We were struck recently by an old quote that somehow felt like a timely reminder to us as we progress through Lent: “The Church doesn’t have a mission: the Mission has a Church”.
In 1975, Pope Paul Vi published Evangelium Nuntiandi in which he declared that “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (n 14).
That’s a long hand version of a simple truth: that evangelisation is THE very reason the Church exists.
Frankly, this seems to be a challenging idea, and in turn begs the question: “what is authentic evangelisation?”
Our simplified definition of evangelisation is “to bring people into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ”.
While this gives us a clear ‘mission objective’, it does not describe HOW it should be done. As in any mission, the ‘how’ is often the hardest part.
One of the critical steps in leading anyone into deeper relationship with Jesus, is first forming a relationship of trust with them. From the place of trust, we can invite them to ‘meet’ the God who has loved them for all eternity.
Precisely because they trust us, they will see our invitation being for their greater good and more likely to be open to it. Of course, for us to be effective in this, we ourselves must be in a relationship with Jesus.
So, to be effective in the mission, we must be both working on our relationship with God and forming meaningful relationships with others he puts in our lives.
It’s all about relationship
Not only is the mission objective about relationship (with Jesus), the principal method for getting there is also about relationship (with others).
Which brings us to an awareness of the importance of ‘family’ in the evangelising mission of the Church. Why, because Family is the school of relationship!
Families have been described as the ‘school of love’ by St Pope John Paul, and the ‘school of mercy’ by Pope Francis.
We like to think of them as the ‘school of hope’ for they are crucial to transmitting the faith to the next generation. Families are also powerfully influential in (re)building the faith within the current ones.
Families are never perfect, but that’s kind of the point. Rather, because they are grounded in a commitment to keep trying in the face of difficulties, for the sake of each other, they are a visible witness to the invisible presence of a God of unconditional love.
When we experience these tangible expressions of love within our human families, we more readily have confidence in a loving heavenly Father.
Marriage: the heart of the family
At the very heart of this imperfect and struggling human ‘school of love, mercy and hope’ stands the marital couple. Their commitment of love, stated in their wedding vows, and expressed and practiced through their daily ups and downs, is the powerhouse of this within the family.
So, for those of us who are married, to fulfil the mission of the Church, our primary role is therefore to make our marriage, as imperfect as it will be, the best possible witness of love, mercy and hope.
Sounds too easy? Some days yes, but others… not so much. Yet it is precisely through our fumbling, imperfect attempts that the evangelising work is done.
“Love one another as I love you” leads to “See how they love one another”.
God is love and can only be understood and experienced through relationship. And for most of us, that experience of relationship starts, and is nurtured, in the family.