Monday, August 31, 2009
The second reason is that telling your story is neither threatening nor demanding in the eyes of the listener. Many people are loath to have a discussion about doctrine regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings in many areas. But when you are merely telling another person about why you are at peace or why you have found forgiveness through God’s grace, this is something the other person is less likely to be defensive or threatened by. This lack of a threat then opens the door for further discussion and questions about their lives as well.
The third reason we tell our stories is because it is an easy way to show the power of the gospel message in a concrete way. While your brother may disagree with the Church’s teaching on contraception, he can’t say your experience of Christ is a counterfeit one. When we can show Christ’s power and love working in our lives and changing us it can be an effective tool in leading another person to the Lord. They will want what you have if you present it in a manner that is attractive to them.
-Working on your story
There are many different ways of telling another person about your life and experience with God. I will propose a basic outline used by many different evangelical and Catholic groups who train Christians in sharing their faith. When working through this technique of witnessing keep in mind we are all unique and beautiful in the eyes of God. The story needs to end on a high note even if it gets sad in parts. The point of witnessing is to let someone have a concrete example of grace changing you. You may think you don’t have anything to say, but if you work through these steps you will find there is an immense amount of good news in your life.
Step #1 – Explain the past
Start by telling what your life was like before you came to faith in Jesus Christ. For some this may mean you were a good kid in a good family who went to a good college and did good things. My wife has a story similar to this and it doesn’t have any real negatives. The point isn’t to make our lives seem like living hell before Jesus, but we are trying to get across this fact – my life was incomplete without God as the center of it.
You may not have one moment of time where you feel God was not in your life. If this is the case, then tell how your relationship with God has grown over time and what it was like before the deeper times with God. You don’t want to exaggerate your story. There may not be anything climatic or crazy to tell and that is fine. Be as honest as possible as well as brief. It need not be a lie or a snoozer.
Many people in the church today have either stopped practicing the faith they were raised in or they come from another faith tradition. If this is the case you want to be careful to not be disrespectful of the Catholic Church of any non-catholic faiths either. For example, if you were raised a Catholic and held a pro-abortion view you don’t want to talk negatively about others who may hold that view presently, because it takes away from the point of the witness if you do.
Also, be careful not to come across as preaching at another person or too high and mighty. You can quickly turn another person off of Jesus if they believe you think yourself too good for them. We don’t want to use negative language when speaking of people in our life either, even if they were a negative influence on us. There is no reason we need to put another person down in order for our testimony to be effective.
Another point to remember is to define your terms. In other words you must be careful with the language you use when giving your testimony to another person. When you say grace, what do you mean? Another Christian might even define it differently and you both need to be on the same page. If at all possible avoid theological language and speak to the person on a more personal level.
Once you start to explain the past be sure you are tell what the center of your life was. It could be another person, money, work, school, sex, alcohol, or just ‘getting by.’ Life sometimes has no purpose for many people. Share this feeling if it relates to your life. If you find it helpful you might even write down your testimony in order to get your thoughts straight.
Step #2 - Conversion
Now you need to talk about how your life changed. This may be a singular moment in time, such as Paul on the way to Damascus or it could be a long story over many months or years. Conversion to Christ comes in many different forms, so take your time when thinking and praying about this part of your story.
You need to talk about your experiences with Christ as a child and how you first heard the good news. What happened when you heard the saving message of Christ? Where did this happen? Why did the conversion take place at this moment and not another? Was it at a moment in your life when you were facing challenges? If so, how did Christ help you with those challenges?
What were you thinking and feeling when you realized your life had changed? What motivated you to make the decision to accept God into your life? Once these questions are answered you will have a guide to help you better prepare your story. There is one more step left in the process.
Step #3 – Life with Christ
This is the most important part of your story. You need to be able to speak to the person’s heart as well as their mind in a compelling way. Tell them how your life is different and why it has changed. Speak from the heart and let them see your vulnerability and how Christ has acted upon your entire life. Let them know there are challenges, but also let them know how life is better. Tell them how your life is different now that grace is actively guiding you.
This last step should be accompanied by a statement or question to stir up the desire for Christ in the listener. This statement should be simple and straightforward, such as – I hope this story of my own experience of how Jesus changed my life was understandable. If I could answer any questions you may have about Christ or about the Catholic Church I would love to discuss them with you or discuss how to learn more about Christ and the Church.
This is a way to directly proclaim Christ to any person or group. You can write out your testimony if you feel you need to, but be careful to not present your story in a “canned” manner, it must be natural. The point isn’t to “close the deal” or to “sell” Jesus, but rather to allow the words of truth soak in and the power of the gospel message to work on a person.
You should be able to give a 1-2 minute presentation of your story as well as a fifteen minute presentation. This way you can tailor your story to different audiences. If you are asked to give your testimony before a small group and you have time you should give the longer version. But, if you are in a line to buy tickets to a concert you may not have as much time.
Be mindful of who you are talking to as well. You may need to emphasize different parts of your story for different people. For college students I emphasize how I was a college student struggling with sins many college student struggle with, so they can identify with me. If it is a mixed group of adults, both young and old, I talk more about how confession and grace played a part.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi
Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio
Pope John Paul II, Euntes In Mundum
Go and Make Disciples: A Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the
DeSiano, C.S.P., Frank P., and Kenneth Boyack, C.S.P. - Creating the Evangelizing Parish
DeSiano, C.S.P., Frank P. - The Evangelizing Catholic: A Practical Handbook for Reaching Out
Hater, Robert - Catholic Evangelization: The Heart of Ministry.
Madrid, Patrick - Search and Rescue: How to Bring Your Family and Friends Into – or Back Into – The Catholic Church.
Martin, Ralph and Peter Williamson - Pope John Paul II and The New Evangelization: How You Can Bring the Good News to Others.
O’Brien, John A. - Winning Converts: A Symposium on Methods of Convert Making for Priests and Lay People.
Pable, Martin W. - Reclaim the Fire: A Parish Guide to Evangelization.
Plus, S.J., Raoul - Winning Souls for Christ: How You Can Become an Effective Apostle.
Sullivan, Joseph T. - How to Share Your Faith With Others: A Good News Guidebook.
Aggie Catholics Blog (AKA - Mary's Aggies)
The Catholic Evangelist (Marcel’s website)
Catherine of Siena Institute
Archdiocese of Chicago
Legion of Mary
Paulists National Catholic Evangelization Association
St. Paul's Outreach
USCCB Secretariat for EvangelizationThe Evangelical Catholic
Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)
National Evangelization Teams (NET Ministries)
Christ Life (Baltimore)
The Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization (U.K.)
Institute for World Evangelization
Center for Eucharistic Evangelizing
Evangelization 2000Renewal Ministries
Friday, July 10, 2009
Maybe you have some fears or past failures that have kept you from trying to be a better evangelist. If so, know that you are not alone.. Many of the saints resisted the call to evangelize before they answered the call to evangelize. This isn’t a modern phenomenon either. Jonah didn’t want to go to
The calling of Moses is another story of inadequacies, fears and a desire to stay out of trouble. We all remember the story, but it is a good jumpstart for us all before entering the mission fields. We start in Chapter 3 of Exodus.
Yahweh appears to Moses in the form of a bush on fire, though it was not being consumed (3:2). Moses is very interested in this occurrence and seeks to find out more so he walks toward the bush. God then speaks to him and says, “Moses! Moses!” and Moses answers, “here I am (3:4).” We can already see that God can use extraordinary means to call into his service – as well as the ordinary. We must listen constantly for the voice of God in our lives. We cannot be deaf to the voice of God, no matter the circumstances.
God then tells Moses who he is (Yahweh) and that he has heard the cry of the people and will help them (3: 6-9). At this point Moses is thinks to himself, “Great, at least the Lord will do something about the horrible afflictions my people have been going through,” not knowing he would be the instrument of the Israelites’ salvation. Then God drops the bomb on Moses “Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of
Excuse #1 – I am not worthy
“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of
Excuse #2 – I don’t know enough
“But…when I go to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (3: 13). We dwell on what we don’t know more than what we do know as a way to get out of evangelizing and doing the work of Jesus often. We believe we can’t answer a question or know what to say and therefore we remain silent. These are poor excuses. We know the creed we say weekly in Mass and that summation of our faith is enough to get us started. We know we believe in Christ and his merciful love. This is enough to share with anyone. “I am who am….This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (3: 14).
Excuse #3 – They won’t listen to me
“Suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea? For they may say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (4:1) This is the excuse commonly used by those who want to evangelize but are scared of others. We think - it won’t do any good, they don’t want to hear what I have to say. But, this fear (we are wasting our time) is a cover for the fear of rejection. We want to be accepted and to have a person or group reject us hurts. We forget acceptance isn’t always part of the plan. We are to speak the truth whether convenient or not, in all places and times and not fear the repercussions. God then gives Moses the power of three different signs to prove the Lord appeared to him (4: 2-9).
Excuse #4 – I am not talented enough
“If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” (4: 10) We all know there are others with more talent than ourselves. This does not mean we cannot do wonderful and powerful works for our Lord. He has equipped us through the grace of the Sacraments to have all the power we need to do his work of evangelization. “Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (4:12). The only things God has to work through with any of us is insufficiency.
Excuse #5 – I don’t want to do it
“If you please, Lord, send someone else!” This is a cry of desperation trying to resist the call of the Lord. Sometimes we ignore it and sometimes we fail to act upon it. We become lazy, apathetic or scared to do it. But, these are excuses that must not keep us from the work of God. God will always provide, even if he must do so in unexpected ways. “Have you not your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker.” (4: 14)
This episode of Moses’ conversation with the Lord is very indicative of how many humans react to the calling we receive, by God, to a difficult task. The question now becomes, will we fail to act on this calling because of one excuse or another, or we will be able to answer “yes” to our God?
by Douglas Jeffers
It will be most helpful to organize this section by the kind of person asking us questions. Bear in mind that these are frequently asked questions on the campus of Texas A&M - a fairly conservative university, other places would no doubt be very different.
Evangelical Protestants are by far our most common questioners. A few of them are a somewhat hostile or on edge. Most are genuinely curious. They usually ask questions about things that distinguish Protestantism from Catholicism – e.g., Mary and the Saints, the Papacy, Purgatory, the Sacraments, the priesthood, Sacred Tradition, etc.
We also frequently are asked questions about Catholic moral theology, most especially about sexual morality, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, etc…
We occasionally talk to people of non-Christian religions, frequently (but not always) they are foreign students. They are usually just curious about what we believe.
We also talk to atheists from time to time. They usually want to talk about whether there is a God, but occasionally about various other points touching on philosophy and science, e.g., evolution, ethics, whether religion is anti-intellectual, etc…
We frequently encounter Catholics, some of whom express an interest in our campus ministry (we invite them to do more than go to Mass), and also often we meet Catholics (particularly freshmen) who have not been to Mass in awhile, and we have the chance to let them know where our church is, and to invite them to get involved there. This is an important part of our evangelization.
Finally, we meet a fair number of people who ask what we are doing. They don’t have any particular question, but are impressed that we care enough to do what we do. This essentially presents a blank slate, and an opportunity to share the Gospel in its simplicity.
For specifics on answering questions, there are many valuable resources we will soon list in the sidebar
by Douglas Jeffers
Regarding formal organization, we have two coordinators for AACAQ that process our various logistical tasks. These coordinators work with the Assistant Director, Marcel to train and form the group. This includes planning the meetings, and reminding everyone about them by e-mail, as well as preparing the talks. At the beginning of the semester they must divide the members into groups of three, and compile a master list of which groups meet where and when. In general we have found it easiest to put people in groups, and let each group work out its weekly time, rather than trying to have the coordinators take in everyone’s schedule and plan the groups on the basis of that. Invariably there are one or two groups that simply cannot find a time in common, and then small changes to the group assignments have to be made. The coordinators also head up some efforts at recruiting at the beginning of the semester. We have consistently found there are people who express an interest in joining while a semester is in progress, and the coordinators try to fit them into an existing group or else form a new one (taking care to add someone to the new group that has some experience).
Though the norm is to have every group go out for one hour, there are some people who choose to take more than one group, and there are some groups that stay out for more than one hour (especially if they are engaged in a good conversation and to not have to hurry off to somewhere else).
Each three-person group has a designated leader, which coordinates the schedules and finds a time everyone can meet. For a brief period of time we tried to keep records of type and number of questions asked, and at what places and times. The data was not incredibly useful, so we abandoned the project. While this project was on-going, we had two additional officers in charge of the data collection and tabulation.
by Douglas Jeffers
When we began AACAQ on the Texas A&M campus, we took out a table in the most heavily-travelled part of campus, and had students there in shifts for an afternoon. Because getting a table on campus had to be arranged with the university we were only able to do this once or twice a semester, and it was fairly ineffective. After that we hit on our current method of wearing T-shirts and standing on campus in groups of three, which not only bypasses the A&M regulations on tables, but also allows us more flexibility in several ways. First, we get a much better presence on campus because we are not confined to a particular time or place. Every group of three has an hour each week where they stand on campus, this allows us to expose ourselves to a far larger number of people, and it also gives us some permanence. It is not uncommon to hear from people that we talk to that they have seen us out there for the past couple of weeks, and have been trying to think of a question to ask us (or else to work up the courage to ask). Second, we gain the advantage of being able to work in small groups, it can be intimidating to approach a whole table full of strangers and ask them a question. Three is a much more manageable group, and it also gives us the option of having one or two group members carry on the conversation, while the others stand at a little distance, saying hello to people that walk by, in case anyone else should like to come up and ask a question. Though most of our work has been done standing on campus during the day, we have had some luck standing outside dining halls during meal times, and are considering other possibilities (e.g., standing outside the stadium on game day). In general one wants to select a location that will have a high volume of traffic, and also where people are likely to have time to stop and talk.
We also devote effort to the education and training of our members. Of course the primary means of deepening our knowledge of the faith will always be prayer and study, but there are a few things that we try to do as a group. In the first place we put all of our new members through a one-time orientation, which lasts 1 1/2 hrs. The purpose is not so much to train, as to impart an understanding of and love for the Church’s great mission to preach the Gospel to all nations. We also try to convey a sense of the evangelistic technique that we employ, namely giving a gentle witness to the Gospel, and sharing our faith with anyone interested enough to enquire.
In addition to the orientation we have general meetings once a month, during the fall and spring semesters. We do not do this more frequently because the main work of going on campus for an hour each week already takes up a considerable amount of time. At these meetings we generally have a talk on some topic that we are likely to receive questions about. Of course apologetics are only one part of evangelization, but the kind of ministry we are engaged in, where we do not personally know the people that we talk to, and where we are set up in a very public forum, while by no means excluding a more personal sharing of faith, tends to elicit questions of an apologetic nature, “Why does the Church believe…”; “Where in the Bible does it say…”; etc. Accordingly our general meetings tend to focus on imparting to everyone a clear understanding of the teaching of the Church on whatever question we are considering, and on giving a summary of the reasons that support the Church’s teaching. The talk also focuses on terminology and understanding the various kinds of people we talk to. It is important to know, for example, what words like “saved” and “grace” mean to the average evangelical Protestant, if we are going to clearly communicate our message about these subjects. After the talk we usually move into an open forum (and sometimes we devote a whole meeting to this, and dispense with the talk). This gives everyone a chance to share experiences and unite the group, and it also gives people the opportunity to raise questions, discuss questions they don’t have answers to, and pull on the group’s collective knowledge of Church teaching and how to effectively communicate it to various types of audiences. In general everyone finds this portion of the meeting to be the most helpful.
Our other method of educating our members is to send them on campus to share their faith with on-the-job training. In the end, this becomes the best way to learn how to evangelize. We try to arrange all the teams so that they have at least one experienced member, which allows new members to spend some time watching and listening, and then contributing where they feel comfortable. In general, this helps people who are nervous or shy about sharing their faith, and lets them wade into it. In all of this we stress the more one has studied and meditated on the faith, the better one’s witness will be, but that no matter how little we think we know, our witness will be worth something, and at the very least we can always tell our story, which is often the most effective tool of the evangelist. If we waited until we “knew enough” to go out and preach the Gospel it would never be preached, and we should not be afraid to put ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, for He uses very imperfect instruments.
- Greet those passing by.
- Introduce yourself and avoid immediately answering the question until you have a name and at least some other information about the person you are dialoguing with.
- Be careful in the words you choose.
- Tell use your personal testimony. It is a powerful tool.
- Be as charitable as possible.
- Use active listening techniques
-Make eye contact.
-Don’t worry about the answer you will give – but truly listen.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Invite to parish activities or into meeting to continue the discussion / friendship.
- Try to find common ground.
- Know your limitations.
-The best answer you can give is “I don’t know”, when you don’t know
1 – It is an act of humility, which we all need to practice.
2 – It is an opportunity to follow up with the other person, thus forming
a stronger relationship and another opportunity to evangelize.
- Argue or try to win.
- Feel as if you must continue the discussion if someone loses their cool or if it becomes fruitless.
- Allow emotions to get the best of you.
- Use sarcasm.
- Make fun of another person’s beliefs.
- Cut others off to make your point.
- Be afraid to speak the truth – but do so in kindness and with the right intentions.
************Evangelization is More Than**************** ***********Witness and Proclamation Alone***********
“By living with the mind of Christ, Christians hasten the coming of the Reign of God, ‘a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ They do not, for all that, abandon their earthly tasks; faithful to their master, they fulfill them with uprightness, patience and love.” (CCC, 2046)
The Church’s view of evangelization is not so narrow to merely include witness and proclamation, even though evangelization is incomplete without them and they are the most important parts of it. Rather, the Church’s view of evangelization reaches out and touches every aspect of our lives as individuals as well as the life of the Church. As we have already stated the church “exists in order to evangelize,” this means that every activity that the Church participates in should be evangelistic either explicitly or implicitly. Vatican II states, “The Church, in the very fulfillment of her own function, stimulates and advances human and civic culture.” (GS, 58)
How is it that the Church can fulfill this mission to be evangelistic in every activity? It does so in the daily activity of the Church, and as her members, we can effectively change the world around us by forwarding the Church’s mission. Therefore, making disciples would involve working for those who cannot speak for themselves. When we attend a pro-life rally and forward the Gospel of Life, we evangelize. When we help feed the poor or fight injustice in order to forward the Gospel of the Dignity of the Human Person, we evangelize. Whenever we answer the call of Jesus to love the “least ones,” we evangelize. How? Because as Pope John Paul II says, “The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.” (EV, 2)
The good news that Christ preached to the poor, the sick, and the lonely was that there was a greater good which will overcome the evil they may be experiencing. This good news is the gospel. As Paul VI points out:
“We ourself have taken care to point this out, by recalling that it is impossible to accept "that in evangelization one could or should ignore the importance of the problems so much discussed today, concerning justice, liberation, development and peace in the world. This would be to forget the lesson which comes to us from the Gospel concerning love of our neighbor who is suffering and in need.” (EN, 31)
To witness to and proclaim the gospel is not the whole of evangelization, but the heart of it. Evangelization can only be exhausted by the entire work of the Church’s life. Her entire mission then could be seen, in some way, as being synonymous with evangelization. This is why when one person evangelizes, the entire Church is evangelizing with them. “Evangelization is for no one an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial.” (EN, 60)
This is not to say that we are doing enough in our parishes and other groups in evangelization. It is our human nature to become comfortable where we presently are and maintaining the status quo seems to become our mission. Youth ministry, marriages, funerals, Sunday Mass, and other ordinary parts of church life are all part of an evangelistic parish. But, without an evangelical dimension (the intent to call others to a life closer to Christ) the parish can be a place of static indifference to the gospel. Praying as a family, overseeing a child’s faith formation, and being a good steward and other aspects of family life should also be evangelistic in nature. Evangelization should touch every part of our lives as individuals, families, parishes and a church.
Do our parishes truly reach out to the family that is mourning a loved one in order to help them understand the love that God has for them? Are homilies preached with passion in order to touch the heart? Are our children seeing our faith lives lived out? Do we fulfill the ordinary with extraordinary love and zeal or do we seek to just get them over with as is so often the case? How are we evangelizing others?
It is easy to rest comfortably when we learn that the daily and ordinary are considered a necessary and important part of evangelization, but it can also be a time of reflection for us to see if these activities are truly seeking the lost, transforming culture, leading others closer to Jesus, and trying to help those that are in need. Let us not rest until all are saved, which will not happen until the end of days.
“Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt 4:17)
If you were to ask for a definition of evangelization, most Catholics would respond almost certainly with the image of explicitly proclaiming or preaching. Being the most visible part of evangelization it is no wonder that it is commonly mistaken for the entirety of evangelization. This image of an evangelist is most commonly associated with the door-to-door missionary, the street corner preacher, or those who go to foreign countries in order to spread the Gospel in far-off mission lands. While this is certainly a part of proclaiming the good news, it does not make up the whole of it and these are more extraordinary forms of evangelization and not the norm. Ask A Catholic A Question is one of these extraordinary forms of evangelization. But, we must remember that it is not the only way we should evangelize. Our task does not end once we get home from evangelizing in the streets, it only begins.
This Kerygma, or preached Gospel, is a necessary and key part of evangelization. In fact, evangelization is incomplete until the declaration of the saving message that Jesus commands us to proclaim to others is pronounced. This is of course the part of evangelization that is most intimidating to the majority of people whose hair stands on end when “evangelization” is mentioned.
A quick side note on this aspect of evangelization: as already stated, apologetics is a defense of the faith and showing that the faith is reasonable. This study of the faith can lead some to make many mistakes when sharing the faith. We should not try to win an argument rather than souls. We need to watch out for arrogance, affirmation, thinking that an apologetic argument is God’s infallible word, and when we are wrong we need to admit it.
Another common mistake, especially with new or young apologists, is using apologetics as an offensive weapon in order to beat others into submission. This is the antithesis of true evangelization. Archbishop Fulton Sheen evangelized according to the fitting motto, “win the argument, lose a soul.” If we aim to win, we are not sharing our faith out of love, but pride - and pride is the original sin. Pride keeps us from loving anyone else but ourselves as we should. Pride keeps us from humbly accepting God’s grace. Sinful pride opposes humility and as we have said, humility is necessary for all Christian in order to grow in holiness. Pride is therefore the antithesis of evangelization.
Here at St. Mary’s
Let it suffice for the present to say that there is no technique that is foolproof or perfect for everyone. Any technique or program for preaching the Gospel is merely a tool. No tool is right for every situation or person. We must constantly keep in mind that evangelization is a work of love, which rises above any particular technique. When Jesus sent his followers out to preach, he had them watch his example and learn from him. Even more importantly he taught them to love. While we do want to make sure that apologetics is given proper recognition, let us not make the mistake of believing apologetics fulfills all of our evangelistic work for us.
“For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” (2 Cor 4:5) When we do preach Christ to others we must once again take on the humble attitude of a servant wanting to please his master. Here Paul is telling the Corinthians that the purpose of his preaching isn’t to steady his own reputation or to make others think more highly of him, but rather to preach Christ. He says again:
“When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. God I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2: 1-5)
Paul’s humility is evident whenever he talks of the Gospel. It is not of himself, but of Christ alone. He wants no credit, no glory. Paul humbly seeks only to point out Christ and what he accomplished on the Cross, not what Paul accomplishes by being a good steward of the gifts he has been given to preach. The Catechism echoes this sentiment:
“No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ.” (CCC, 875)
“Here, there are two elements at work: witness, which is the simple living of the faith; and sharing, which is spreading the Good News of Jesus in an explicit way.” (GMD, 36)
“Laymen cooperate in the Church's work of evangelization; as witnesses and at the same time as living instruments, they share in her saving mission.”(AG, 41) We are each called to participate in the call of Christ to evangelize. This call is not an option for any Christian. If we are truly to be effective evangelists we need to start living our lives more perfectly every day. Simply put and yet much harder to do - the call to evangelize cannot be separated from the universal call to holiness. As Pope Paul VI wrote, “our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life… Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile.”(EN, 76)
The call to holiness came from Christ and was given to the apostles who have passed down that call to us today. Jesus tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) Because Jesus is God and by his nature we know that God is truth, Jesus cannot tell a lie. So, when he commands us to be “perfect,” he really means this is what we are called to do. Perfection is nothing less than living our lives free of sin, full of virtue and acting out of love for our savior and our neighbor. This is a goal that is attainable by all of us. If not we make a liar out of Christ.
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)
“God did not call us to impurity but to holiness” (1 Thes 4:7)
“He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim 1:9)
“Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I am holy.’” (2 Peter 1: 14-16)
Throughout the history of the Church, the saints have repeated the call to holiness. In the documents of Vatican II the Church once again issued the clarion call – we are to be holy. In Lumen Gentium, the Sacred Constitution on the Church, we see the call to holiness once again come front and center. Vatican II sent out the call to holiness once again – “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” (LG, 40)
Our late holy father, Pope John Paul II has repeatedly reaffirmed our need for holiness as well. This universal call to holiness must be answered in each of us if we are to be effective evangelists who glorify God by our witness. This silent example of Christ is the first way that we spread the good news. Paul VI writes, “such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.” (EN, 21)
Holiness is not achievable by our own merits or hard work, but only by cooperating with the grace that God provides to us through the sacramental life. Therefore, holiness is not so much what we are doing, but what God does through us. As in all things in the spiritual life, we must start with the proper recognition of God and ourselves. When we are able to properly examine the relationship of God to man, we see that we must become more and more humble. Humility is the basis of all the other virtues, because without humility we will not be able to recognize that it is all because of God’s power, salvation and grace that we do anything of eternal value. If we are not humble, we cannot be holy.
To truly be an effective witness for Christ we must do as Christ taught us. How did he witness to his contemporaries? He healed, he preached, and he resisted the cultural pressures. But, this isn’t the heart of his witness. What he did for us all is this; God became man at the Incarnation, the definitive moment of history. He then died for our sins and rose from the dead. He now sits at his Father’s right hand and pleads for us with the wounds marking his body for eternity. He witnessed to the world what it means to be a lover of others.
Christ loves sacrificially and calls us to do the same. To witness to our family, our friends, our classmates and co-workers, as well as the world, we must be willing to die to our own will. Even though most of us in our society today are not called to a bloody martyrdom, we are still all called to die to our selfish and sinful desires. If we are truly to follow Christ’s examples, then we must live a life of sacrifice.
There are many false ideas of “true love.” Some believe love and sex are synonymous. Others believe that falling “in love” is what love is and it depends on our emotional state at the time. This isn’t true love. True love is choosing what is best for another, regardless of how much it costs us. Jesus loved us to the point of suffering torture, humiliation, scourging, mocking, betrayal, and a horrible death on a cross. This is the kind of love we are called to and nothing less. This is the love a follower of Jesus must aspire to. Yet, this kind of love is anathema to modern man and takes a concerted effort to teach true love on the evangelist’s part.
We can practice this kind of love every day. To try and be the instrument of God without sacrificial love is impossible. We have to look to the master of witnessing and model ourselves after his love. Anything less would be a waste of our time and effort.
Witness of life, which is the initial act of evangelization, is indispensable to the Catholic evangelist. As Pope Paul VI says, “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.” (EN, 21) The witness of the Christian is done by conforming our human will to the divine will of Jesus. In living out our faith daily, we point to the one that gives us the strength, joy, and love that draws people to seek what it is that makes the Christian “tick.” This cannot be done without growth in holiness, prayer, conversion and continually seeking grace in the sacraments. We will look closer at prayer, conversion and the tie to witness soon.
In its simplest form evangelization is sharing your faith with another person either explicitly in speech or implicitly in how we live out our faith. Another simple definition of evangelization comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says evangelization is, “The proclamation of Christ and his Gospel by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command.” (CCC, 905). While simple to understand at face-value, once we begin to unpack the definition we will find that there is more to it than what appears on the surface.
However, before we get into the different aspects of evangelization it is important to remember that in many ways we can make evangelization too complex. With this complexity comes inaction all too often. Jesus kept it very simple. He called his followers to heed his words and to follow his example. This example included evangelizing others and calling them to radical conversion which leads to following Jesus by word and deed.
This formula of evangelistic discipleship and helping others do the same is evangelization in its simplest form – WITNESS + PROCLAMATION = EVANGELIZATION. Yet, the Church’s understanding of evangelization also maintains a complex dimension. If we are to fully grasp these complexities and implement them, we must be firmly grounded in the simplicity of the Gospel first and foremost.
Many years ago I had an exchange with a very well-educated Reformed Protestant. We had a long history of exchanging apologetic arguments back-and-forth without either of us giving much, if any, ground. During one of our discussions he asked me how I understood the Gospel and he challenged me to tell him what it was. After a deep breath and a shrug of my shoulders, I started to impart to him a theological treatise that would bore St. Thomas Aquinas. After I was done with my presentation of pride and wind I waited for his gratitude to come spilling out in order to stroke my ego one more time. That isn’t quite what happened.
He asked why I thought the gospel was so complex. He then asked how I would be able to proclaim the good news to “all the nations” with such a long-winded and confusing presentation on the need for Jesus, which all of us have. He also questioned how I would be able to bring a simple uneducated person who may live a very modest life to faith in Jesus if it took several college degrees to understand what I was saying.
At the time, his challenge didn’t do much to change my mind, because I was too proud to see God working through my “adversary.” Over time, though, I was found that he was correct to challenge me. I was presenting the need for Jesus in a much too complex manner. There is a great need to present to the gospel message in a simple fashion. While the depths of Christianity and the understanding of Christ and his Gospel can be infinitely deep, we must not plumb those depths at the beginning of our evangelical efforts or we risk leaving many people behind who are not able to understand all of what we are saying. There can be a failure to understand that the gospel is a message of God becoming man, he lived in time and space, and he died and rose from the dead in order to draw us to his Father. As St. Paul tells Timothy, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15)
May we not fail to keep this simple message of faith at the front of our minds. The great commission is a call to all of us to heed the call to evangelize:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
The first day of Ask A Catholic A Question, we had dozens of people stop and ask questions. Once the initial nervousness wore off, it became easier for us to engage others in conversation. This program continued at St. Elizabeth’s until I left and came to St. Mary’s
Once I got my feet on the ground at St. Mary’s, I started to organize a small group of students to help start Ask A Catholic A Question at Texas A&M. I stressed evangelization over and above apologetics. By the name alone, one might incorrectly believe we are an apologetic organization which is formed to defend the faith, but this is not accurate. We are an evangelistic organization who use apologetics as one tool in bringing others to the truth about Christ and His Church. We have since learned that the signs were limiting (because of on-campus rules and logistics) in when and where we could meet. We no longer use signs, but now use t-shirts, which gives us much more flexibility and visibility.
Our goal for the Fall semester of 2009 is to have more than 15 groups of 3 student evangelists each, on campus. This would give us approximately 1,000 individual hours of evangelization on-campus.The Ask A Catholic A Question program has already spread to at least 3 other communities / schools and we have requests for our handbook from others.
The message of Jesus Christ has power for us all and is the way to salvation for everyone, just as
From the master, Jesus, to the apostles, martyrs, and saints and now down to us today, the Good News that Jesus has come to save us is still the most valuable treasure the Church has for the world today. All persons need the merciful love of Christ and the goodness, truth and beauty that come from his divine love. We learn from the words and witness of those before us and those in our midst today. Therefore, rather than trying to come up with any new ideas of what evangelization is, or a novel approach to the subject at hand, we have tried to compile the wisdom of what the Church has said about evangelization and put it into a language easy to understand. We have also added our morsels of experience of evangelization through Ask A Catholic A Question.
Working with college students and having a passion for salvation of others, we offer this handbook for the good of the Church. We hope it will prove to be a resource which is valuable to Catholics who wish to evangelize in the midst of their communities.
Evangelization can be both simple and complex. Simple in the basic prin
ciples that underlie what evangelization is and yet complex in that it touches so much of the Church’s activity. Of course, the most difficult part of evangelization is in applying and living the principles out. In other words, learning and writing about evangelization is easy; it is becoming a better evangelist which is the real challenge for every Christian.
Evangelization is the reason why the Church exists, as Pope Paul VI says, the Church “exists in order to evangelize” and “evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” (EN 14) Yet many Catholics are intimidated into inaction, ignore their calling to evangelize or are ignorant they have been called in the first place. With the wealth of information, inspiration and education that the Church supplies, we can all become more
effective and zealous evangelists if we merely “set out into the deep” as our late Pope, John Paul II, has called us to do, when he echoed Jesus statement to the apostles in the Gospel of Luke chapter five, verse four.
We firmly believe the grace of God can work through each of us to bring this important message of salvation and truth to the world – we are the ones God has sent into the world to bring others this message of Good News! There are millions of souls in this world waiting to know Christ. If we don’t bring them the Gospel, who will?
Christ said the number of those who will find the way through the narrow gate is few (Matt 7:14). In the same fashion we have many in our midst who may call themselves Catholic or Christian and yet they do not actively practice the faith they claim. Our job is not to judge the state of the souls of these people, rather it is to help secure their salvation for the glory of God through evangelizing them. But, these are not the only persons who need to be evangelized. All do. Active Catholics, non-active Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, non-Christians, and non-believers all need to grow in faith of Christ and to be evangelized.
An analogy might be helpful in showing the importance of evangelization. If a neighbor were to sit at the breakfast table drinking his cup of coffee and eating a donut rather than saving a baby about to crawl into a busy street, we would consider him not only a bad neighbor, but a bad Christian. In the same way, if we see someone living a life without God and we don’t at least attempt to throw out the life preserver of the gospel to help them find the road to salvation, then we can be sure we are not acting as very good Christians ourselves. Most of us have courage enough to try to save someone who is dying physically, even if they are complete strangers, and yet many Christians seemingly don’t care that others they meet might be in danger spiritually. Lord please give us the courage to evangelize!