.- The love of a married couple offers a crucial witness needed for evangelization in the modern world, said Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs in a recent Washington, D.C., talk.
“The Popes have proposed that the purpose of the Church is first and foremost evangelization: the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Word of Life and the Savior of the human race,” he said.
The sacrament of marriage holds a key place in this evangelization, he asserted, as it is “a school of the lay apostolate, a place where faith is witnessed, a proclamation to the world of the Truth that sets us free.”
He explained that “stable marriages and family life build culture, and where this simple fact is being forgotten, culture is in decline.”
Bishop Sheridan is an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education and as well as a member of the conference’s Administrative Committee and Committee for Priorities and Plans.
The bishop was the keynote speaker for the ninth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which took place in downtown Washington, D.C., on May 9.
“Jesus of Nazareth came to evangelize,” Bishop Sheridan said, and throughout every age since its foundation, the Church has set out to teach not only the message of Jesus, but “above all, about the encounter with a person – the risen Jesus.”
This need for evangelization is still present even among Christians, he explained, because all persons “need to come to know Jesus better.”
Evangelization, he said, “must always lead to conversion, and is welcomed - or not welcomed- to the extent that its hearers are willing to examine their hearts and contemplate the possibility of personal change.”
The bishop also spoke about the project of the “New Evangelization,” a missionary venture undertaken by the modern Church to not only continue spreading the Gospel throughout the world, but to focus as well on “re-evangelizing those whose faith has grown warm and those who have fallen away.”
The New Evangelization, he explained, works toward “presenting the Gospel in a way that is fresh and attractive, and makes both Gospel blessings and Gospel demands more understandable and accessible.”
In light of the documents from the Second Vatican Council, he stressed, “marriage is integral to the New Evangelization,” and the council commends it both as a “practice and excellent school of the lay apostolate.”
While marriage has existed throughout all cultures and times, it “is not only an institution of the natural law,” said Bishop Sheridan. “It is also, for those baptized into Christ, a sacrament.”
“Christian couples are missionaries of love and life to one another, to their children, to family members who may have fallen away, or to families who may have never heard of Christ and the Good News,” he explained.
Through the Catholic understanding of marriage, “the word of God reaffirms the goodness of human person,” he said, quoting former Pope Benedict XVI.
The bishop observed that when marriages break up, the pattern of healthy society and stable upbringing for children is “disturbed.” The New Evangelization can help “lead us to a renewal of marriage” through a deeper understanding of marital love, he countered.
“Love is not simply a feeling, it is a commitment that demands generosity and responsibility,” he said. “Love is not an end in itself, it is a sacrament transparent of the divine.”