The term evangelisation comes from the Greek word, evangelion, meaning good news or Gospel. The word occurs as far back as the writings of Homer where it is used as the announcement of the joy, goodness, and happiness of victory. The prophet Isaiah uses the word to announce joy from God of the imminent release of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile (Isa 40:9). This evangelisation, or proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish captives, brings news of peace, justice and salvation. In the New Testament, the evangelist Mark starts his Gospel thus: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Around this time in the Roman Empire, the Emperor would occasionally issue an evangelion or news of strength and power, of salvation, renewal and health. Again such announcements would be in terms of a victory on the battle field, the birth of a royal child, or the birthday of the Emperor, who interestingly was revered by Romans as a “son of god” figure.
In light of this, we see how explosive the beginning of Mark’s Gospel truly is. Scholars generally consider it to have been originally written to Christians living in Rome and suffering the horrific persecutions of Emperor Nero. The gospel was meant to be a source of immense encouragement, a message of salvation, to these suffering Christians. Mark announces the evangelion of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, and the One who will truly bring salvation to the world. In effect, Mark portrays Jesus Christ as the great King to rival the Roman Emperor. Jesus Christ—not any earthly kingdom, or the Roman Emperor himself—is the One who will bring real peace and salvation.
As twenty-first century Christians, we too proclaim this Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. As Pope Paul VI wrote, the Church exists in order to evangelise (Evangelii nuntiandi, 14). But how are we to understand the work of evangelisation? Although there a number of ways to understand evangelisation, it may best be described in terms of a Divine Romance.
Evangelisation is basically a three-phase process akin to a blossoming romance between a man and a woman: it begins with courtship, moves into engagement, and enters a permanent commitment to one another in marriage. The “courtship” process begins with the proclamation of the core Gospel message, or Kerygma, and the initial faith which it evokes within the hearer. This faith leads the person to make an initial commitment to Christ as a new believer. The “engagement” phase takes the form of learning about Christ and salvation, His Church, Christian discipleship, etc. It involves beginning a life of prayer and amending one’s moral life so that it aligns with Jesus’ teaching.
Finally, just as every engagement is ordered to marriage, this spiritual “engagement” leads to nuptial union with Christ through the sacraments. The third phase of evangelisation involves a spiritual “marriage” whereby the newly-formed believer is regenerated through Baptism, and brought to nuptial union in the Eucharist, in which Christ the divine Bridegroom offers a total gift of Himself to the newly-baptised believer. As with every human marriage where spouses give themselves totally to each other, so too in this spiritual marriage the believer reciprocates Christ’s gift in the Eucharist with a complete self-offering back to Christ. The matrimonial bond between human spouses is a sign that effects the “two becoming one-flesh.” The spouses draw from this bond the grace and strength necessary to remain faithful to one another and to deepen their love for one another. Likewise, the sacrament of Confirmation forms a seal on the believer’s soul which strengthens her resolve to commit fully to Christian discipleship every day, even if this involves martyrdom.
John Paul II wrote, “The Eucharist…appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelisation, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit” (Ecclesia de eucharistia, 22). The Eucharist is the source of evangelisation because it is the memorial of Christ’s death and Resurrection through which he initiates the New Creation and the Nuptial Union of Himself with the Church. The Eucharist is the summit of evangelisation for it is the goal of the Christian life. We evangelise to bring people to Christ present in the Eucharist. In proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we proclaim the Eucharistic Christ. Is it any wonder the early Christians called the Eucharist “the wedding supper of the Lamb”? The Divine Romance between Christ and the human person, begun with the proclamation of the Gospel, is perfected when the believer receives Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. This is fully revealed in the apocalypsis, or unveiling, in heaven where the Bride, which is the Church, meets her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
(Copyright © 2015)