Friday, November 8, 2013


When we talk about the New Evangelization one problem we have is confusion about what the word evangelism means. We have an idea that comes from interacting with protestants. That is the notion that evangelism means pushing people to accept you faith. Many protestants think of it as getting people saved. They believe that Christianity revolves around a single moment of conversion when you saw the light and accepted Jesus into your heart and were saved. So evangelism to them is the act of getting people to that moment. Use whatever tricks you can to make them walk the aisle and say the prayer.

Catholicism has a very different idea of salvation. People can be moved closer to God no matter where they are. You never really know where people are. You can evangelize a priest by telling him a story of God's grace in your life. You might have just prevented that priest from falling into mortal sin. You don't know. That is why the parable of the sower in Mat 13 is so good. Just sow seed. Drop little bundles of grace on anyone and everyone you meet. You need to become unafraid of connecting things with your faith. Find a way of giving God credit for the good things you do. Find a language that works. It has to fit who you are and it has to fit what we believe as Catholics as well.

Spreading seed is one model for evangelism. Another model for evangelism is in the story of Zacchaeus in this weeks gospel from Luke 19. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and invites Himself to his house. That is quite a bold move to make with a total stranger. Can we get that bold? We should not do that with everyone. That would be strange. Yet are we open to God calling us to make a bold evangelical move? Catholic spirituality does not all revolve around one moment of conversion but conversions still matter. We can actually have many in our journey with God. Often God uses someone to make it happen just like Jesus made Zacchaeus' conversion happen. Can He use us? Is there any situation where you would actually challenge someone to make a life changing decision for Christ?

The big thing is honesty. Sharing faith is just part of love. Love involves revealing yourself. Your faith is part of yourself. Faith should be totally integrated  into all areas of your life. If faith is just one thing I do unrelated to the rest of my life then the occasion of faith sharing is never going to come up naturally. If everything I do is informed by faith then sharing that is just giving God credit where he deserves it. It is not injecting religion artificially into something because I have a duty to evangelize.

Really honesty is the key. We tend to want to fix our faith life before we share it. Don't do that. Life is messy. Share all the doubts, all the confusion, all the pain, etc. Don't make it seem like happy, happy, joy, joy. It is OK to struggle and it is OK to talk about your struggles.

Often you end up sharing some of the most embarrassing incidents in your life. Those tend to be the times when you experience God's presence most clearly. Learning to tell those stories can be quite powerful. It does not have to be something to rival St Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It just has to be something that built your faith. People who care about you will care about your story if you tell it honestly.

The other thing that helps is learning to answer some very basic questions.  You don't need to be an expert in theology but you do need to not get completely flustered when common questions are asked. Learn a little and it seem to many like you know a lot. Unfortunately there is a lot of truth to the Catholic stereotype that when you bring up religion they panic and change the subject. If you just stop doing that it will be a big step forward.

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