Vatican: Christ Gives Catholics Duty to Evangelize
Doctrinal Congregation Clarifies Missionary Mandate
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In a document released today, called "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," the doctrinal congregation said it aimed to clarify "a growing confusion" about the Church's missionary mandate. The document notes that some people think an attempt to convince another person about a religious matter is a violation of freedom. It added that others see no need to promote conversion to Christ because it is possible for people to be saved without formal incorporation in the Church.
The Vatican congregation thus gave an examination of the issue, taking into account the anthropological, ecclesiological and ecumenical implications of evangelization. The Vatican press office released a summary of the document today.
Regarding the anthropological considerations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that "human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth."
"Human beings are given intellect and will by God that they might come to know and love what is true and good," the summary explained. "The ultimate fulfillment of the vocation of the human person is found in accepting the revelation of God in Christ as proclaimed by the Church.
"This search for truth cannot be accomplished entirely on one's own, but inevitably involves help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, 'but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful.'"
The Vatican said the communication of truths is in harmony with the natural human desire to desire to have others share in one's own goods, which for Catholics includes the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.
The statement clarified that any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement failing to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization.
The doctrinal congregation considered how evangelization relates to the Church itself.
"The incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages," it noted. "The Church is the bearer of the presence of God and thus the instrument of the true humanization of man and the world."
Thus, the congregation affirmed, respect for freedom "must not in any way make us indifferent toward truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves."
The statement further clarified that personal testimony is important in evangelization, noting, "If the word is contradicted by behavior, its acceptance will be difficult." But, it continued, "Even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run, if it is not explained, justified [...] and made explicit by a clear und unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus."
Dialogue, not proselytism
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the ecumenical implications of Christ's mandate to evangelize, noting that greater unity among Christians will increase the efficacy of spreading the Gospel.
"When Catholic evangelization takes place in a country where other Christians live, Catholics must take care to carry out their mission with 'both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation,'" the summary stated.
The document asserted evangelization proceeds by dialogue, not proselytism, and encouraged Catholics to enter into a dialogue that is not only exchange of ideas, but also of gifts.
"In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term," it continued.
The doctrinal congregation concluded with a reference to Benedict XVI's encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," "The love which comes from God unites us to him and 'makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is all in all."