Evangelization begins with our love

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

The Church always evangelizes, the Holy Father tells us, because it is the nature of the Church to give witness to the person of Jesus Christ and His saving message.

When we celebrate the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist; when we proclaim the good news that God's kingdom is in our midst, here and now; when we give generously to the poor and work to build communities of justice and peace in our world; we are evangelizing. Today, as always, evangelization requires reaching out to those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But today, as perhaps never before, evangelization also means reaching out to those Catholics among us who have "fallen away" and to those of us whose observance of Church teaching and practice is not what it should be.

Many of us know acquaintances, friends and even family members who have drifted away from or actively left the Catholic Church. It pains us when we reflect on their separation from the Church. We wish them the joy we have found in loving Jesus Christ and His Church through our participation in the sacraments, the liturgy and our Roman Catholic way of life.

Beginning this month, the Catholic Church in the 11 counties that are served by the archdiocese will undertake a dramatic new initiative to welcome back our brothers and sisters who have been away from the Church. Catholics Come Home is a collaborative effort of parish initiatives coupled with a regional media campaign of television commercials. The commercials have been specially developed to encourage people to come back to the Catholic Church or to learn about our Church for the first time. During their run (mid-December through mid-January) millions of people will see these ads -- most will see them multiple times!

This is an extraordinary undertaking, and I am very excited about touching people's lives and bringing them closer to Christ. Other archdioceses like Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago have implemented the Catholics Come Home initiative recently and have seen Mass attendance increase by 12-18 percent.

Our parishes are already very gracious in welcoming back those who return to the faith. It is of particular importance that our parishes are prepared to continue that tradition, but on a larger scale with potentially far more Catholics coming back. To assist in this preparation and to enhance what already is happening in our parishes, we have been training "ministers of first impression" and providing other parish-level resources.

This new initiative complements our Mission Advancement Initiative for Catholic Education, which has identified evangelization as one of the top priorities in our efforts to grow the Catholic identity, enrollment and financial stability of our Catholic schools and other faith-formation ministries. The funding for Catholics Come Home in St. Louis will come from several sources, including my personal funding requests and the second collection in parishes held earlier this year. (If you did not have an opportunity to contribute to this collection, or if you'd like to do more, I invite you to support this effort by consulting the website catholicscomehome.org. While you're there, please take a moment to view the inspiring video messages. They're guaranteed to make you feel proud of your Catholic identity!)

Yes, the Church always evangelizes. As the Holy Father says, it is the nature of the Church to give witness to the person of Jesus Christ and His saving message. Each of us must do his or her part in the important work of evangelization. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, we don't necessarily have to do great things. It's enough that we do small things with great love!

I am excited that the archdiocese is embracing this initiative. I hope many people will come back to the sacraments and to a deeper relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. Please join me in praying for the success of this special effort.

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