At almost every dinner I serve at the family table, I strike a match and light a candle in the center of the food and the folks gathered there. I do it for two reasons—because Christ said He is "the light of the world" (Jn. 8:12, 9:5), and because He said we are, too. (See Mt. 5:14.)
The lighting of the candle from the flame of that matchstick is both a call to prayer and a call to evangelization, reminders of holy habits I need to do daily and with increasing frequency.
The call to prayer is normally before the meal. As a family that has long prayed together, we remember that the light of Christ is with us, and through Him, we are united not only to those at our table, but with those not present. Yet, in Christ, we remain connected to them all, near and far, both on earth and in heaven.
The call to evangelization might be a little harder to discern. But really, my life, and every Christian life, is a lot like that little matchstick when it comes to evangelizing.
The purpose of each match in the matchbox is to light something other than itself, by sharing its flame—from candelabras, to barbeques, to hearths, to birthday candles on a cake. Similar to the matchstick's function, it is a short life that we live—a flash, really—in light of eternity. My purpose and the true call of my baptism is to become lit, and consumed as it were, by the light and love of Christ and, in turn, to light another on fire. It is a movement from being evangelized to evangelizing. A tiny flame was once lit from the Paschal candle at my baptism and handed on to me; not only am I joined to Christ, but I am bonded to his Church and its mission.
The mission and life of a Christian should be a microcosm of the mission and life of the Church.
Echoing the evangelistic and missionary themes of Vatican II, Paul VI taught that evangelization is everybody's business.
Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace . . . (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975)
In light of this statement, I'm challenged: is evangelizing a grace and vocation proper to my deepest identity?
Do I exist to evangelize?
These questions are worthy of my reflection and, most certainly, my action. There couldn't be a better time to bring this subject up.
With the dawn of the new millennium, John Paul II built upon his predecessor's call and summoned the Church to a new evangelization. Between his Apostolic missionary journeys, World Youth Days, and countless written exhortations and homilies, those of us watching got a taste of the real "how to" of evangelism.
John Paul II taught us how to be present to others with great love. That presence transmitted an authenticity peppered with the necessary ingredients of courageous faith, reasonable conversation, and deep joy. John Paul was a credible witness; we learned to have faith in him, and faith in our Faith. He modeled what Paul VI noted, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI—the renowned and prolific theology professor turned Prefect for the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, the architect of the Catechism of the Church, and, ultimately the Successor to Peter—has renewed the call to this new evangelization with his own style. The holy and humble teacher inspires others, not so much by his personal persuasion, but by letting the truth convert its hearers. He, too, models one of the keys to good evangelization: know your gift and offer it generously for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
In 2010 Pope Benedict founded the new Pontifical Council for promoting the New Evangelization. Then, he established the Year of Faith set to kick off this October 11th. Not coincidentally, the Year of Faith celebrates and emphasizes the 50th anniversary of the commencement of Vatican II, and the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of the fruits of the Council.
Finally, Benedict XVI is poised to convene the world's bishops in a synod this October 7-28 for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly. Their theme is "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." An ambitious workload is outlined for this summit. The agenda spells out the expectations of the Synod.