The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1.16), and the Church’s mission to the nations begins with Christ’s clarion call to conversion: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1.15)
By our Baptism we are called to receive the Gospel as a complete, coherent, comprehensive Way of Life; in other words, we are called to be disciples, or students, of the Lord Jesus. And to live as true disciples of Christ, everything about us must be measured and guided by the Gospel: our thoughts, words, deeds, relationships, spending habits, political convictions, religious beliefs, leisure activities, lifestyle choices, business decisions … in sum, everything. But this total surrender to Christ is not a restriction of our freedom; rather, this is the evangelical freedom of the children of God — not the license to do whatever we want but the liberty to do everything we should. As the Lord Jesus teaches, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8.32)
Since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, four popes have summoned the entire Church to the work of the New Evangelization. Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul the Great, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all called us to announce the Gospel with new ardor, new methods, and new conviction, and another way of expressing our dedication to the work of the New Evangelization is to say that we must become Evangelical Catholics, which in turn means that we must let go of all false catholicisms (e.g. cafeteria, casual and cultural catholicism) by accepting the liberating truth of the Word of God and living by grace through faith in the Son of God. Being Evangelical Catholics requires that we know the Gospel, believe the Gospel, live the Gospel, and share the Gospel with others, and this begins and ends for us in the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church’s life. Then what begins in prayer finds expression in our service of those in need and our witness in the public square to the liberating truth of the Word of God. Right worship, right belief, and right living are the most compelling testimony we can offer to the world that the Son of Mary is the Son of God, and we can grow stronger in that public witness by following these Eight Principles of Evangelical Catholicism which lead us to radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship and courageous evangelism.
1. The Lord Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind, and no human person can fully understand his life or find his dignity and destiny apart from an authentic friendship with the Lord Jesus. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we must know Jesus.
2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is divine revelation, not human wisdom, and the Gospel is given to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition which together constitute a single divine deposit of faith transmitted authentically and authoritatively by the Bishops in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. We must surrender our private judgments in all matters of faith and morals to the magisterium or sacred teaching office of the Church if we are to receive the whole Gospel.
3. The seven Sacraments of the New Covenant are divinely instituted instruments of grace given to the Church as the ordinary means of sanctification for believers. Receiving the Sacraments regularly and worthily is essential to the life of grace, and for this reason, faithful attendance at Sunday Mass every week (serious illness and necessary work aside) and regular Confession of sins are absolutely required for a life of authentic discipleship.
4. Through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus, and having been justified by faith we are called to sanctification and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the good works of the new creation. We must, therefore, learn to live as faithful disciples and to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel, which is the Good News of the Father’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
5. The sacred liturgy, through which the seven Sacraments are celebrated and the Hours of praise are prayed, makes present to us the saving mysteries of the Lord Jesus. The liturgy must therefore be celebrated in such a way that the truth of the Gospel, the beauty of sacred music, the dignity of ritual form, the solemnity of divine worship, and the fellowship of the baptized assembled to pray are kept together in organic unity.
6. Receiving the Sacraments without receiving the Gospel leads to superstition rather than living faith, and the Church must therefore take great care to ensure that those who receive the Sacraments also receive the Gospel in its integrity and entirety. Consequently, before Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, and Marriage are administered, there must be in those who request these Sacraments clear evidence of knowledge of the Gospel and a serious intention to lead the Christian life.
7. Being a follower of Christ requires moving from being a Church member by convention to a Christian disciple by conviction. This transformation demands that we consciously accept the Gospel as the measure of our entire lives, rather than attempting to measure the Gospel by our experience. Personal knowledge of and devotion to Sacred Scripture is necessary for this transformation to occur through the obedience of faith, and there is no substitute for personal knowledge of the Bible. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
8. All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain his Gospel.
For a deeper exploration of these ideas, please read George Weigel’s excellent book Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church.
Father Jay Scott Newman
Pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church