On Catholic Evangelization
Evangelization. The word alone can strike
fear in the heart of a Catholic. Images of young men in white
shirts or women with booklets in their hands coming to the door
quickly come to mind. "Have you been saved?", they
ask. The fact is, this is not evangelization This is proselytizing;
trying to convert someone to your beliefs. So what is evangelization?
"Evangelizing means bringing the Good
News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert
individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself."1
Well, that sure sounds easy enough. Yeah,
right. I think I'll pass.
The reality is, as Catholics we are all called
to evangelize. In the parish there are many ministries. There
is a Eucharistic ministry, a grief ministry, a religious education
ministry and many others. However, there is no evangelization
ministry. Why is this? Is it because no one cares to do it? No.
It is because every ministry, as well as every member of the
Church, is called to evangelize. How does a Catholic evangelize?
Through witness and sharing.
Witness in this sense is not the witness often
given at non-Catholic Christian altar calls where someone stands
before the assembly and gives witness to his belief in Jesus
Christ. Instead, witness is how you show others the Good News
by how you live your life. Let me give you an example.
I heard a young man talk about how he became
Catholic. He grew up in the Bible Belt in a Baptist family. When
he went to college he lived in a fraternity house. His roommate
happened to be Catholic. Now Saturday nights were social nights
at the house. Parties would last late into the night and alcohol
was available to all. He noticed that no matter how late his
roommate had stayed up, or how much he had drunk, his roommate
always got up on Sunday morning and went to Mass. He, however,
slept in. The year was almost over before he finally decided
to get up one Sunday and attend Mass with his roommate. This
experience eventually lead to his entry into the RCIA program
(Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and finally into the
The roommate in this example gave witness
to his Catholic faith by the example he showed to the man who
told the story. In his book Handbook of Christian Apologetics,
Peter Kreeft writes, "the world is won for Christ not by
arguments, but by sanctity: 'What you are speaks so loud, I can
hardly hear what you say.'"
The other way Catholics evangelize is by sharing.
Again, let me give you an example.
In my essays On Faith and On Prayer I made
reference to the Catholic belief in the Real Presence. If I were
speaking to a non-Catholic about my belief in the Real Presence
I could quote them scripture or the Catechism of the Catholic
Church. However, that might not be enough to help another
understand why I believe in the Real Presence. Rather than just
stating what I believe and what the Catholic Church teaches,
I could share why I believe in the Real Presence. So I will do
I am a cradle Catholic. I made my First Communion
during the days of the Latin Mass and the three hour fast before
communion. It was not unusual in those days for most people to
not receive communion. Even after the fast was reduced to one
hour, as it is currently, I still did not make it a regular practice
to receive communion every time I went to Mass. In fact, I, like
many others, would leave Mass after the priest had consumed the
host and drank the precious blood but before communion was distributed
to everyone else. This was a throwback to the earlier years when
the obligation for Mass attendance required you to be present
for the offertory, consecration and priest's communion.
One day, a priest who was new to my parish
addressed in his homily the habit of late arrivals and early
departures by many of the faithful. He talked about the Mass
being both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
That is, the obligation is to be present for the whole Mass,
not just the offertory, consecration and priest's communion.
He put it this way, "If you miss this (here he offered the
introductory blessing, the sign of the cross which begins every
Mass) you have missed the Mass." In other words, the whole
Mass is important.
Well, after that I found myself going to communion
regularly rather than leaving early. Over time I noticed a change
in my whole approach to Mass attendance. It no longer felt like
an obligation I had to perform. It became something I looked
forward to. Even when I would be on vacation with my wife and
daughters and could validly dispense with Mass on Sunday because
of the difficulty in attending Mass due to time and distance
from a church we would still make the effort to find a church
and attend Mass.
Now some might say this is not a proof of the Real Presence.
Well, I don't offer it as proof for them. But I will say this.
I was never really late for Mass. I always was present for the
Liturgy of the Word. Yet that was never enough to really create
an enthusiasm for the Mass. For that matter, I have attended
other liturgies where the Word of God was proclaimed but without
the Eucharist and, while I found it uplifting, I have never experienced
what I experience when I receive the Eucharist.
And it isn't a matter of the presence of others
who have given me this enthusiasm. That is, it's not the social
aspect of Mass that makes the difference. I've been to Mass in
a packed St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco with wonderful
music and great pageantry. I've been to Mass where it was just
me, the priest and one other person. I've been to Mass in homes,
in small chapels, outside on the mountainside at Lake Tahoe and
in an auditorium at Yosemite. I've experienced enthusiastic congregations
and lukewarm congregations; uplifting music, abysmal music and
no music; engaging homilies and deadly boring homilies; Mass
said in Spanish and Mass said in French, neither of which I am
fluent. In all of these experiences I have never walked out
of Mass without feeling better for having gone. And the one thing
that is the same, no matter what, is the Eucharist.
Now I could go into other experiences of the
Eucharist outside of Mass to further share why I believe in the
Real Presence, but that isn't the point of this essay.
So what is the point of this essay as well
as the other two essays? Simply this. As Catholics we have an
obligation to evangelize. We have an obligation to spread the
Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. We do this
primarily by witness and sharing. Remember Godspell?
|Day by Day
Day by Day
O dear Lord, three things I pray
To see Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly
Day by Day
To follow Christ is to live like Christ in
the world. Simply put, that is evangelization. Before we can
do that, however, we have to love Christ. We fall in love with
Christ after we come to know Him. We are able to know Christ
through the virtue of faith. Faith is the power to know God as
He has revealed Himself. Faith must be nurtured through education
in the faith and we must cooperate with the grace we have received.
Prayer helps us to cooperate with that grace. It assists us in
discerning the truth. In fact, it assists us in knowing Truth
"and the truth will make you free."
I welcome your comments. Click
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1 "Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States", by the United States Catholic Conference of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.