By Fr. Limukani Ndlovu
A few decades ago, it would have been unusual to come across the concept “Evangelization” in the Roman Catholic sense of mission. In his homily at the Eucharistic celebration for the conclusion of the Symposium, Pope Paul VI (July 31, 1969) had this important message; “By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves”. By way of qualification, the Pope said, “in other words, you Africans must now continue, upon this Continent, the building up of the Church. A burning and much-discussed question arises concerning your evangelizing work, and it is that of the adaptation of the Gospel and of the Church to African culture…”
A couple of years earlier, Pope Paul VI had decreed on the apostolate of the laity in his Apostolicam Actuositatem (November 18, 1965, #1); “To intensify the apostolic activity of the people of God, the most holy synod earnestly addresses itself to the laity, whose proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church has already been dealt with in other documents. The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it. Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:3)”.
Reiterating Paul’s words of oneness, Pope Paul VI joyfully acclaimed that we are, “one body and one spirit . . . called to the one hope . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all,” (Eph. 4, 4-6). He further explained that if this sentiment of communion is shared as was confidently hoped, and if it endured, “then we can say that our journey has already achieved a most satisfactory and consoling result.”
Speaking about the will of God to save Africa, St. John Paul II quotes Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). Since God, in fact, calls all people to one and the same divine destiny, “we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to everyone the possibility of being associated with this Paschal Mystery” (EA, #27).
We may boldly assert that Vatican Council II (1962-1965) ushered in a paradigm shift in the theology of mission by moving from “missions” to “missions” and then towards “evangelization”. The Council Fathers interpreted the universal mission of the Church in terms of evangelization and made it one of its central themes.
All movements of the lay people have their spirituality centred on the mission of Christ, namely ‘mission’ or ‘evangelization’, “to make faith the aspiration of your life up to the achievement of personal sanctity” (St. John Paul II: October 30, 1982). The difficult question to grapple with is the extent to which these ecclesial groups are truly missionary in the sense of forming their members to be “missionary disciples.” Pope Francis desires that all of us be missionary disciples. This, he expressed in his prayer intention for the Month of the Missions (October 11, 2021). As Pope Francis rightly put it, missionary discipleship means that our everyday life, we bear witness to Jesus, living with a taste of the Gospel.
The mission to which all the baptized are called should focus on being available to answer God’s call in all the daily activities thereby allowing ourselves to be guided always by the Holy Spirit. The primary objective of each and every lay association is to make its members salt of the earth in many sectors of human life.
In their Pastoral Directive on Co-Responsibility in the Church, the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference expressed that “Movements, associations, and sodalities are not the same as the local Christian community…They are important parts of the local community, not the community itself. They are parts of the Church, not the Church itself” (1994:59). As important parts of the Church, associations should preach and be engaged in the entire ministry of the Word since the Church is missionary by its very nature.
The Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity. The visibly witnessed union of associations for the common cause is a clear fulfilment of the sacramentality of the Church. The intra and inter conflicts between associations is counter evangelical. Such divisions can make sodalities fail to bear the light of Christ and to be signs and instruments of the grace which unites humankind to God and to one another.
Associations should help their membership to focus on the essentials. At present, in the face of secularism, materialism and consumerism witness to Christ, and the Church should be a priority. A deep sense of evangelizing mission offering its service in multifarious forms to all strata of society should be encouraged. As the Father sends the Son to unite the entire human family and his Spirit to complete the salvific work so too should guilds work towards bringing Christ to the lapsed and those who have not yet received him as their Lord and Saviour. Members of associations should also realize that God, in ways known to Himself can lead those ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to.
In order to be effective missionary disciples in the modern world, members of various lay associations ought to be a renewed humanity, penetrated with brotherly and sisterly love, sincerity, and a peaceful spirit. I therefore contend that contemporary lay spiritual groups, movements, associations and guilds should not be obscured from enhancing the kingdom of God by petty things such as uniforms, constitutions, financial issues, power struggles or “all false exaggerations” (LG #67).