Dear Fr. Joe: I hear talk that we are supposed to evangelize, but I’m not sure I want to do that. What does it mean?
I think it must be a tough thing to hear so many people talking about evangelization without telling us exactly what it is. For a lot of people, the idea of evangelization conjures up images of people yelling from street corners, condemning others or trying to get people to think just like we do. If that is our image of evangelization, then no wonder it has no appeal to us!
I’m going to write this article assuming that you “have the basics”: you care about your relationship with God and you live that out through a faithful sacramental life and participation in your parish life. If that is the case, then we’re going to look at evangelization as a process that involves a few key ideas. I’m going to put them in an order that makes sense to me, but, to be clear, I don’t mean for you to read this as if you only do one step at a time: all these ideas and steps roll together and work as a whole. With that in mind, there are four elements to evangelization that we are all called to: we must know Jesus, we must learn our faith, we must know ourselves and we must be holy.
First, we’ll look at the idea that we must know Jesus. Again, I’m assuming an active faith life on your part with personal prayer and prayer in your Church. What you and I need to be conscious of is the “why?” It’s not just important that we do the right thing, but that we know why we are doing it. Ponder the answer to the question, “What difference has my faith made in my life?” Think about what would you be like without your faith. Consider what your life would be like. When you do this, you will, in the words of Scripture, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) And as Pope Paul VI said, “Man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi)
When we do this, we are looking at the human heart and seeing how our faith heals and strengthens it. As we know, however, the human life is not all heart: it’s also about our minds, so you’ll want to feed your love for your faith with knowledge about it. Get to know why we believe what we believe. In these days, there is a lot of ignorance about our faith: that we are anti-science or anti-intellectual. There are few things more inaccurate than that, and the answer to the misconception is people like you and me being well-informed. Learning about our faith is not hard; there are tons of options out there for us. You can listen to podcasts, read good articles – all sorts of things. By learning about our faith, you are giving yourself the gift of knowing and knowing something beautiful and amazing. By learning about our faith, we are entering a spiritual and philosophical base that is 2,000 years old and informed by every culture we’ve encountered in that time.
Your heart and mind are all a part of the what, now let’s look at the how – how do you express what your heart and mind loves? The simple answer to this is that you must evangelize as you are, not as you are not. Take some time and think about your gifts and talents, your personality traits and characteristics. All of these things form the core of who you are and makes you the unique person God called to be an evangelist. If you’re shy, you don’t have to pretend you’re not. If you’re outgoing, you don’t have to pretend you are shy. The person you are is a gift that God gave the world and an answer to the prayers of many – even people you’ve never met. When you understand who you are, your evangelization will be authentic, life giving and effective.
Interwoven into all of these must be a firm commitment on your part to be holy. Holy is a word that means “set apart,” and that really is the key to evangelization. When you and I stand out from the crowd by things we say “yes” to and the things we say “no” to, then we have begun to walk the path of holiness. There are many people who love their faith and there are many people who are well informed about their faith, but there doesn’t seem to be many people who are simply holy and you must answer that call.
Sometimes, this will mean you are going to have to refrain from other people’s cruelty to others or immoral behavior. It’s going to mean showing kindness to those others are treating cruelly. It’s going to mean speaking the truth about what you’ve done and what you haven’t. It is going to mean taking responsibility for your actions and needs and being respectful to your parents and siblings. Some days, its going to mean holding true to “unpopular” teachings of the Church when all around you are caving in. If and when you do these things, I promise you will stand apart.
All of these are elements of being holy. If you commit to being holy, you’ll find that you are evangelizing simply by means of the fact that you exist! Beyond that, you’ll be ready to gently and lovingly explain why you love your Catholic faith and what you know about it. You’ll have credibility from your peers because you will so clearly be set apart without being self-righteous.
I pray that God show you how beautiful you are. I pray that, through thinking of your faith and learning about it you become more aware of how blessed it is to stand out, stand up and follow the challenge from the Book of Micah: “You know, oh man, what is required: act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
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