Why do you think it is that at the end of this century our Faith – so abused, attacked and vituperated – has drawn to it well known Jewish atheists, Protestant ministers by the dozens, prominent politicians, and the like? Why did Bl. John Paul II, in his last pastoral visit to the U.S. in October 1995, virtually conquer the heart of New York, the capital of secularism? Why is it that in the media today when the word "Church" is used, it is always understood to mean the Catholic Church and not pan-Protestantism? Certainly not because membership in the Church is the road to riches, affluence, fame, good health, and a carefree future! It attracts those seeking eternal verities that promise eternal life, "life everlasting."
If our time is truly to be "the age of the laity," our success will be measured not by the ever-increasing participation of the laity in ecclesiastical “ministries” but rather by the growth and spiritual health of the Church as manifested in an increase both in numbers and in the intensity of laymen’s prayer, sacramental participation and apostolic fervor.
This, in turn, will lead inevitably to a gradual transformation of culture into one that reflects faithfully Christ’s teaching as mediated through the Church. As Pope Bl. John Paul II said in his address to the American Bishops in Los Angeles in 1987, "Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American culture. But how is American culture evolving today? Is the evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? Your music, your poetry and art, your drama, your painting and sculpture, the literature that you are producing – are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?" To be able to answer in the affirmative may take decades but the effort will start with our own personal conversion, which, if we are truly faithful, will inevitably lead to the conversion of others.
Bl. John Paul II said in his letter on missionary activity: "The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission. Christ, whose mission we continue, is the ‘witness’ par excellence and the model of all Christian witness. The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community.”
We may refer to this sharing of our faith as “evangelization,” “giving witness,” or a host of other names. I prefer the word used most often by the Conciliar fathers: “apostolate.” The Second Vatican Council tells us: "The individual apostolate, flowing generously from its source in a truly Christian life, is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even of the organized type; it admits of no substitutes (my emphasis). Regardless of status, all lay persons (including those who have no opportunity or possibility for collaboration in associations) are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it."
In a later encyclical on the laity by Blessed John Paul II, the point could not be made clearer: "The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization… In fact, the ‘good news’ is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit." In short, the buck stops with each one of us to evangelize those who surround us. No excuses: "Every disciple is personally called by name; no disciple can withhold making a response: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’” (I Cor. 9:16).