Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist. We join in prayer in a special way with all of the parishioners of St. Mark Church in Hyattsville on their patronal feast day, but it is really a feast for all of us who are followers of Jesus. Just as Mark recounts the stories of how Jesus called people to follow him, Jesus also beckons us. We are not only disciples, we are evangelists.
In the Gospel of Mark, in quite vivid images and stories, we read about how Jesus himself establishes evangelization as the very nature and essence of the Church. Jesus gives his disciples the commission to evangelize, that is, to announce the good news “to all the nations,” and to spread the Gospel by going forth “into the world” and to proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 13:10, Mark 16:15). This commission is shared by all those who are baptized, by me, by our priests and by our laity. The laity has a particular responsibility to share in the work of proclamation. At the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers wrote, “The laity go forth as powerful proclaimers…announcing Christ by a living testimony, as well as by the spoken word.” (Lumen Gentium, 35).
Today, the Gospel of Mark invites us to ask ourselves, how do we bring others to the Risen Lord? We ask ourselves this question, not in a rhetorical way but with a sense of urgency. Urgency is the word that Pope Benedict XVI used when he visited our archdiocese in April of 2008. He preached, “While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior…only when their faith permeates every aspect of their life do Christians become truly open to the power of the Gospel.” (Homily at Vespers, Basilica of the National Shrine).
The sense of urgency comes not just from our care and concern for people we know whose lives could be changed for the better if they had a relationship with Our Lord or returned to active participation in the church, but also because we live in a culture that is threatening to limit the public expression of faith in our country. Scripture scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was written to bolster the courage of Jesus’ followers to remain faithful witnesses in the face of persecution, and this message is timely once more. Actions as small as saying grace when out to dinner in a restaurant, or wearing a religious symbol around our neck or on a lapel are statements of a faith that permeates our daily life. Engaging in conversation with others about why our faith is so important to us ought to be something we practice so that it becomes a natural part of our conversations.
So many of the people in Mark’s Gospel who were touched by Jesus attracted others to him because people noticed how they were changed by the encounter with him. A life marked by faith expressed in words or in actions has a way of attracting other people to Jesus. That is the work of the New Evangelization that today’s disciples are called to do, following in the path of St. Mark and the other early disciples who became evangelists by leading others to Christ.