What it means to live out the Great Commission

As a Catholic, you (yes, you!) are called to evangelize. Does that thought make you uncomfortable? You’re probably not alone.

Unlike our Protestant brothers and sisters, we tend to consider evangelization as a call for the few, not the obligation of all.

The word “evangelization” conjures up images of speakers standing in front of thousands proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. We envision theologians writing books, or influencers with a large following creating faith-filled content online. We think of missionaries in far-away lands preaching the Gospel to those who have never heard of Christ or a preacher standing on a street-corner shouting the Good News to any passerby.

We look at the skills, gifts and charisms of these people and say, “That’s good for them, but there is no way that is for me.”

But let’s look at what Jesus said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20).

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Before his ascent into heaven, Jesus left his disciples with this Great Commission: to bring others into the Church. By being made disciples through the virtue of our baptism, this missionary call extends to us. With this gift of faith, we simultaneously have been given a duty to share it with others.

But how? Does this mean you are called to sell everything we have and go out to the most secluded corners of the earth? Does this mean you’re called to become a Catholic speaker or start an uplifting Instagram account? Maybe. But that’s not a requirement for fulfilling the Great Commission.

If the call to be missionary disciples is extended to all of the baptized, then the specifics of living out the Great Commission will be as unique as each one of us. But when giving this mission to the disciples, Jesus lays out the basic framework that we should follow. “Go, therefore… .”

Before Jesus commands his apostles to do anything else in this passage, he commands the disciples to go out. And as Catholics, we hear this call at least once a week.

When the priest or deacon says to the faithful at the close of Mass, “Go, the Mass has ended,” he calls to mind Jesus’ commandment in the Great Commission. In fact, the word “Mass” comes from the Latin word “missio,” which means “to be sent on mission.” With every Mass, we are once again called to go forth. But go where?

God doesn’t call everyone to live this missionary call by packing up and leaving home to go to a far away land, but that doesn’t negate his sending of you.

If God hasn’t called you anywhere else, then he has called you right where you live. Everyone of us has neighbors (remember, those people God told you to love?). More than likely, you did not choose your neighbor, yet God placed them in your life. Your very own neighborhood, your parish, your community is your mission field.

Make disciples

What does it mean to be a disciple-maker? Let’s look at the example set by Jesus himself throughout his public ministry.

When Jesus invited Peter, James, John and the others to follow him, he didn’t just list the rules they needed to follow for salvation. He invited them into a real relationship with him.

He met them where they were at. He lived life with them. They traveled together, ate together, laughed and cried together.

For three years, Jesus worked on building up a friendship with the apostles, and everything that followed — the parables and the preaching — flowed from that. Authentic friendship sets the foundation for true conversion.

With social media and today’s technology, we feel more connected than ever to the lives of other people, but in reality, so many of us lack genuine friendships. And we yearn for it.

We can’t avoid getting involved in people’s lives. Posting inspirational saint quotes on Instagram or even writing a blog post isn’t enough.

Learn your barista’s name. Invite your neighbors over to dinner. Ask your classmate out to coffee or lunch. We need to build real, in-person relationships with others and let that friendship set the stage for a true encounter with Christ.

Living our witness

For obvious reasons, fulfilling this part of the Great Commission can get a little confusing for lay people who (with the exception of extenuating circumstances) do not administer the Sacrament of Baptism. But the heart of this commandment remains the same.

Evangelization requires us to either bring people into the Church through the reception of the sacraments of initiation, or to breathe new life into the faith of those who have already been baptized but do not truly know Christ.

This is done first, though not foremost, through our witness — both through the way we live our life and our testimony.

When we testify to our faith through our life, words and actions, we can point to something beyond ourselves and share God’s love with the world. Love others in a radical way; stand up for the true, good and beautiful and cultivate them in your home and family. Live your life in a way that shows that your hope lies in something greater than anything in this world.

Pope St. Paul XI in his papal encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi writes: “Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one” (No. 21).

However Pope St. Paul XI continues: “even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified — what Peter called always having ‘your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have’ — and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus” (No. 22).

You may have heard the phrase incorrectly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi to preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. But in every friendship it will, at some point, become necessary to use words.

Small personal acts of faith and devotion alone are not enough to win the hearts of others; it only opens the door to true conversion, which is why evangelization secondly requires an explicit proclamation of the Gospel message.

Almost everyone in the country today has heard the name of Jesus, but very few actually know or understand the Gospel message that Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection restored the relationship with God that we broke through sin. That he did this, not out of obligation, but out of a deep and abiding love for each one of us.

Humanity is thirsting for this Good News, and if we know it, we must share it — clearly and without reserve.

How have you seen God working in your life? How have you changed in response to an encounter with the divine? Share your testimony with others, specifically those people with whom you built an authentic relationship.

Extend the invitation

Evangelization, when done well, demands a response from the listener. They will have to choose to accept or reject Jesus and his Church.

But as Catholics, we don’t believe that one, single proclamation of faith is sufficient. Rather, we view conversion as a continual process; we desire a living, breathing faith, one that requires constant renewal.

Once you have opened the door of faith to someone else, you can’t just leave them standing on the threshold. You must walk them inside and help make them at home.

When someone chooses to accept Christ, to become his disciple, you need to help strengthen and deepen their faith through study and through the sacraments.

We all know how difficult it can be to live a life of faith. Both you and your new disciple must strive to conform your minds to Christ and to outdo one another in virtue. But you can only do this with the necessary tools and a lot of grace.

Invite people (back) to the sacraments, and offer to go along with them: “Do you want to come to confession or Mass with me? Do you want to go to RCIA to learn more about Catholicism with me?”

Delve into God’s word together or read and discuss a spiritual book. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary. Spend time every day in conversation with the Lord, and as your love for him grows, so will your desire to follow him.

Commissioned again

Finally, mission is at the heart of discipleship. After living life with his disciples, deepening their faith, and conforming their minds and hearts to his own, Jesus sent his followers out to bring more people into the community of faith.

In raising up and forming disciples, they must then also hear the call to evangelize. They must understand the urgency and need of sharing the Good News. Teach others through both your words and example how to raise up disciples for Christ.

No matter what, remember that Jesus didn’t ask you to do any of this alone. After he sends his disciples out on this mission, Jesus promises: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Do not be afraid. He will equip you with whatever you need to help him win souls for his kingdom.

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