Our role is always one of participation with the Spirit, who is the principle agent of evangelisation. The Holy Spirit impels and guides individuals to proclaim the Gospel, He opens the hearts of persons to receive the Word and He helps people to discern the signs of the times.
Just before Jesus’ ascension, in the Great Commission he commands the Apostles to, “Go… make disciples of all nations” and we, His Church, are commanded to do the same. While Christ has invited us to bring the Good News to the whole world, we cannot achieve anything if we are only working from our own strength. The divine mandate given to us is only possible because it is followed by the assurance, “behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In fact, when St Luke writes about this event, Jesus warns them not to go anywhere at all until the Holy Spirit descends:
"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1: 4 – 5, 8)
These instructions from Christ were for the benefit of the Church. We see the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise on Pentecost. When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, the Church was equipped with supernatural gifts of evangelisation and holiness that empowered them to take the Good News throughout the known world. It is only after they received the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that the disciples were ready to evangelise.
Engaging in evangelisation without the Holy Spirit is a powerless mission as the human heart cannot turn back to God on its own. It is only through the gentle action of the Holy Spirit that the human heart can see its own sinfulness and turn back to God in repentance. Pope Paul VI said that “Techniques of evangelisation are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect 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”.1
Therefore, when engaging in works of evangelisation, it is important to prepare prayerfully, to act only with love, to be open to being guided by the promptings of the Spirit, and then, once we’ve done all we can do, to rely on the Spirit of God to finish in a person any work of evangelisation that we have started.
Like He spoke to His apostles in the Great Commission, Jesus says the same thing to us, “Go tell them of my love. See, you can do it, not by your own strength, but because My Spirit will be with you and working through you when you do it, just as I will be with you until the end of time.”
1. Evangelii Nuntiandi n75