The Gifts of the Spirit for Evangelization

The Gifts of the Spirit: Given to make us missionaries

The need for evangelization

During his pontificate, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II has more than once called Catholics to a "new evangelization" and has stated in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio that "the mission of Christ the Saviour entrusted to the Church, is still a long way from it's accomplishment": (Introduction, chapter 1).

The Church does not exist for itself. The Church is for all and cannot content itself with the small flock which at present constitutes its fold. Christians cannot and must not be overwhelmed by the sea of secularism which threatens their faith. As witnesses to Christ, they have been touched by the power of the Spirit and must in their turn, by witnessing to this fact "touch the lives of those who do not believe". This places both individual christians and the christian church in a permanent state of mission!

Jesus, received the Spirit and became a witness to the Father when He was baptised by St. John in the River Jordan. Afterwards in the synagogue, in explaining the significance of what had happened, he said: "The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to announce the Good News to the poor" (see Lk 4: 16-19). Jesus is the Missionary par excellence!

It is this same Jesus who says to us "Here and now" (kairos). Receive the power of the Spirit and you shall be my witnesses.

The Spirit is given to us so that we might become missionaries. The Baptism in the Spirit represents this invitation to mission.

Today the Church needs to rediscover a sense of evangelization which is full of The "fruit from on high" as it becomes the fruit of a personal Pentecost. It has been calculated that there are almost eighty million Catholics who have experienced a "new outpouring of the Holy Spirit". These people have both the duty and the privilege of being "empowered" so that they can be sent to evangelise. The Lord turns to us once again with the same invitation which he gave to Isaiah: "Who will I send and who will go for us?" We should pray to the Spirit until our response becomes as affirmative as that of the prophet "Here I am, send me!" (Is 6: 8-9).

Miracles, Signs, and Wonders

In the Book of Acts, the Apostles, who were being persecuted for their belief in the Gospel, asked God for a stronger witness which would be accompanied by healings, miracles, and signs. The Lord responded to this prayer by renewing the Gifts of the Spirit (Ac 4:30).

Indeed, in the following chapter of Acts, St. Luke describes how, not-with-standing the persecutions - indeed, because of them - God listened to his Church. "Many signs and wonders were worked among the people by the hands of the apostles". (Ac 5:12)

The miraculous healing of the crippled man by Peter and John won the conversion of over five thousand men (not counting women and children) to the Word of God (Ac 4:4).

The Christian Church, the Pentecostal fruit, was born not only with the preaching of the Word- which produced three thousand conversions and baptisms at one time (Ac 2:41) - but also with its ministry of healing. The Holy Spirit needs to convert sinners not only through preaching but through the signs that accompany the expounding of the Gospel as these were promised by Jesus and fulfilled by Him (see Mk 16:20).

The Apostle Paul also reminds us how: "It (the Good News) came to you not only as words but as power and as the Holy Spirit..." (1 Th 1:5) ... "by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rm 15: 18-19). Signs, miracles, wonders and healings are therefore "the strongest and most potent evidence that the Holy Spirit renders to the Word of the Gospel and for the conversion of unbelievers".

Use of the charisms in the Church today

By looking closely at the teaching of the Primitive Church, we should learn to appreciate the use of the charisms in evangelization.

Today's Church possesses the same power to preach, heal, and cast out demons that belonged to the Early Church. This continues Jesus' saving power in history precisely because Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever"(Hb. 13:8), but also because his Church is the same because he has promised it his perennial presence. "And lo! I am with you even until the end of the world" (Mt 28:20).

Thus, preaching the message of Salvation without continuing these same works of Christ would be a betrayal of God's mandate to the Church. It would make of Christianity a mere abstract and theoretical doctrine of Salvation within which Salvation itself would have no real place. A concept of Salvation without effective verification is empty rhetoric. "Christ is the Redeemer of Man"! (Redemptor Hominis)

Jesus has said: "Preach, heal, cast out demons" (see Mt 10 7-8) therefore, if in the Church we only preach we are not doing God's Will. The Mission of Jesus and of the Church has not ended but must continue through the work of contemporary apostles who preach and perform the same acts of power done by Jesus and the apostles. On the contrary, Jesus insisted that they perform "greater things than those which He himself has done" since by going to the Father He has entrusted to the Church the task of continuing His mission.

Following this line, the official teaching of the Church as formulated during Vatican II encouraged the use of the charisms for evangelization as is stated in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. "The charisms are useful for the renovation and expansion of the Church" (Lumen Gentium 12).

The new catechism of the Catholic Church is of this same opinion. It states:

1508: The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing (see 1Co 12: 9, 28, 30) to manifest the force of the Grace of the Resurrected

1509: "Heal the sick"(Mt 10:8). This mission the Church received from the Lord and tries to bring alive through the healings that it offers to the poor and through the intercessory prayer which accompanies these. This attests to the living presence of Christ who is the Doctor of both soul and body.

It is important to adhere to the magisterial teachings of the ecclesiastical authority and to take to the task of continuing evangelistic mission in the Church, assuming both the dare and the risk of using the charisms in the proclamation of the Word of God.

The doctrine of the Church reveals an important point: if Christians don't use the gifts and the charisms of the Spirit these will die. For this reason the Word of God comes to our aid, encouraging us to honestly and humbly desire the charism for the edification of the Church (1 Co 12:4-11, Ef 4:11, Rm. 12:6-9) and at the same time eliminate every obstacle that limits their use: "Brothers, I want to clear up a wrong impression about spiritual gifts"(1 Co 12:1).

We in the Church have waited centuries to experience a replete with inherent Gifts of the Spirit. We must do our utmost, for this reason, to be those witnesses whom God has chosen and who are destined "to bear fruit, fruit which will last" (see Jn 15:16).