One of my special treats this summer was being able to read “Jesus of Nazareth” by Gerhard Lohfink. The subtitle ambitiously reads: “What He Wanted; Who He was.”
Lohfink confirms a direction which, from the beginning, has haunted our Catholic thinking about evangelization. “On Evangelization in the Modern World” opens with a vision of the Kingdom which Paul VI saw as the transformation of humankind. Jesus came to transform humanity; the Kingdom is this state of transformation—evangelization extends and deepens it.
Pope St. John Paul II devoted the second chapter of “Mission of the Redeemer” to the Kingdom of God, presenting us a sweeping vision of God’s action in the world, culminating in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis does not devote any chapter of “The Joy of the Gospel” to the Kingdom, but he has this remarkably comprehensive statement:
The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. We are seeking God’s kingdom . . . (# 180)”
Catholic evangelization has frequently been torn between (false) alternatives stated this way: “Are we evangelizing people to Jesus, or are we evangelizing people to the Church?” Implying that to evangelizing people to the Church was somehow a betrayal. Yet, evangelizing people to “Jesus” could mean a variety of things—most dangerously, evangelizing people to my particular version of Jesus. I place in evidence the whole Gospel of Wealth disease of American religion.
My way around this false dilemma: I am evangelizing people to Jesus and what he lived for (and died for): the Kingdom of God as God’s radical inbreaking into human experience. And I offer the Church as the fullest and deepest expression of the Kingdom. I want those whom the Spirit touches to consider the Church because, while not encompassing the entirety of the Kingdom, the Church is its center and sacrament.