SAN ANTONIO, Texas, FEB. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- For the new evangelization to become a reality, laypeople have to step up.
This is the affirmation made by Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio in a pastoral letter released today, the fifth anniversary of his installation as archbishop.
“The proclamation of Christ is not an option or an obligation reserved for bishops, priests, deacons and religious. It is the duty of every believer,” the archbishop wrote.
He asserted evangelization begins “in the heart that has been evangelized, the heart that has heard the Good News and been converted.”
“We cannot be silent about what we have seen and heard and felt,” the 58-year-old archbishop declared. “We cannot help but to proclaim and testify to the great difference that Jesus Christ has made in our lives.”
Evangelization is a duty, the Texas prelate affirmed, but it is a “duty of delight, a duty we carry out with joy and thanksgiving.”
“We want the world, beginning with those nearest to us, to share in what we have been given — the free gift of God’s grace and the joy that comes with knowing the truth that sets us free,” he said.
The duty to proclaim Christ falls upon every member of the Church, he recalled. But, he said, today’s pastoral letter is addressed particularly to the laity.
“I want to speak especially to you who live out your faith in the midst of the world and all its secular affairs,” he wrote. “As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, lay people are given the ‘duty … to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is all the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ.'”
Archbishop Gomez noted how laypeople have been fundamental for the process of evangelization since the very beginning of the Church.
“The primary apostolate of lay people, since the early Church, has always been to spread and defend the faith among their families and neighbors and to bring the teachings of Christ to bear on the issues facing their communities,” he said.
And lay believers have a “priestly soul,” with a primary mission in the world, “not inside the sanctuary of the church or inside a Church office.”
“Your first duty,” he stated, “remains to heed the commission every one of us receives at the end of every Mass — to go out into the world to love and serve our Lord.
“Nourished by the gift of his Body and Blood, you are called to bear witness to this gift by making your lives a form of worship to God. Your evangelization must always be profoundly ecclesial and intensely Eucharistic. You are calling people to Christ and to his Church — and to the heart of the Church, which is the Eucharist.”
Archbishop Gomez urged the faithful to have a renewed awareness of their priestly souls and to “seek to serve God and your brothers and sisters every day, through all that you do and say, through the way that you live your life.”
“People respond more to example than to ‘teaching,'” he acknowledged. “Testify to your faith through your daily habits and actions. You will find that your witness to the Christian life will be attractive to others and will afford you regular chances to talk about the ‘source’ of your happiness in Jesus Christ and your Catholic faith.”
The San Antonio archbishop said that he is particularly concerned about two groups in the Church: Hispanics and fallen-away Catholics.
“Our Hispanic brothers and sisters are in danger of drifting from the Catholic faith to other religions or to no religion at all,” the Mexico native cautioned.
“There are many complicated reasons for this situation,” the prelate proposed. “It is very difficult under any circumstances to begin a new life in a foreign country. It is even harder for Hispanics, who often come here in poverty and under great personal stress and facing other pressures. More often than not, they experience discrimination and misunderstanding as they try to assimilate into American society. It is not easy for them to ‘fit in’ to our parishes, and their lack of faith formation can make it difficult for them to distinguish between the Catholic Church and other ecclesial communities that aggressively try to reach out to them.
“To my mind, however, the deepest problem we face is the ‘secularization’ that I talked about earlier. The tendency under secularism is to reduce religious identity to a kind of ‘cultural Catholicism.'”
And for those who have left the Catholic Church, Archbishop Gomez recommended an active approach.
“Let us talk to our brothers and sisters about what is keeping them from the Church,” he said. “Let us talk to them of Christ’s living presence in his Church and in his sacraments. The happiness we all seek is found only in communion with Christ in his Church. Let us then issue a compassionate call for our lapsed Catholic brethren to return to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation and welcome them back to the Eucharistic table.”
The prelate asserted that lay evangelizers must “be convinced of the truth that the Apostles knew, that everyone in some way is searching for Christ.”
“People used to seek out the Apostles and say to them: ‘We wish to see Jesus,'” he reflected. “The men and women of today still want to see Jesus. You are the disciples they will come to with their questions and doubts, interests and needs. You are the ones who must lead them to our Lord.”
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