Category Archives: Evangelization

Asking The Wrong Question

Catholics are often caught off guard by the question, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?”  That question may cause confusion for the Catholic because it is presented in a phraseology the Catholic is generally not familiar with.  The questioner may observe a look of confusion on the Catholic’s face, or hear an answer that is other than what has been predetermined by the questioner as the “right” answer.  What follows is typically an assumption that the Catholic has no personal relationship with Jesus and needs to “get saved.”  I think the wrong question is being asked.

First of all, where in the Bible does one find the phrase, “Accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?”  It is not in the Bible.  So, it’s not really a good place to start, anyway.  There is, however, a lot in the Bible about repentance, belief, faith, baptism, confession and obedience.  So, it would be better to start with one of those topics.

Ask Catholics the question, “Who died to save the world from sin?”  “Jesus,” they will say, “look right there at that crucifix.”  Good.  “Do you believe that Jesus died to save you personally from your sin?”  “Yes,” the Catholics will say.  Good.  “Who is greater, Jesus or Mary?”  The Catholics will say, “Why, Jesus is greater.  Jesus is God.  Mary isn’t God, she’s a created being, a human.”  Good.  “Are Catholics supposed to follow the commandments of God and do good works?”  “Of course we are!  What good would it do to be a Christian without following God’s commandments?”  That sounds like good sense.  “What if you sin?  Does God forgive you when you repent?”  The Catholics say, “Yes.  If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (OK, I admit most Catholics will not be able to quote that Scripture verse, but that is what they believe!).

So, asking the proper questions unveils a very real, personal relationship between the Catholic and Jesus Christ.  But Evangelicals and Fundamentalists that “witness” to Catholics tend to not ask the right questions.  Obviously, it is possible for a Catholic to get all those questions right in the head but not the heart.  The same could be said for the Evangelical or the Fundamentalist.  Only God knows whether the answers to the questions are genuinely from the heart.

What I Hear Pope Francis Saying

There’s been some controversy surrounding recent comments by Pope Francis.  I don’t know why, other than maybe because of people trying to spin his words to fit their political agendas.  But, like it has been noted elsewhere, there is no left or right, there is only Catholic.

Nothing the Pope has said even remotely suggests a departure from Church teaching.  He has said, “Heal the wounds.”  The only thing that heals the wounds caused by sin is the Gospel.  Spreading the Gospel is the Church’s primary mission.  Always has been, always will be.  Pope Francis is simply calling the Church to focus on the Church’s primary mission so that other desirable outcomes will follow.  He is essentially saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”

How can we expect the world to understand certain moral principles if their hearts have not been transformed by the Gospel?  We can’t.  To use the Pope’s medical analogy, it’s like spiritual triage.  The hemorrhaging needs to be stopped first.  Then other treatments can be applied.  If a person is bleeding to death, the other treatments don’t matter.  If a person has not been saved and transformed by the Gospel, it does little to reason with them about morality.  When we don’t help people to see the Gospel we come across as legalistic moralizers.  Legalism does not heal wounded souls.

I also believe the Pope’s comments echo the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  He is calling Catholics to a higher standard of love and compassion that looks beyond the wounds and sinfulness and sees the face of Jesus in each person.  Each person needs the Gospel to heal their wounds.  Then each person can become another healer.

Pope Francis just wants every Catholic to be like Jesus.  Jesus loved people first and then helped them see what they needed to do better.  Catholics have faith.  Catholics have hope.  Catholics need to make sure we have godly love before all else, for it is the greatest of the three and the only one that remains for eternity.

I love Pope Francis.  There’s nothing wrong with a loving kick in the pants to keep us on track.  The Gospel is what the human heart fundamentally craves.  The Gospel is what will draw people to Christ and his Church.  Then, with transformed hearts, their lives will be open to Church teachings.  Thank you for your shepherding, Pope Francis.

Catholic Show And Tell

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.

World Youth Day 2013

Watching World Youth Day was inspiring and exciting.  To see over 3 million people in humble adoration to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament really recharged my battery.  Knowing that they were mostly youth from all over the world is even more encouraging.  It was such a striking image to see all the flags from various countries scattered throughout the crowd.  It was an awesome demonstration of the universality of the Church.  It was a hopeful scene.

Pope Francis’ spoke so eloquently to the youth in his homily.  I myself needed to hear his words.  “Go, do not be afraid, and serve!”  We need to be bold and fearless.  Not offensive and abrasive, but firmly gentle about what we believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes to us and the world.  We can talk all we want, however.  Without the actual service, our words lose their meaning.  Just find a way to serve Christ and do it without fear.  Profound simplicity.

I love being Catholic!

1003007_219891351493948_1632849510_n

And The Truth Will…Make You Feel Good?

There is, as far as I can tell, no “great commission” to spread the New Age message.  There was no single founder of the New Age movement that said, “Go into all the world making New Age disciples of all nations.”  Thus, it seems ironic to me that there are so many people willing to “spread the New Age word” by posting messages on social media and the bumpers of their cars.  The Disciples of Christ spread the Gospel not simply to voice their beliefs, express their opinions or make people feel good, but because Jesus commanded them to do so.  They also mostly died in the process.

We now live in a world of relativism where “truth” is subject to the individual’s whim.  People no longer want to seek the truth, find it and die for it.  Rather, people want to believe whatever feels best to them and call it truth.  Then they seek validation of that truth from others who also feel good about it.  One can post a New Age quote or sentiment on Facebook, for example, and the more “likes” it receives the more “true” it must be.  This is truth based on feelings and popular concenses, not divine revelation.

There are elements of truth sprinkled throughout different religions and philosophies.  One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is its ability to assimilate these truths and include them within the deposit of divine revelation.  Hence, Catholicism is not one belief pitted against all other beliefs, but an inclusive Faith that recognizes truth, filters it and places it in its proper order.

Ultimately, truth is not a feeling or a philosophy but the person, Jesus Christ.  The world has largely “domesticated” Jesus and turned Him into just another feel-good, New Age, religious guru who taught some nice stuff.  But, that is not the radical, subversive, divine Jesus that was killed for all the trouble He stirred up.  That is not the Jesus that the Apostles died following.  They knew Him best.  They knew the Truth.  Truth doesn’t always “feel” good.  There is suffering involved at some point.  People want Jesus, but not His cross.

Before you post some “spiritual truth” on social media, you might ask yourself, “Am I willing to die for what I’m about to post?”  Is it really the Way the Truth and the Life?  Or, is it just a way to make me feel good?