“Last Sunday our pastor said we need to evangelize more as Catholics. What does that mean — surely not going door-to-door?”
Most Catholics are generally frightened by the word “evangelization.” It conjures up images of street-corner preachers or clean-cut young men in black suits and ties ringing doorbells. It’s highly unlikely your pastor had that sort of thing in mind. As Catholics, we evangelize any time we share with another person the joy of being in relationship with Jesus and his bride, the Church.
But isn’t this awkward? Talking about religion is personal and intrusive, and people don’t want to hear it — right?
My experience actually tells me the opposite. Yes, we live at a time when 23 percent of the population declares itself unaffiliated with any religion and nearly 13 percent of all Americans describe themselves as “former Catholics.” Nonetheless, I find people generally open and interested in talking about matters of faith. Many are intrigued by “believers,” especially practicing Catholics, and they wonder what makes us tick. They also realize the question of whether or not there is a God, and whether He has a plan for their lives, is a much more important — and even fascinating — topic than the weather!
Yet even accepting all that, we may still feel uneasy. Maybe we don’t feel ready to share how much Jesus and His Church mean to us, because, in all honesty, we are not that passionate about our faith. We go to Mass on Sunday, we say grace before meals, but life is hectic and we don’t go much beyond the basics. We don’t want to “fake” a level of enthusiasm we don’t actually feel. If this description fits us, it’s a wake-up call to prayerfully deepen our own relationship with Jesus.
Or maybe we do feel a passionate connection with Jesus and the Church. We feel deeply grateful for God’s many blessings and the ways He has helped us in difficult times. But we think we lack the words and the expertise to share our experience of faith with others. What if they have questions we can’t answer? Both of these scenarios are very real, but they do not excuse us from attempting to spread the good news of Jesus Christ who suffered, died and rose again to bring us to eternal life in communion with His body, the Church. Jesus has told us clearly that we must be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-16), and that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19)
What matters in the end is that we ourselves invite Jesus Christ to be the center of our lives and that we pray for the Holy Spirit to abide in us as at Pentecost. Let’s take Jesus at His word: “If you … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Mt 7:11) Assisted by His abiding grace, we will grow in our ability to share, with contagious authenticity, what Jesus and his Church mean to us.
Evangelization may not be easy, but neither is it terribly complicated. Here is one initial tip: Listen — and then listen some more — to the person God has put in front of you, be it family member, friend or stranger. What is their personal story, what are the joys and sorrows they carry? Listen with the heart of a compassionate friend, without hurriedly jumping in with judgment or advice. When the moment is right, you can gently share bits of your own life and how it has been touched, healed and inspired by Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church. This is not everything, but it is a good start.
I conclude with the words of Jesus: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before others I will acknowledge before My heavenly Father.” (Mt 10:32)
By Chris Ruff
Director, Office of Ministries and Social Concerns
For evangelization methods and resources visit diolc.org/evangelizatio
Come to the Basic Evangelization Training April 28-29 in La Crosse, presented by St. Paul Evangelization Ministries. Their training has energized and equipped numerous dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S. and Canada.
For more information and to register, visit diolc.org/basic-evangelization, or contact the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns at [email protected] or call 608-791-0161.