The following is an excerpt from Game Changer by Pete Burak, director of i.d.9:16, Renewal Ministries’ young adult outreach.
Ignoring or minimizing the Holy Spirit’s role in the New Evangelization is like setting out to make fresh bread by gathering all the ingredients and preheating the oven—but ignoring the yeast and wondering why the bread won’t rise. Or like planning a trip by packing the trunk, putting the keys in the ignition, and buckling up—but deciding gas is optional and being surprised when the car won’t start. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Blessed Pope Paul VI bluntly states the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of mission. He writes,
“Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit.”3
Talk about a provocative and challenging statement from the vicar of Christ! Blessed Paul VI clearly insists that the faithful rely on the action of the Holy Spirit because evangelization is pointless and fruitless without the Spirit. Pentecost launched the first evangelization, and Pentecost must continue to fuel our efforts.
The vital role of the Spirit can be difficult to believe, since most of His work happens in disguise. The power of the Holy Spirit, while certainly containing the power to affect outward appearance (like the tongues of fire), primarily transforms the hidden recesses of our hearts. The external preaching, teaching, loving, sharing, and caring that we see in successful evangelizers all come from an unseen but indispensible working of the Holy Spirit.
When we see other people evangelizing and doing great things, we often say to ourselves, “I could never do that,” and we’re right! We can’t do these extraordinary external works without first internally accepting and growing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What we don’t always realize is that every time we witness someone successfully evangelizing, the Holy Spirit is guiding them. Many evangelization programs, trainings, and books remind us of our duty to evangelize and the incredible need of our personal witness to the Gospel. They share best practices and tips for knowing what to say and how and when to say it. However, none of this ultimately matters if we don’t open ourselves up to the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide and empower our evangelization efforts.
With the divine Game Changer in mind, it’s worth taking another look at Evangelii Nuntiandi:
“It is the Holy Spirit who, today as at the beginning of the Church acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by Him.”4
Blessed Paul VI uses the word “possessed,” and that can create confusion or apprehension. Most of us see possession as something out of The Exorcist, yet completely giving of ourselves to Christ, and allowing the Spirit to consume us, are marks of true Christian discipleship. Unlike demonic possession, in which you lose control of your faculties, being owned by the Spirit enhances our nature and allows us true freedom.
And one more quote from Evangelii Nuntiandi:
“The Holy Spirit places on [the evangelizer’s] lips, the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed.”5
In other words, the Holy Spirit stacks the deck. The Holy Spirit gifts followers of Christ with the supernatural wisdom, power, and grace they need to communicate the Good News. Additionally, the listener receives supernatural power to understand and accept what is being presented. Obviously, either party can resist or flat-out deny this grace, but the Spirit is still there, gently inviting both people to go deeper.
Let’s look again at the scenario we imagined at the beginning of the booklet, regarding a discussion of sensitive topics during Thanksgiving dinner. In moments such as these, our first action should always be to ask the Holy Spirit for insight, wisdom, and the power to respond to His prompting. This humbles us so that we can hear what the Lord wants us to do. Then, no matter what happens, we can peacefully know we tried to be faithful to God’s will.
He may prompt us to speak out boldly; He may whisper to us to wait, perhaps until after dinner; or He may prompt us to invite our relative out for that coffee so that we can speak with them individually and better understand their opinion. We can’t do it on our own, so we might as well give all of these options to Him and then submit to His authority.
This reality should fill us with relief. While catechesis, apologetics, and evangelization training are important, when faced with the weighty task of representing Christ and the Church, we primarily need to rely on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit often is described as the Spirit of Truth, and in those moments, the truth, spoken in love, is precisely what is needed, even if it is eventually rejected.
3. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75.
4. Ibid., 75.
5. Ibid., 75.