Thursday, February 15, 2007

Evangelization Part III - Talk the Talk too

“Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt 4:17)
If you were to go to a group of 100 average Catholics and ask for a definition of evangelization, most of the responses would almost certainly contain the idea of explicitly proclaiming or preaching the gospel message given to us by Jesus. Being the most visible part of evangelization it is no wonder that it is commonly mistaken for the entirety of evangelization. The idea of an evangelist is widely considered to be the door-to-door missionaries, the street corner preachers, or the people who give up their comfortable lives to go to the ends of the earth in order to spread the Gospel in foreign mission-lands. While this is certainly a part of proclaiming the good news, it does not make up the whole of it and these are more extraordinary forms of evangelization and not the norm.

This Kerygma, or preached Gospel, is a necessary and key part of evangelization. In fact, evangelization is incomplete until the declaration of the saving message that Jesus commands us to proclaim to others is pronounced. This is of course the part of evangelization that is most intimidating to the majority of people whose hair stands on end when “evangelization” is mentioned.

A quick side note on this aspect of evangelization: I am one of many modern Catholics who grew up in the Church, fell away, and now has come to love the faith after an initial conversion as an adult and then through an intense study Catholic teachings and apologetics. As we have stated, apologetics is a defense of the faith and showing that the faith is reasonable. This study of the faith helped me to understand what the Church taught, but like many Catholic apologists, I made many mistakes when I felt the call to then share my faith. I have tried to win an argument rather than souls, been arrogant, sought affirmation, thought my apologetic arguments were God’s infallible word, and been wrong and failed to admit it.

The mistake I can most readily identify with is using apologetics as an offensive weapon in order to beat others into submission. This is the antithesis of true evangelization. Archbishop Fulton Sheen evangelized according to the fitting motto, “win the argument, lose a soul.” If we aim to win, we are not sharing our faith out of love, but pride - and pride is the original sin. Pride keeps us from loving anyone else but ourselves as we should. Pride keeps us from humbly accepting God’s grace. Sinful pride opposes humility and as we have said, humility is necessary for all Christian in order to grow in holiness. Pride is therefore incompatible with evangelization.

I am blessed to be able to see numerous young people fall in love with Jesus and the Catholic faith. Many of them take hold of their faith, like other Catholics, and then feel the need to share and defend it. But, they continue to fall into the trap that I did. We mistake offensive volleys against those that aren’t Catholic for a defense of the faith. Yet, most of those we are arguing into a corner need to be loved into the Church, not argued into it. I am certainly not saying that there is not a great need for defending the faith or being able to “give a reason for your hope” (2 Pet 3:15), but we must not forget the second part of the passage that says to do it with “gentleness and reverence.”

Let it suffice for the present to say that there is no technique that is foolproof or perfect for everyone, except to do as Jesus did. Any other technique or program for preaching the Gospel is merely a tool. No tool is right for every situation or person. We must constantly keep in mind that evangelization is a work of love, which rises above any particular technique. When Jesus sent his followers out to preach, he had them watch his example and learn from him. Even more importantly he taught them to love. I don’t want to get too “touchy-feely,” because I still believe that for every argument against the Catholic Church, there are many more in favor of her. I do want to make sure that apologetics is given proper recognition, but let us not make the mistake of believing apologetics fulfills all of our evangelistic work for us.

“For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” (2 Cor 4:5) When we do preach Christ to others we must once again take on the humble attitude of a servant wanting to please his master. Here Paul is telling the Corinthians that the purpose of his preaching isn’t to steady his own reputation or to make others think more highly of him, but rather to preach Christ. He says again:

“When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. God I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2: 1-5)

Paul’s humility is evident whenever he talks of the Gospel. It is not of himself, but of Christ alone. He wants no credit, no glory. Paul humbly seeks only to point out Christ and what he accomplished on the Cross, not what Paul accomplishes by being a good steward of the gifts he has been given to preach. The Catechism echoes this sentiment:

“No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ.” (CCC, 875)

St. Paul tells us that he was an “ambassador for Christ.” (2 Cor 5:20) An ambassador was a person given the full authority of the leader they represented. As an emissary for Christ, Paul now carries the saving message of the Lord with him and is empowered to give it to others. We must see that it is not only St. Paul and the other apostles who were given this charge, but all of us who are baptized into Christ. We have all been made to share in the ministry of Christ to all souls on the earth. Do we share the gospel with others when we have the opportunity? How can we do this? We will talk about specifics in other posts devoted to proclaiming the Gospel.

“Here, there are two elements at work: witness, which is the simple living of the faith; and sharing, which is spreading the Good News of Jesus in an explicit way.” (US Bishops - GMD, 36)