In a previous post, I laid out a challenge for well-established RCIA teams to look at what it is they are spending most of their time and energy on. I suggested that if they are not already doing so, they should shift their efforts to be primarily focused on evangelization and conversion.
Good news: a once-in-a-lifetime event
I don’t want to sound too absolute about this, but I do want to challenge our thinking a little bit. If someone had faith at one time—in grade school or high school, for example—and then dropped out of the church, they don’t need to be evangelized. They don’t need to be converted. You can’t be evangelized twice. I know that both Pope Paul VI and Pope John-Paul II have written much about reevangelization or new evangelization. I agree with all of what they said, and I pray our parishes are making serious efforts to implement what the popes have called for. I just wish they would have picked a different word.
You say potato…
People who had faith and have stopped practicing the faith don’t need to told—as if for the first time—who Jesus Christ is. They need to be reminded. They need to be renewed. They need to be reconciled. Like the Prodigal Son, when they really hit bottom in the secular world, they already know where to turn for help. We don’t need to say to them, “Here is good news that you have never heard before.” We need to say, “Remember who you are. Remember who loves you. Remember where your true home is.”
Parishes need to do both—evangelization and renewal—but I think they are different ministries. One person or one team can, of course, engage in different ministries. It isn’t as black and white as I’m making it sound. But I’m drawing the extremes because I think that many of us are engaged in renewal almost exclusively and engaged in evangelization hardly at all.
The frightening thing about evangelization
I think the popes used a word like “reevangelization” because the content we use in reminding people of their faith is similar to the original content of what we proclaim to those who have never heard the good news in the first place. And I think we spend way more time doing “reevangelization” than “evangelization” because we know how to do the former. We are just beginning to learn how to truly evangelize—and sometimes it can be a little scary.
Here is why I think reevangelization is easier than evangelization. When we are reevangelizing, we can engage in theological discussions more frequently. That is, we can more often say what we believe, and we don’t usually have to say as much about why we believe. After someone believes, or used to believe, the “what” is simple. Many times, when people drop out of church, it’s not because they have stopped believing in Jesus. It’s because they are confused about or disagree with what the church says about Jesus (or what the church says about [fill in the blank]).
When we are evangelizing, on the other hand, we have to say more about why we believe what we believe. We have to say more about the specific ways in which Jesus Christ has answered our deepest longing. Those “answers” are not in the Catechism—they’re in our hearts.
How do you see it?
In a future post, we’ll look more closely at the process of proclaiming why we believe and how that impacts both evangelization and reevangelization. Before you go, however, share with us how you understand the difference between evangelization and reevangelization. Which one is your team more engaged in?
Read all the posts in this series on evangelization: