Archbishop José H. Gomez of San Antonio issued his third pastoral letter today, urging the laity to embrace the task of evangelization, calling it “the duty of every believer.” The task of evangelization is all the more necessary because of the “de-Christianized” American culture, he said.
“We have a duty,” stated Archbishop Gomez, “to bear witness to God. 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.”
Marking his fifth anniversary as Archbishop of San Antonio, the prelate said that he wanted his letter to continue the archdiocese's “reflection on the Christian life by talking about our duty as disciples to bear witness to Christ and his Gospel.”
Recognizing that this is the Year for Priests, Archbishop Gomez said he intentionally wanted his pastoral letter to focus on the laity and “the priestly soul of the lay apostolate.” Evangelization, he wrote, “is not an option or obligation reserved for priests, religious and bishops. It is the duty of every believer.”
Moreover, the archbishop explained, every person in the Church “shares in Christ's priesthood” and everyone who has been baptized “has a priestly soul.”
“As lay people, you are called to offer your daily work and prayer as a spiritual sacrifice of praise to God. You are called to live and work for God in a spirit of love, with a desire to serve him in all things and to do everything you can to help the souls around you.”
When it comes to evangelizing, the San Antonio archbishop said it begins “in the heart,” and that the experience of knowing “God's mercy and love” is what prompts the faithful to “testify to the great difference that Jesus Christ has made in our lives.”
Arcbishop Gomez explained that he is issuing the call to evangelize because our culture is “de-Christianized,” since “powerful interests have been at work for some decades now, patiently erasing the influence and memory of our nation's Christian heritage from our laws and public policies, from our arts and literature, from our schools and media, our language and customs, from our entire way of life.”
“The result of this deliberate strategy of secularization is that more and more of our brothers and sisters today live without any awareness of their need for God,” the archbishop said, noting that even “believers face the stark reality that in order to participate in the economic, political, and social life of our country, we are increasingly compelled to conduct ourselves as if God does not exist.”
In light of this, evangelization is ever more imminent, Archbishop Gomez insisted.
“My brothers and sisters, I urge you: we need Catholics who are living their faith and proclaiming it in every profession and walk of life. Through you we can take the truths of the Gospel to every corner of our culture – to the world of arts, politics, and media; to the areas of business, science, and technological research; even to the fields of sports and popular entertainment,” he wrote.
“Proclaiming Christ in these areas does not mean 'proselytizing,'” clarified the prelate.“It means performing your work in these fields to the highest possible standards and with a Christian perspective. It means demonstrating, through your work and friendships with your colleagues, the harmony between faith and reason, and the new insights that are possible if we think of creation and discovery as something we do in partnership with our Creator.”
Archbishop Gomez also reiterated that “all of us in the Church are called to testify to the God-given sanctity and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. In our evangelization efforts as individuals and as institutions, we must defend the family, the vital cell of society, and the divine institution of marriage as between one man and one woman, which is under attack in our culture and legal system.”
Among those who have a special need for evangelization, the San Antonio archbishop addressed the “millions of Hispanic immigrants in our midst” who are “in danger of drifting away from the Catholic faith to other religions or to know religion at all.” Archbishop Gomez also stated his concern regarding “baptized Catholics who have fallen away from the practice of their faith and from the sacraments of the Church.”
Pointing out that Catholics “cannot preach the Gospel to others unless we have first experienced its good news in our own lives,” he wrote that “evangelization flows from our love of Christ” and that “proclaiming Christ is more than handing on a set of doctrines or a philosophy of life.”
“Proclaiming Christ means bringing men and women into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It means bringing people to Jesus and Jesus to people. It means telling people who Christ is, what he teaches, and how we can come to know him better in our lives.”
Archbishop Gomez concluded by saying that “Only the heart that has been converted can lead other hearts to conversion. So we need to pray always for the grace of a new, deepened, life-changing conversion. Conversion is not something that happens only once in our lives. Every day, we have to make a new effort to turn our hearts once more to the Lord.”