The Church's deepest identity and reason for existence is to evangelize. (See Evangelii Nuntiandi par. 14) And Jesus commanded and commisioned all of us to "Go and make disciples of all nations". (Matt 28:19) But who are we called to evangelize? In the Church document "Mission of the Redeemer" (or Redemptoris Missio for you Latin lovers), Pope John Paul II points out three contexts in which the Church is called to evangelize.
According to Pope John Paul II, there are really only three types of people in the world:
1) Those who have never heard Christ or the Gospel. These people don't know about the Gospel, and therefore through no fault of their own they don't care about the Gospel. The missionary activity, or mission ad gentes of the Church is focused here.
2) Those who have heard the Gospel and are committed to Christian living and striving for holiness. These people know the Gospel and Christ and care about the Gospel and Christ. The pastoral activity of the Church is focused here.
3) Those who have heard about Christ and the Gospel to some extent, but have "lost a living sense of faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel." The third context, as a kind of middle position between the previous two ends of the spectrum, consists of people who know the Gospel, or at least have come in contact with it to some extent. And, for some reason or another, they don't care about the Gospel they have been presented. They are the third generation Catholics in a postChristianity Europe and America whose parents only went to Mass on Christmas and Easter, and who become atheists or casual agnostics by the end of college. Or they are the children of ex-Catholics who are told that Catholics worship Mary and the Pope and don't believe the Bible.
What is required in this third case? "In this case what is needed is a 'new evangelization' or a 're-evangelization'". In this third case, a jarring from previously conceived notions is required. For this third case Christianity (or Catholicism) has been tried and found wanting, or so they think.
These activities of the Church's evangelization are related. "Each of them influences, stimulates and assists the others." (Redemptoris missio par. 34) But each context does require a different approach. Each type of person brings with them a different lens through which they see the Church and the Gospel and Christ. Some see Christ for the first time, others know Christ and need to better understand Him. Still others have rejected what they thought was Christ, or have intentionally rejected Christ whom they really did know. Each requires different sensitivities, approaches, and methods.
Whether we are Catholic writers or speakers or missionaries or Priests or Mothers or lawyers or businessmen, the question we should all be asking ourselves when we attempt to participate in the Church's call to evangelize is:
Who are we evangelizing?
The fact that there is a diversity of activities in the Church's one mission is not intrinsic to that mission, but arises from the variety of circumstances in which that mission is carried out. Looking at today's world from the viewppoint of evangelization, we can distinguish three situations.
First, there is the situation which the Church's missionary activity addresses: peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups. This is mission ad gentes in the proper sense of the term.
Secondly, there are Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures. They are fervent in their faith and in Christian living. They bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission. In these communities the Church carries out her activity and pastoral care.
Thirdly, there is an intermediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a "new evangelization" or a "re-evangelization."