By Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR
The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
~Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, 18
Many of the particular categories of saints we have addressed in this work (Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, etc.) have both a literal meaning and a spiritual meaning. The Apostles, for example, are literally the Twelve chosen by Christ, but the term can figuratively designate any other person who carries out an “apostolate” for the salvation of souls. The same is true for this category of saints, the Evangelists. There are only four actual Evangelists, that is, the writers of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but there are many “evangelizers” in a spiritual sense. When we speak of Jesus Christ as the “Teacher of the Evangelists,” we are speaking directly of the One who inspired those four men to put His Gospel message down on paper for future generations, but we are also speaking of Him who is the Message itself which the Church preaches throughout the centuries.
When I think of some of the great “evangelizers” I have known over the years I cannot but help think that Jesus works as much today in His Church as He did at the time of Pentecost. A non-Catholic friend of mine happened to be visiting me one day as I was watching a program on EWTN featuring the great Catholic preacher, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. My friend who knew nothing of Bishop Sheen listened for a minute and then immediately exclaimed, “Wow, this man is quite charismatic. Be careful, he just might make me Catholic!” Apparently my years of working on the guy’s faith had less impact on him than one minute’s worth of Bishop Sheen’s preaching! But that really is the point about communicating faith, isn’t it? We need holy teachers in every age to strengthen and confirm our faith, to expand it and deepen it so that we ourselves may become holy. None are so impoverished as those who have no one to guide them.
And speaking of EWTN, I don’t think there is a greater “evangelist” in the modern age than Mother Angelica. I distinctly remember the day she called me on the phone to ask me to do a show on her network. Well actually, Mother didn’t really ask me to do it, she told me I was going to do it, and that “invitation” to teach the faith to millions has lasted for over twenty years now, and no one has benefitted more from it than I. Over the years Mother has recruited literally hundreds of the Church’s best teachers to broadcast the living Catholic Faith into over 150 million homes worldwide. What an astounding feat. Oh, and by the way, she founded EWTN for the salvation of souls the same year that the utterly iniquitous MTV was founded for the destruction of souls. God has good timing in raising up saints, doesn’t He?
In a television age we can easily forget the primary lesson of the four Evangelists: namely, that while preaching is a necessary means of bringing people to salvation, the faith communicated in written form has a lasting impact on the world because it lasts for many generations. The four Gospels and the books of the New Testament are certainly the most splendid example of that truth, but following them, the Church has amassed for our spiritual benefit a treasury of writings that is nothing less than impressive: the letters of great saints like Ignatius of Antioch, accounts of martyrdom and holiness, the sermons and reflections of the Fathers of the Church, great spiritual classics like the Imitation of Christ, as well as all the voluminous writings of the great Doctors (i.e., principle teachers) of the Church. Even the erudite and if you ask me, rather boring, encyclicals and writings of popes are part of that effort to leave a written record of truth for posterity. Christ is the “Teacher of the Evangelists” in every age. He is the source of their wisdom, zeal, and creativity in leading souls to heaven.
Perhaps this would be a good time to ask ourselves what our own contribution has been to the effort of saving souls. Have we ever given a pamphlet to another person to help them come to faith or to the Church? Have we actually sat down and taught the Catholic Faith to our children or grandchildren or given them resources to strengthen them in their personal journey to God? I can tell you that, while you may not see the fruit of your labors in this life, God does indeed bless every effort we make to evangelize and bring others home to Him.
Blessed Lord and “Teacher of the Evangelists,” pour forth the abundance of Your truth upon our souls and upon all who seek eternal salvation. Fill us with the wisdom of the evangelists and teachers around us so that we can pass through this vale of tears and reach the life of heaven. We ask this in Your most holy Name. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]