Dear Friends in Christ,
To worship God, to proclaim the Gospel, and to serve those in need. The Church’s entire mission can be summarized in these three categories of action, and it is a perennial challenge for Christians to keep all three of these parts in harmony and creative interaction.
Some Catholics can become so preoccupied with the details of the sacred liturgy that the service of the poor and the preaching of the Gospel are obscured from sight, and this usually yields a self-referential experience of religion that is fussy about vestments and rituals but fails to attend to the needs of others and the call to conversion that must be at the heart of our faith. Other Catholics can be so focused on responding to the needs of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the immigrant that they forget the priority of calling everyone to saving faith in Jesus Christ and then leading them to worship the living God in spirit and truth. Still others can become so committed to insisting on the truth of our faith and the urgent need of others to accept that truth that they grow careless about attending to the real human needs of others and to the need of the human spirit for beauty in divine worship. But the Church must always keep the good, the true, and the beautiful together in our minds and hearts in order to prevent us from reducing the whole of our religion to one of its parts and then stumbling into the trap of becoming an aesthete, a puritan, or a fanatic rather than simply being a Catholic Christian.
For the past two months my bulletin columns have explored the Principles of Evangelical Catholicism which I propose as a way of integrating all the parts of our faith into a coherent whole. I offer this account of Catholicism in our time, the time of the New Evangelization, to assist us all in living as faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus in the Church he founded – always careful to be equally attentive to the threefold character of the Church’s mission: to worship God, to proclaim the Gospel, and to serve those in need. Of course, it is beyond the ability of any one person, any one priest, any one parish, any one bishop, or any one pope to fulfill equally all of the Church’s obligations in worship, preaching, and service, and that is why we must all be aware of our own gifts and grateful for the gifts of others. One parish may do praiseworthy work among the poor, while another shines in educating and forming children or adults or both, even as a third excels at offering divine worship of uncommon beauty. And what is true of parishes is true also of individual believers, each of whom is called to a unique form of service and equipped to answer that call by the personal gifts received from God.
When each and all of us are conscious of these distinctions and working to the uttermost limits of our gifts for the glory of God and the fulfillment of the Great Commission, then through the efforts of all disciples, the Church is able to accomplish her urgent duties of worshiping God, proclaiming the Gospel, and serving those in need. And that is Evangelical Catholicism.