When someone says, “Evangelization,” most people probably imagine some combination of preaching, door knocking, handing out Bibles and tracts, and asking people if they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Or, if one is less inclined to boldly approach people with questions about their inner spiritual life, there is always “lifestyle evangelization” which allows one to quietly go about living without all the awkward, confrontational aspects of talking to others about Jesus. The hope is that someone will be inspired to turn to Jesus by observing a pious Christian life. How do Catholics evangelize?
Saint Francis of Assisi is usually credited with having said, “Preach always. Use words when necessary.” We are to evangelize with a combination of lifestyle and words. If we are not living a life of genuine, Christian love, then our words lose credibility. We also need words to describe why we live as we do. We need to be able to articulate Catholic Christian ideas. We need to show and tell the world why it is important to be a Catholic Christian. Anyone can be nice. Atheists and Agnostics can be nice. Why be a Christian? Why be a Catholic Christian? Now more than ever, it is necessary to use words.
Peter, our first Pope, said, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1Peter 3:15). We don’t have to be out in the town square with speakers and a microphone, but we need to be ready to use words. We need to know the Catholic Faith well enough to provide more than a blank stare or evasive maneuvers when someone asks us what we believe. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.
During my Evangelical Protestant phase things were a bit different. All I needed to do was summon up enough courage to invite someone to church (not always easy for an introvert like me). The preacher would generally take it from there. The service was primarily focused on the sermon. Most sermons contained at least some reference to the human need for salvation through Christ and, at the end, an invitation to pray “the sinner’s prayer” or come forward and “accept Christ into your heart” (like at a Billy Graham crusade). The preacher did all the heavy lifting. All I had to do was get a person to go to the service with me.
The Catholic Mass is not an Evangelical service. Although the Bible is read and a sermon is preached, the focus of the Mass is the Eucharist. Christ instituted Christian worship at the Last Supper. The Last Supper was the first Mass. Mass is the 2000 year old celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for believers to participate in, not an evangelical service designed to recruit nonbelievers. Unless a Catholic is able and willing to explain the Mass to a visitor, that visitor is likely to be rather confused by the experience. If more Catholics became adept at explaining the Mass, it would be more effective to invite people to church. This, of course, necessitates Catholics themselves understanding the Mass. Many simply do not understand.
Catholics need to get serious about living out the Faith. As Pope Francis recently said, it does no good to simply wear Christianity as a label. Catholics need to learn the Faith before we can live it out and effectively share it with others. We are not ready to “give answers” if we don’t know the answers. We can’t expect the clergy to do all the heavy lifting. The Second Vatican Council was focused on getting the laity involved in spreading the Gospel, not just doing readings or distributing Communion or being ushers. Catholics need to read the Bible and the Catholic Catechism. We need to study our Faith either at home or in classes. There are countless resources available to us in the form of books, DVDs, Bible studies and the internet. We have no excuse for ignorance of our Faith.
We need caring and sharing. We have to genuinely care about people and care about the Faith in order to share the Faith. When we care about a person, we desire to know more about that person. If we care about Jesus, we will seek to know Him more. The best way to know Jesus is to know the Church. As Saint Joan of Arc said about Jesus and the Church, “They are simply the same thing.” Know the Catholic Church, know Jesus.
The best way for Catholics to evangelize is to begin by knowing what Catholics believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes. We can invite people to Mass, but first we must prepare to explain the experience. If we have children, we must teach them what the Mass is about. The best way to learn something is to teach it. We don’t need to be theologians or clergy to evangelize others. But we at least need to know the basics of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Understanding the Mass is a good starting point. By evangelizing others, we might find ourselves converted.
At the end of every Mass we are told to “go.” Let’s go and make disciples. Let’s do Catholic show and tell.