A few months ago I was preparing a presentation for student leaders on the topic of sharing the Gospel, and for fun I decided to see if there was anything extra online that I could use to show them. For some reason, the #1 hit on Google for “how to share the gospel Catholic” is an article from some “biblical Christian” group on tactics for how to convert Catholics into “biblical Christians.”
That’s an easy way to understand our situation in a nutshell. The Popes have been pushing for the New Evangelization for 50 years now but it’s taken a while to trickle down to Catholics in the pews. As a Catholic missionary with FOCUS, I’d like to share with you what the Gospel is, why we need to share it, and how to do it.
What is the Gospel?
According to New Advent, the word gospel was derived from the Angelo-Saxon god (good) and spell (to tell). It was treated as the equivalent of the Greek word euaggelion (good tidings- usually from an emperor). When emperors had won a battle, they would proclaim the euaggelion to the people. The same way, we share the Gospel, or good news, of our King, Jesus Christ!
The word gospel could be used in many different ways. It could be used to tell any generic good news. It could be used to reference a type of music. It could refer to the Gospels in the bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that I am talking about essentially is Jesus, who is revealed most perfectly through the example of the Church and in a unique way in the bible: a book compiled by the Catholic Church.
The Gospel essentially is Jesus: His life, death, and resurrection. In my own words, the Gospel is that though we have fallen away from God through sin, Jesus- God Himself!- has given all of humanity an opportunity for salvation through His passion. By believing in Him and joining His Church through baptism and receiving the sacraments, we can hope to partake in His resurrection at the end of time. The Gospel is that God not only acknowledges our existence, but loves us all enough to die for us, and eagerly desires that we live in relationship with Him.
Why do we need to share the Gospel?
Let me begin with a hypothetical situation. Suppose that you hit your friend. All of a sudden, there is tension and discord in your relationship with that person. What can be done to right that relationship? One wise thing to do is to ask forgiveness for what we’ve done. But the relationship is still not right until your friend actually forgives you. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to make them forgive us, it is completely in their power to choose to be merciful or not.
Now think about our relationship with God. Unfortunately, we have also broken our relationship with God through our sins. As we learned in Genesis, there are real consequences for disobeying God (aka sinning). Because of their sin, Adam and Eve would now die, struggle to find enough food to live, not be able to trust each other innocently, etc. God has called us to repentance. Before Jesus began His ministry, St. John the Baptist went around Israel preaching repentance. We always need to repent first and ask for God’s forgiveness. But we also need something that we don’t deserve, something that we have no control over: we need God’s forgiveness. Remember, God doesn’t have to forgive us. But the good news is that He did! Thanks to Jesus’s mercy, we can be forgiven if we believe in Him and are a part of His Church: who He entrusted to share the Gospel throughout the world. The Catholic (universal) Church must make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)!
We will die with no hope if we die without faith in Jesus. Our eternal souls will be in danger of eternal damnation without Jesus. Every single person that has ever lived can only be saved through Jesus. That’s it. There’s no other way to heaven. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Just being a “good person” isn’t good enough. It is an integral part AFTER we believe in Jesus, but it doesn’t REPLACE belief in Christ, who is truth itself. There is one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. There is one true faith: the Catholic Christian faith. Acknowledging this is not hateful or discrimination but is merely following the truth just in the same way that we teach children that 2+2=4 and not 5 or 3. Living according to the truth is not constraining but rather freeing because it allows us to live the most relevant life possible. What’s the point in living with the dream of being the MVP of the NBA if at the end of your life you end up in Hell separated from God forever?
With all of this in mind, I want to remind you that it is not just the duty of priests and missionaries to share the Gospel, this is the duty of every baptized Christian!
Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” – Pope Francis at WYD
How do you share the Gospel?
By this point in this post I’ve actually covered a lot of what to say in actually sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus, so anytime that we are sharing Jesus, we are sharing the Gospel. Merely sharing belief in God or belief in the Catholic Church is not sharing the fullness of the Gospel. As I believe Pope John Paul II said, if we haven’t shared Jesus Christ, then we haven’t shared the Gospel.
Practically, the best way to share the Gospel is in a conversation with a friend. We share who Jesus is in our actions and words, but actually sharing “the Gospel” is something that we need to actually speak. Another quote that I’m remembering is that “every single time that the Gospel is shared, something happens.” People won’t always welcome it or change their lives right there, but that’s an experience that should stick with them for the rest of their life.
God actually gave us a model for how to share the Gospel when He gave St. Catherine of Sienna (1300’s) the “cross bridge” image to communicate aspects of salvation in Christ.
I’m not sure if this is the actual image but this is a basic picture of it, with some verses to back up each step in salvation. Check out those verses! It is so powerful to read them all in order.
In addition to the image, God himself communicated this basic message to St. Catherine of Sienna to share:
“I have created them in my image and likeness so that they might have eternal life, sharing in my being and enjoying my supreme eternal tenderness and goodness. Because of their sin they never reached this goal and never fulfilled my truth, for sin closed heaven and the door of mercy. I will make of my Son a bridge… a bridge of the Word, my only-begotten Son.”
A great way to follow up sharing the Gospel is to invite your friend to join you in prayer inviting Jesus into their life.
If Christianity, as has so rightly been said, is not primarily a doctrine but a person, Jesus Christ, it follows that the proclamation of this person and of one’s relationship with him is the most important thing, the beginning of all true evangelization. To reverse this order and put the doctrines and moral obligations of the Gospel before the discovery of Jesus would be like putting the carriages in front of the railway engine that is supposed to pull them. The person of Jesus opens the highway of the heart for the acceptance of everything else. Anyone who has once known the living Jesus has no further need to be goaded along; we ourselves burn with desire to know his thought, his will, his word. It is not on the authority of the Church that we accept Jesus, but on the authority of Jesus that we accept and love the Church. So the first thing the Church has to do is not present herself to the world, but present Jesus… Insistence on the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is not a sign of subjectivism or emotionalismbut is the translation, on the spiritual and pastoral place, of a dogma central to our faith: that Jesus Christ is “a person.” – Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household (both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI)
Update: Check it out! My friend Andrew and I filmed a simple Gospel presentation for your benefit right here!
A Case for Discipleship and Spiritual Multiplication
“Work Out Your Own Salvation with Fear and Trembling”
Salvation, Jesus, and Works