Holy Spirit and Evangelization

Fr. James Manjackal MSFS.
Indian Journal of Spirituality. 12: 2 (Apr-June 1999) 314-328.

The mission of the Church to evangelize the whole world will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit. The opening line of the dogmatic constitution on the Church of Vatican II says that the Council had been the call of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel to every creature. "Christ is the light of all nations. Hence this most sacred Synod, which has been gathered in the Holy Spirit, eagerly desires to shed on all men that radiance which brightens the countenance of the Church. This it will do by the proclamation of the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15)" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapter 1). Chapter IV of the same speaks very clearly on the role of the Holy Spirit with regard to evangelization. "When the work which the Father had given the Son to do on earth (Jn 17:4) was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might forever sanctify the Church and thus all believers would have access to the Father through Christ in the one Spirit (Eph 2: 18). He is the Spirit of life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal (Jn 4:14; 7:38-39). 'Through Him the Father gives life to men who are dead from sin, till at last He receives in Christ even their mortal bodies (R. 8:10-11). The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (I Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them He prays and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. He furnishes and directs her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic, and adorns her with the fruits of His grace (Eph 4:11-12, I Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the gospel He makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her, and leads her to perfect union with her spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to the Lord Jesus "Come" (Rev 22: 17) (DCC, chapter 4).

The incarnation was an action of the Spirit. Angel Gabriel told Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child will be holy, he will be called Son of God" (Lk 1:35). The Son of God became son of man by God's Spirit. Jesus is the first evangelist sent by the Father to preach the Good News. Again He was baptized in the Spirit or anointed by the Spirit in Jordan where Jesus became the Evangelium and Evangelistai (Gospel and the evangelist). "The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:22). "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). So too one who takes up the mission of Christ should be renewed, transformed, filled and equipped by the action of the Spirit so that he may be another Christ to speak what He spoke, and to do what He did as He spoke and did what He had heard from the Father. "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgement is just because I seek to do not my own will but the will of Him who sent me" (Jn 5:30). "I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him... I do nothing on my own but I speak these things as the Father instructed me" (Jn 8:26:30). An evangelist of Christ also must have the same attitude with Christ who sends him to the world with the good news.

Jesus was led by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel. When the Spirit descended on him at the moment of his baptism, he was getting a divine approval from the Father: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). He is called the servant in whom Yahweh's soul is well pleased (Mt 12:18). So too one who takes up the mission of Christ to evangelise should be called and approved by Jesus. Also he should be a servant of Christ fully ready to carry out the mandate of Christ. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to experience in the desert the decisive combat and the supreme test before beginning his mission (Mt 4:1). If we look at the story of every missionary we would see that all of them went through seven tests of sufferings, rejection, persecution etc. before they became seasoned missionaries. Although Jesus had matured his capabilities to speak (Lk 2:41-51), he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom only by the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:18). In the servant song of St. Mathew it is written "I will put my Spirit upon him, and He will proclaim justice to the gentiles" (Mt 12:18)

Jesus did miracles, healings and exorcisms by the power of the Spirit of God (Mt 12:28). His miracles were signs by which He identified Himself as the Messiah (Mt 11:2-5). Later on when Jesus sent his missionaries he gave the same power and authority to perform miracles so that the people could see that He worked with them. “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it” (Mk 16:20). Today too we see missionaries who go around the world preaching and doing miracles. The Scripture says that power went out of Jesus to heal everyone so people waited to have a touch of Him (Lk 6:19).What was this power which was working in Him? It was the Holy Spirit because it is the Holy Spirit who is identified as power (Act 1:8; II Tim 1:7). Jesus had to confront many enemies in His mission, the Pharisees, Saducees, the Scribes, the rulers and leaders (Lk 11:37; 12:1-12). When Jesus had a life - threat from Herod the King it was with the courage of the Spirit that He said, "go and tell that fox for me, listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work", Jesus was not ready to make any compromise with anyone with regard to His proclamation of the Kingdom and its demonstration by the working of miracles and healings. Perhaps, it is this same attitude that led Jesus to Calvary to be crucified. In recruiting disciples or missionaries He demanded the attitude, no serving of two masters (Mt 6:24) no taking of gold, silver or copper in purses, no bag, no two tunics, sandals or a staff (Mt 10:9) and He told them that they are sent like lambs amidst wolves (Mt 10:16) and the way they had to walk is narrow (Mt 7:13) and the weapon they had to carry is the Cross (Mt 10:38) and He warned them saying "What I say to you in dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from housetops....... Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (Mt 10:27, 32-33). Also He told them that an hour was coming when those who kill the evangelizers would think that by doing so they were worshipping God (Jn 16:2).

When Jesus healed the blind the reactions of the people were mixed for the Pharisees criticized him saying that He broke the Sabbath while the common people acclaimed Him as a holy man (Jn 9:16). When some people accepted Him as the Messiah, some belittled him as the carpenter's son (Mt 6:1). When Jesus went on working wonders he had no time to think of his own health or comfort so his own people started saying that He was off his mind (Mk 3:21). When He was speaking of His oneness with the Father, and about His going towards Him, his opponents misunderstood him or rather calumniated him saying he was about to commit suicide. Today too Jesus is a stumbling stone for those who want to follow Him. In confronting these people and situations the Holy Spirit gave him courage and strength. At the betrayal and arrest of Jesus when he identified himself as the one they were searching for, they stepped back and fell to the ground (Jn 18:6). It was the power of the Holy Spirit in Him who threw them down. Later on the disciples went on explaining the power of the Spirit in evangelization. "The one who is in you is more powerful than the one who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4). It is the Spirit in Jesus that enabled Him to offer Himself on the cross as an expiatory sacrifice. In His prayer at Gethsamani His spirit was enkindled and thus He got the strength and power to walk up to Calvary to die for others.

Jesus has given the same Spirit to those whom He has called to continue His mission. He called the apostles to be united with him in Spirit and heart and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast down demons (Mk 3:14). The gift of the Spirit was prophesied by John the Baptist (Lk 3:16) and assured by Jesus Himself (Jn 14:16-17; 16:13, Act 1:5) and was given at Pentecost (Act 2:1-5). The Pentecost experience was a powerful experience for the disciples - the future missionaries. People who were frightened by the death of Jesus became courageous and powerful at Pentecost. The chicken-hearted Peter became a lion at Pentecost - if he was afraid to acknowledge Jesus before three women then, now he acknowledges Him before no less than three thousand. The disciples, who were illiterate became preachers and teachers and with courage they went out to the whole world to spread the Kingdom. Yes, it was the fulfillment of Jesus' promise. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Act 1:8). The apostles became missionaries or evangelists when the Holy Spirit filled them - all the 12 went around and one even came to India, to preach the good news - St. Thomas. Although He touched the wounds of Jesus and confessed His faith in Him it was not enough for him to rush to India, he wanted the power of the Spirit with which he had 10 be clothed as was promised by his master (Lk 24:49). I think the greatest charism which the disciples received at Pentecost was the gift of witnessing because Jesus had already told them: "When the Advocate comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning" (Jn 15:26-27). The Vatican decree on the missionary activity of the Church, after emphasizing the need of her role in proclaiming the Gospel in chapter 4, says thus: "To accomplish this goal, Christ sent the Holy Spirit from the Father. The Spirit was to carry out His saving work inwardly and to impel the Church towards her proper expansion. Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified, yet on the day of Pentecost He came down on the disciples to remain with them forever (Jn 14:16). On that day the Church was publicly revealed to the multitude; the gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching, and finally there occurred a foreshadowing of that union of all peoples in a universal faith.... Throughout all ages the Holy Spirit gives the entire Church "unity in fellowship and in service. He furnishes her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic. He revives ecclesiastical institutions as a kind of soul and instills into the hearts of the faithful the same mission spirit which motivated Christ Himself.”

Jesus had already predicted the persecutions and sufferings that would follow the disciples when they would go around witnessing. "When they bring you before the synagogue, the rulers, and the authorities do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say" (Lk 12:12). St. Matthew writes thus: "Then it is not you but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:19-20). In other words, during sufferings and persecutions the Spirit would transform the disciples in such a way that the Master would carry them in His hand through the Spirit. In Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Paul VI (an apostolic exhortation published in1975) an entire chapter speaks of the spirit of evangelization. "It is in the consolation of the Holy Spirit that the Church increases. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. It is He who explains to the faithful the deep meaning of the teaching of Jesus and of his mystery. It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by Him. The Holy Spirit places on their 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."

We see Peter, after the filling experience of the Spirit at Pentecost, standing before the people and proclaiming the Kingdom with boldness, clarity and precision, and inviting the Jews who had killed Jesus, to the Kingdom brought by Him by His death (in the cross, and the positive response of the people by which the first Christian fellowship, the Church, was formed (Act 2:14-47 ). In his defence he explained the meaning of Pentecost by quoting Joel 2:28-32 (Act 2:15-16) and boldly proclaiming that Jesus was sent as the Saviour for the Jews and the whole world (Act 2:22-23) and he convicted them of their wrong-doing, of rejecting the Saviour which cut their hearts (Act 2:37) following the conversion of three thousand people. It was the power of the Spirit, which was manifested in Peter. The cure of the lame at the Beautiful Gate of the temple provoked the Jews. Consequently Peter and John were arrested. When they were led to the Council for trial, Peter spoke with great wisdom and courage. "Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them: Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (Act 4:8-10). What the scripture says is true 'no one can say, "Jesus Christ is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit' (1 Cor 12:3). Peter knew well that he was proclaiming the Christian Kerygma to the authorities who had the power to execute him.

When persecution became strong the first Christian missionaries felt weak and they resolved to pray for a further strengthening by the Holy Spirit. "When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness" (Act 4:31). When they selected missionaries again, the deacons, they made sure that they were Spirit-filled people (Act 6:3-6). Among them one was Stephen. Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.... the opponents could not withstand the power and the Spirit with which he spoke (Act 6:1-10). He withstood all opposition and finally was led to martyrdom where he could forgive like His Master and give his life to God. While they listened to Stephen they became outraged and ground their teeth at him, but he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul became an evangelist, may be the greatest missionary who travelled more than anyone else with the good news of Christ, was filled with the Spirit by the laying on of hands by Ananias (Act 9:17). "And I came to you in weakness and in fear and my proclamations were not with plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God" (1 Cor 2:3-5). All his eloquence of missionary works was given by the Spirit, all what he spoke and wrote were purely given by the Spirit. "And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual" (1 Cor 2:13).

The first Christian evangelists were so filled and Spirit-led that even as they were speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon the audience, even the Gentiles received the Spirit while they were speaking (Act 10:44f); by the laying on of hands they imparted the Spirit to others (Act 19:6); in this proclamation grace and power was manifested by signs and wonders (Act 14:3); even miracles and healings took place by laying the clothes and linens used by them (Act 19:11), and people rushed to touch them or even to have their shadow fall on them for their shadows could heal the sick and deliver the people from evil powers (Act 5:12-15). "The Church increased in members living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit" (Act 9:31). The Holy Spirit was so powerful in the evangelization works of the apostles that a systematic pneumatology can be made of the Acts and the writings of St. Paul.

So the Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi goes on: Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Holy Spirit. The most preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without Him the most highly, developed schemes resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless.

In the missionary efforts of the early Church the Holy Spirit was the guiding principle even to plan out the missionary travels and to take decisions with regard to the expansion of the Church. For going from place to place they always asked the Spirit to show the way "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Sebucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews" (Act 13:4-5).

Paul and Barnabas were impelled by the Holy Spirit to go to the Gentiles (Act 13:46-48). It was after much prayer and fasting with the discernment of the Spirit that the first Christian community sent them to preach to the Gentiles (Act 13:1-4). The dispute about circumcision was settled at the first council of Jerusalem by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Act 15:8f). Foreseeing dangers and problems, the Holy Spirit had even forbidden them to go to certain places. "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, so passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas" (Act 16:6-8). Through the Spirit the people of Tyra told Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Act 21:4). Paul was led by visions and messages by the Spirit in his missionary journey. "During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "come over to Macedonia and help us", "When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them" (Act 16:9-16). In his missionary travels Paul was constantly reminded by the Spirit, of impending troubles and it is the Spirit who gave him courage to go even amidst such adverse circumstances. "And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonments and persecutions are waiting for me" (Act 20:22-23). There were spirit-filled co-evangelists and helpers with the strong anointing of the Spirit to prophesy and to give messages (Act 11:27-30). Paul did not forget to warn them and to admonish them of the responsibility entrusted to them by the Holy Spirit. "Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God that He obtained with the blood of His own Son" (Act 20:28).

It is the same Spirit that leads missionaries to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. Evangelii Nuntiandi in VII/75 speaks thus: "We live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit. Everywhere people are trying to know him better, as the Scripture reveals him. They are happy to place themselves under his inspiration. They are gathering about him, and they want to let themselves led by him. Now I the Spirit of the Church has a pre-eminent place in the whole life of the Church, it is in her evangelizing mission that he is most active. It is not by chance that the great inauguration of evangelization took place on the morning of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Spirit. It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is he who impels each individual to proclaim the gospel, and he who in the depths of consciousness causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood. But it can equally be said that he is the goal of evangelization: he alone stirs up the new creation, the new humanity of which evangelization is to be the result, with that unity in variety which evangelization wishes to achieve within the Christian community. Through the Holy Spirit the gospel penetrates to the heart of the word, for it is he who causes people to discern the signs of the times - signs willed by God which evangelization reveals and puts to use within history. The Bishop's Synod of 1974, which insisted strongly on the place of the Holy Spirit in evangelization, also expressed the desire that pastors and theologians - and we would also say the faithful marked by the seal of the Spirit by baptism - should study more thoroughly the nature and manners of the Holy Spirit's action in evangelization today. This is our desire too, and we exhort all evangelizers, whoever they may be to pray without ceasing to the Holy Spirit with faith and fervour and to let themselves prudently be guided by him as the decisive inspirer of their plans, their initiatives and their evangelizing activity.' I am sure that the Holy Father is mentioning the charismatic renewal which was only at a grass-root level then but now which has spread far and wide in all countries and nations with a strong thrust into evangelization by the proclamation of the good news by signs of wonders and healings. The encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" of John Paul II places the Holy Spirit again as the principal agent of the whole Church's mission and exhorts that the decisions made about emerging problems and in the choice of regions and people to be evangelized the guidance and help of the Spirit must be sought (Chapter III/2I-30).

The same encyclical in Chapter VIII speaks of the need to develop a missionary spirituality by being completely docile to the Spirit. In India the Church today is threatened with persecution. Missionaries are killed, beaten, abused, molested and falsely accused of forced conversions. The churches and prayer-centres built by them are demolished and destroyed. We see certain people working to re-convert Christians to Hinduism. I thank and praise the Lord for the present situation in the Church in India for which I had been praying for long. If we look at the history of the Indian Church, it was pampered very much by the Lord by sparing it any form of sufferings or persecutions. In the first century itself the seed of the gospel was sown in this soil but it did not grow and yield much fruit because the seed did not fall or die (Jn 12:24). Now the Lord is awakening the slumbering Christians and Church leaders to read the signs of the times. We are experiencing the dramatic situation of the first Christian community, which witnessed unbelieving and hostile forces "gathered together against the Lord and his anointed" (Act 4:26).

Today, as in the past, that mission is difficult and complex, and demands the courage and light of the Spirit. Now, as then, we must pray that God will grant us boldness in preaching the gospel; we must ponder the mysterious ways of the Spirit and allow ourselves to be led by Him into all the truth.

This is the time of tire test or acid test for the Christians in India. We must remember it is our duty to speak of Christ and proclaim the Kingdom. "If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16). Jesus will not acknowledge us before God the Father if we stop proclaiming Jesus in fear of the fundamentalists of other religions. Already I have seen some statements of some top Church leaders saying Christians should respect and accept the ways and traditions of other religions, the Church should not encourage conversions as it offends the Hindus, etc. Different forms of diluting Jesus' mandate and forms of compromising attitudes are seen appearing. There will appear peddlers of God's word but let the Church be on guard (II Cor 2: 17). It is the time to stand as authentic witnesses of the gospel. The leaders of the Church may be in a false fear that the churches, schools and hospitals may be taken over by the government and they may take control of the financial matters of the Church. They are all only external forms of Christianity. Perhaps by losing them an authentic Christianity that follows Jesus in the manger and Calvary may emerge. Jesus in the manger and Jesus who had no place to lay his head is asking us to follow Him. Jesus on the cross is constantly calling us 'Come and die with me so that you shall dine with me.' The Christians should be imbued with boldness and power of the Spirit and say " If God is for us, who is against us? .. Who will bring charge against God's elect? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered", No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39).

For Jesus said "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt 10:28). Also He says, "whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Mt 10:38-39). This is the time that we must say with the Apostle of India, Thomas, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Pope John Paul appeals thus: Dear brothers and sisters: Let us remember the missionary enthusiasm of the first Christian communities. Despite the limited means of travel and communication in those times, the proclamation of the gospel quickly reached the ends of the earth. And this was the religion of a man who had died on a cross, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (Redemptoris Missio, Chapter VIII/90).

The time of evangelization by providing material help is gone - the time of attracting people through schools and hospitals and big institutions also has come to an end. Now it is the time to use the sole weapon of the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Certain structures may go and must go but a new Church, believers assembled together - worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth will come, and it is already come - and many from the east and west, north and the south, from religions and castes will come to worship Jesus with one heart and soul - thus the disunity among Christians in the name of caste, blood, language and rite will come to an end and Jesus' prayer for unity may be answered in its fullness. Let us not think that Jesus is not aware of all that is happening here. He who said that even the hairs of our head are numbered knows what is being done here in India. It is with the arrival of the charismatic renewal that persecutions and oppositions started in the Indian Church. The renewal, with the force and power of the Spirit, started proclaiming Christ without any sort of compromise, with signs of healings and miracles and simultaneously the enemies of Christ started persecuting and saying all sorts of false stories. Today through the Holy Spirit's power many are converted to Christ. Who can prevent the Holy Spirit? This is the time we should not quench the action of the Spirit, as some Church leaders are trying. This is the time to be awakened to the action of the Spirit, to be strengthened and empowered by the Spirit, to be powerful, authentic witnesses of Christ. Persons and the Church are put to test and they will be purged and purified to be holy and perfect witnesses.

Through sufferings and persecutions in witnessing to Christ and to His kingdom the presence and action of the Spirit will be more manifested or when there are more Spirit-filled Christians, the opposition will be greater. "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. If you suffer as a Christian do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. Also rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed" (I Pet 4:13-16). Let us not think that this testing period will be unending; it will continue till we are refined and purified (1 Pet 1:7). "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap: he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness" (Mal 3:3).

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