About a month ago, I was asked as part of a group, how we “evangelize” our faith. While not too many responded, it definitely got me wondering how I evangelize, and what I can do to further evangelize.
Years back, Catholics were called to the “New Evangelization” by our Pope (I thought it was now Saint Pope John Paul II, but it could have been now Pope Emeritis Benedict XVI). According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “the New Evangelization calls us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel.”
So, why is it that the word “evangelize” seems to scare Catholics away? How does one go about evangelizing, when they don’t feel fully prepared and equipped to explain or defend their Catholic faith amongst other religious denominations?
Until a couple years ago, I thought evangelization meant proselytizing, or attempting to convert someone. That version of evangelizing automatically conjured up images of missionaries that go door to door, sometimes politely, other times not so politely. And, quite honestly, that version of evangelization scared me, and put me off of the notion of spreading the Gospel.
I know, for myself, I feel inadequate to go up to a person and discuss my faith. In case people haven’t noticed, the Catholic faith is full of intricacies and nuances, all biblically based, for which I often don’t have a clue as to which biblical passage provides the reference. In addition to biblically based beliefs, Catholics tend to also put some stock behind tradition, so if we are not doing something based “sola scriptura,” we are finding the reasoning behind the celebration or belief based upon centuries worth of tradition. Typically, we can find our core beliefs based on Scripture, but our celebration tends to lean heavily on the tradition side of the house.
Therefore, I have shied away from evangelizing – I was a child of the 80s and 90s, which is looked back upon in American Catholic Church history as a period of poor Catechesis. Meaning, I didn’t get in-depth training on why the Catholic Church teaches and believes what she believes. Instead, I got a list of “do’s and do-nots” and sent on my merry way to continue being Catholic, because that is what I chose for my life. It wasn’t until my adulthood did I really begin to explore why I call myself Catholic, and what it means to be Catholic.
Fast forward to only a couple years ago, when I was asked to lead a women’s faith group. I sat down with our chaplain advisor, and confessed to him that I didn’t have the first clue about leading a women’s faith group, especially because evangelization, something we are called to do, scared me. A man of few words, he listened to my complaints and fears, and sat there quietly. A part of me was hoping he would excuse me from the calling to lead the group, and would say I was right – I was not ready, nor adequately prepared, to lead this group. Then, he surprised me with his response.
He told me evangelization takes many different forms. For some people, it is going door -to-door, or toe-to-toe with people of other faiths. For others, it is more a gentle, quiet way they live their life, inviting their friends, neighbors, and relatives to occasionally join them in Mass (another skill I am still working on doing). For other women still, it is single handedly building and leading faith groups, or helping to lead already-established faith study groups – to build one’s own faith, and also support others in building their faith. For other people, it is finding the mundane tasks that may help another person out, and quietly living the Gospel through their actions by removing that task from another person’s shoulders. For priests and those who live the religious life, it may be to show the world just by their dress and demeanor that they are living the Gospel. And, for mothers and fathers, it can be as simple as teaching your small children to love Jesus, and to know Jesus, and to have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus.
What strikes me most about his response was that I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t buy “what the Church teaches” hook-line-and-sinker. I need to delve into why the Church is teaching what they do on certain subjects – which, honestly, are sometimes more difficult to grasp than other subjects. And, I just need to know where to go when I struggle with finding answers, or with finding the reasons behind a teaching.
Finally, I have settled on my personal method of evangelizing. My focus is on my immediate family – my man cub and his someday sibling/s. Like our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, and like many practicing Catholics I know these days, I want my children to know Jesus as an intimate, bosom buddy. I want them to have a personal relationship with Him, outside of “memorized prayers” and “tradition” and “church time”. I want them to want to seek Him, and to live their lives for Him, and with Him. I also continue to help facilitate women’s faith study groups. Obviously, I blog here and a couple other places. When I am able, I fit in my own Bible study, to help me continue to wade into the waters of my faith and religion. And, lastly, I try to always live the Gospel, and am willing to engage in discussions of my faith when I am asked – meaning, I don’t shy away from letting people know I am Catholic, and answering their questions when posed to me.
So, that leads me to ask you, dear reader, what do you do—how do you evangelize your faith?
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