Last week, I was interrupted by a knock on the door while I was working on a module for TeamRCIA’s new Catechist School. I don’t get a lot of casual visitors, so a knock is probably from the UPS guy. I don’t usually answer, and he leaves the box on the step.
This knocker was persistent; and it was Sunday. I opened the door to two young women. “We’ve just come from Hillside Evangelical Church,” one of them said. “Would you like to learn more about the Bible? Have you ever heard of the biblical martyrs?” I resisted the temptation to launch into a detailed lecture on the history, theology, ecclesiology, and revelatory power of Sacred Scripture as manifested in the Roman Catholic Church. Instead I thanked them for their time and returned to my writing.
What was I writing about? The role of evangelization in catechesis. The Holy Spirit apparently was in a humorous mood that day.
It got me thinking, however, that what those two women had that we Catholics sometimes lack is courage. Speaking about those who are seeking answers or who have given up even seeking, Pope Francis said, “We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night.”
But we are a bit afraid. As Catholics, we don’t tend to go out much as Catholics, proclaiming the gospel in a way that warms hearts and gives people hope.
What those two women had who showed up on my doorstep had was the courage to go forth into the “night.” What they did not have was a way of proclaiming the gospel in a way that warms hearts.
As a baby step for would-be-Catholic evangelists, I suggest that we don’t have to go very far to go forth into the night. If, for example, we just started talking to strangers at Mass on Sunday, we would be doing a lot of evangelizing. Every week, your parish attracts seekers. Someone shows up hoping for a connection to the Holy or wishing for a ray of light in their lives. They don’t walk up to you and say, “Hi there. I need some spiritual support to warm my heart.” They come in late, sit in the back pew, and leave early. Going forth into the night to evangelize can be as simple as walking to the back pew and saying hello.
Lots of Catholics tense up when you start talking about evangelization. They worry you will want them to say something about Jesus to the person behind them in line at the movie theater. Here is a simple, non-threatening way to evangelize. Go forgive someone. Pope Francis said that evangelization is taking the awareness of God’s merciful love to those who need it. So go be merciful and encourage your parishioners to be merciful.
Finally, you can evangelize by smiling more. Ask your parishioners to practice at Mass. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received Communion from a sour-faced minister or heard the Scriptures proclaimed by someone who looked like he had just eaten a lemon. And the people next to us in the pews often look bored or displeased. Pope Francis said:
Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! … And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ”. —Evangelii Gaudium
A Catholic evangelist might go out and knock on strangers’ doors, but most of us are not going to do that. Even so, we are called to be courageous, going out into the “night” of other people’s lives to bring the light and hope of Christ. We will have to get outside our comfort zones to do that, but we don’t have to start too far outside the zone. Baby steps will do for now. The important thing is to have the courage to take the step.
What do you think?
How have you evangelized? How have you encouraged your parishioners to evangelize? What is the next courageous step you can take?