The Call to Holiness and the New Evangelization


Fr. Mike Steber

Fr. Mike
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Greetings and blessings to you in the joy of our risen Lord!   As you read this we will be living in the grace of the Easter season, and the flood of Divine Mercy flowing from the Cross and Resurrection of our Savior.   On Easter Sunday at all the Masses, we have all renewed our Baptismal promises and have been sprinkled with the holy water recalling our Baptism into Christ.  This highlights for us the call to be witnesses of our risen Lord, just as the first apostles and disciples were.

In the first appearance of our risen Savior to the apostles, we hear of their joy and the Lord’s call with His gift of the Spirit:

“On the evening of that first day of the week, even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood before them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said.  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  At the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced.  ‘Peace be with you,’ he said again.  ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  Then he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’“,          (John 20:19-22).

The Holy Spirit given to us in our baptism, is at work within us to form us in holiness – the universal call of our baptism for each one of us.  The joy of knowing the Lord and experiencing His mercy, peace, and power leads us to want to share with others what we have received from such a gracious Lord.  We are sent by the Lord to draw others to Him, mostly by the witness of our lives.   This has been the mission of the Church from those first days and will be until the Lord returns again.

In this newsletter you will read some wonderful articles summarizing two special events that echoed this call of the Lord to us recently: our retreat at Marygrove with Ralph Martin and the Charismatic Conference in Detroit celebrating 40 years of the Charismatic Renewal in the Church.   In  both of these events, we can hear over and over the connection the Spirit is making with our growth in holiness and our call to be servants of the New Evangelization.  It is not a new message really, but there is a deeper urgency and conviction echoing through many sources to call us forward.  In this article, I’d like to review some key papal statements that speak this call.

In an apostolic exhortation from 2003, Ecclesia in Europa, Pope John Paul II of beloved memory spoke of this need for a New Evangelization even to the baptized:

      “Everywhere, then, a renewed proclamation is needed even for those already baptized.  Many Europeans today think they know what Christianity is, yet they do not really know it at all.  [!]  Often they are lacking in knowledge of the most basic elements and notions of the faith.  Many of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist: the gestures and signs of faith are repeated, especially in devotional practices, but they fail to correspond to a real acceptance of the content of the faith and fidelity to the person of Jesus.  The great certainties of the faith are being undermined in many people by a vague religiosity lacking real commitment; various forms of agnosticism and practical atheism are spreading and serve to widen the division between faith and life; some people have been affected by the spirit of an immanentist humanism, which has weakened the faith and often, tragically, led to its complete abandonment…”  (#47)

While this address was to the Church in Europe, it’s not hard to apply it to our own  country, is it?  The phrase, ‘a vague religiosity lacking real commitment  can surely describe the many nominal Catholics and Christians who, perhaps even recently came for Easter liturgies, but do not regularly come to celebrate the Lord’s Day with the tremendous gift of the Eucharist.  It captures the frequent dilemma of  parents asking to have their child baptized but lacking much commitment to actually live the faith in which they are called to raise their child…

In this same exhortation, John Paul II then pointed to our response to this situation:

“The Church’s preaching, in all its forms, must be increasingly centered on the person of Jesus and increasingly converge on him.  Vigilant care must be taken that Christ is presented in his fullness; not merely as an ethical model, but above all as the Son of God, the one, necessary Savior of all, who lives and is at work in his Church.  If our hope is to be true and unshakable, ‘an integral, clear and renewed preaching of the Risen Christ, the resurrection and eternal life’ must be a priority for pastoral activity…”  (#48)

We need to focus on Jesus, our risen Savior! he was saying.  We who are given the task of preaching, ‘in all its forms’ – priests and deacons first, but all of us in the way we ‘preach’ by our lives and example – need to present Jesus in ‘his fullness.’

“Although the Gospel to be preached is the same in every time, this preaching can be carried out in different ways.  All are called to ‘proclaim’ Jesus and their faith in him in every situation; to ‘draw’ others to the faith through models of personal, family, professional and community life which reflect the Gospel; ‘to radiate’ joy, love and hope, so that many people, seeing our good works, will give glory to our Father in heaven, (cf. Mt. 5:16) and be won over…”                                 (#48)

The New Evangelization is not a new message, but the same apostolic message from the beginning -  the Gospel, the person of Jesus - but presented anew by all who follow Him – especially by the way that we live.  Here the call of holiness connects with the call of this New Evangelization.  John Paul II continues:

“Our contemporaries ‘listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’  The presence and signs of holiness are thus decisive: holiness is the essential prerequisite for an authentic evangelization capable of reviving hope.  What is needed are forceful, personal and communal testimonies of new life in Christ.   It is not enough that truth and grace are offered through the proclamation of the word and the celebration of the sacraments; they need to be accepted and experienced in every practical situation, in the way Christians and ecclesial communities lead their lives.”     (#49)

There it is!   The Lord is looking for disciples who will allow Him to form and transform them to be living witnesses of His own holiness and merciful love. This is the call before us from our gracious Lord, who calls us through His own Paschal Mystery to die and rise with Him day by day.  This is where many who are involved in the Charismatic Renewal and other ecclesial movements have been special signs of a ‘new springtime’ in the Church.  Many have been and are being transformed to be more living witnesses to Jesus in their everyday environments.  In the following year, 2004, Pope John Paul II again expressed this essential connection:

“The Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others.   The Church needs saints.  All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity.”

He had previously highlighted this call in Novo Millennio Ineunte, which Ralph Martin has emphasized in all of his masterful presentations of the saints:

“Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ… (#7)  The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and that Christian families must lead in this direction.” (#31)

The call to be saints – our baptismal call, again, is the foundation for our call to evangelize and draw others to the Lord, who is able to make us His saints.  The Church, especially in this time of ongoing purification, is credible to a skeptical world through the steady witness of holy people in every state of life.  Our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has continued echoing this same call right from the beginning of his pontificate – pointing to our need to encounter Jesus when he said in 2005, “Knowledge of the content of faith alone is never a substitute for the experience of a personal encounter with the Lord.”

For all of us who have been blessed by encountering the Lord through the charismatic renewal, and through all of the authentic ecclesial movements alive in the Church, we know what a difference this encounter makes!   To know the Lord in a deepening personal encounter opens us up to a new life and to the adventure of ongoing conversion toward a life of holiness.  As St. Paul puts it: “It is God’s will that you grow in holiness.” (I Thess. 4:3)  We are being called, and the challenge to us is to respond day by day in trusting surrender to God’s grace and mercy.  We remember that the Lord has called us not just to experience and use the gifts of the Spirit, but to grow and mature in the fruits of the Spirit.  The gifts of themselves do not produce holiness, but the fruits are what reveal holiness of character in virtue.  St. Paul reminds us of our identity and place in the Church by God’s grace:

“You are strangers and aliens no longer.  No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.  You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.”   (Eph. 2:19-22)

This is the vision that we need to keep before us as we recommit ourselves to following our risen Lord, living in His transforming grace as members of His Body, the Church.  This is the beauty of the Church as the Bride of Christ, reflecting His face to the world in ordinary lives made extraordinary in His love.  The Lord allows us to meet Him in each other through this vision of faith…

We all can remember the powerful, beautiful witness given to us by Kathy Gautcher, and how her own journey through the mystery of the Cross in her illness and dying became a real encounter with the Lord for so many.  Her life continues to bear fruit in the impact she made by following the Lord and letting Him transform her more and more…  Evangelization through holiness…

On Holy Thursday morning a fine man from our parish of St. Anne’s, Roger Gustafson, died at home surrounded by his loving, faith-filled family.  He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January, and it progressed rather rapidly.  Through this mystery of the Cross, his dear wife Ruth, children and grandchildren all drew upon their faith to support and care for him.  Roger was strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, and the prayer, love, and support of a loving parish community, and many folks praying for them all.  In his last day or so, his suffering had gotten the worst, and he could hardly breathe.  His son Tom told me how his father was only able to breathe by a family member supporting his arms, one on each side… and this position reminded them all of Christ on the Cross.   Their faith allowed them to see Jesus in their midst…  They were strengthened in their vigil by playing peaceful Christian music, praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the rosary, and supported by the prayer of others joining them.   Roger’s funeral Mass took place in the octave of Easter, drawing us to our hope of eternal life given us by our risen Savior, whose promises Roger heard when I brought him Holy Communion: “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)

It is in the Eucharist that we meet our risen Lord day by day, and this is the source of our power to become saints and the center of the New Evangelization, because it is the gift of our Lord, Himself.  In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II focused our hearts on this source for the New Evangelization and holiness:

“Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission and every work of pastoral planning must draw its strength from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination.  In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father.  Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?... Let us take our place, dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the saints, who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety.  In them the theology of the Eucharist takes on all the splendor of a lived reality; it becomes ‘contagious’ and, in a manner of speaking, it ‘warms our hearts.’  Above all, let us listen to Mary Most Holy, in whom the mystery of the Eucharist appears, more than in anyone else, as a mystery of light.  Gazing upon Mary, we come to know the transforming power present in the Eucharist.  In her we see a world renewed in love.”  (#60, 62)

Let’s continue to take our place “at the school of the saints” with Mary, our Mother, helping us to fix our gaze on Jesus, her Son.  Let’s continue to grow deeper in our Eucharistic faith and love, allowing the Holy Spirit to melt and mold our hearts to bear the image of the Lord’s Heart.  May the risen Lord continue to help you hear His voice, saying “Peace be with you,” these days.  God bless you all with renewed Easter joy, hope, zeal, and love in Him!

in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

From the Diocese of Marquette Michigan, U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter (Spring 2007) .