Writing from the city of Ephesus around the year 51, Saint Paul testified that because of the resurrection of Christ, his faith isn’t useless. 1,956 years later, a university student told me: “I’ll never forget the day when I knew Jesus was alive. It changed me forever.”
Here we have two witnesses, separated by a huge expanse of time, place, and circumstance, and they testify to the very same experience: an experience shared by billions of others over the past 2000 years. None of these people had ever met Jesus in the flesh, and yet they all spoke of his power and presence with such confidence that those who listened couldn’t help but be moved.
Part of our Christian vocation is to evangelize, but it’s important to know also that evangelization is far more than stating some historical facts about Jesus. At its heart, evangelization is testifying to a life-changing encounter with the risen Lord and inviting others to the same experience. As we keep our hearts open to Jesus through prayer, the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the teaching of the Church, we submit our lives to him and we allow his love to transform us, so that we too can be moved to witness in a very powerful way. Our witness can be every bit as effective as St. Paul’s and the young student I know. It can bring others to question their priorities and look to Jesus, asking if they can come to know him just as intimately.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was, in my mind, one of the greatest evangelists of our time, defined evangelism this way: “That you have Jesus in your heart and then carry him to the hearts of others.” In much the same way Pope Paul VI taught that this kind of witnessing is at the very heart of the Church. He wrote: “It is unthinkable that a person should accept the word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn”. Everyone who accepts Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is changed from the inside out—and that change can’t help but overflow into a life of witnessing and preaching.