Ever since Christians realized that our faith wasn’t simply a variant of Judaism, we have sought to take our message to the entire world. But frequently we’ve argued about what the message is.
One understanding of Christianity’s need to evangelize is that we need to convince everyone to join the Christian community. A different understanding is that we’re responsible to bring others Jesus’ promise that their efforts for a just and loving world aren’t futile. We offer all Jesus’ assurance that the Creator stands with them as they struggle to transform the world and that he is the energy within their efforts.
Underlying these different understandings of evangelizing is the question of how necessary it is that everyone accepts all the beliefs of Jesus’ followers. For most of our history Christians have thought that beliefs such as the divinity of Jesus and his identity as the sole savior of the world are essential to receiving God’s salvation. It was only in the 1960s that the Vatican Council’s document, Lumen Gentium, taught that the Church recognizes that salvation is the destiny of all who live in loving service to life. This still astounds many.
Though the majority of Catholics welcome and embrace the bishops’ statement, few have asked themselves why they then continue to believe Christianity’s teachings about Jesus. If the blessing of the Kingdom of God is destined for all people of good will, what’s the benefit of Christian faith? We have to answer that question if we’re to realize the particular gift we bring to the universal quest for human destiny.
We believe in Jesus as the presence of God. He demonstrated divine love to everyone he met despite the rejection that ultimately cost him his life. We believe that our faithful God raised Jesus from death into the future prepared for us all. It’s this faith in God’s unqualified love given by Jesus and fulfilled, despite all obstacles, by his resurrection that fills us with hope.
Hope is the gift we’ve been given and hope is the gift we offer the world.