord, truly present now under the forms of bread and wine. The body of the risen Lord is not constrained by the limits of space and time, not subject to the laws of physics that tell us only about a fallen universe. The risen Christ lives in eternity but is present to us in time through the sacraments.
The Gospel is not simply a “message.” It is a presence, a presence that attracts and invites and brings us into union with God. Evangelization therefore begins with prayer, both personal and communal. From prayer, the evangelizer, united with Christ and his church, moves into the streets and spaces that need to be redeemed, contacting those whom Christ loves and waits for.
The going out will be tough. We live with those who actively resist conversion, who are part of an “anti-evangelizing campaign.”
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his memoir, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”: “If in fact, on the one hand, the Gospel and evangelization are present in this world, on the other, there is also present a powerful anti-evangelization that is well organized and has the means to vigorously oppose the Gospel and evangelization.” Alone, each of us will be overcome by the distractions and opposition of the day. Together, as Christ’s church, gathered into parish and other communities, we will be effective in offering human hospitality in the name of Christ. This will, we pray, eventually result in eucharistic hospitality, full communion in the faith that unites us to our eucharistic Lord.
I am grateful to all those, and they are many, who have come to a deeper understanding of the church’s mission in recent years and who have engaged in various evangelizing initiatives. I am grateful to those who have created in many of our parishes the practice of eucharistic adoration, places where believers can surely encounter the Lord and bask in his joy. United in prayer, we can be confident that the Lord blesses our endeavors and invites us daily into more perfect union with him. God bless you.
Editor's Note: This item originally appeared at the Catholic New World.
Bishop Conley's statement on the death of Cardinal George is available here.