Evangelizing Like Paul

Ask your average Catholic about evangelization and you get a mumble and a shrug. Evangelization? That’s what Evangelicals do, isn’t it?

It’s not that Catholics think it’s bad (though some are, in fact, actively hostile to it since it smacks to them of “imposing our values” on others). Rather, it is that most Catholics simply have no idea what to do. So we console ourselves with that saying of St. Francis that he never actually said: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

That apocryphal Franciscanism would be great advice—if we really were preaching the gospel at all times by our lives. But for many of us, evangelizing is near the bottom of our “to do” list. We shift uncomfortably in our seats as we drive past the little fundamentalist church sign that says, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We tell ourselves that our faith is “deeper” then mere talky Evangelical chatter.

Here’s the thing: while it’s perfectly true that a faith which is all talk is shallow faith, a faith that we cannot articulate if our lives depended on it is not an improvement. St. Peter tells us to “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

St. Paul understood this. And in this Year of Paul, the Church calls us to take a chance, get off the dime, and tell people about the enormous treasure of the Catholic faith. She insists that it’s better to try, and fail, then to not try.

Many Catholics wonder if there is some sort of technique they need to master in order to bear witness to their faith. They fear that if they have not taken some sort of course in evangelization, or studied theology for a decade, or otherwise jumped through various hoops, they cannot evangelize. For such folk, the Holy Father has liberating news. In his announcement of the Year of Paul on June 28, 2007, Benedict XVI said that Paul’s success was not due to some "refined strategy" of salesmanship or philosophical wrangling. Instead, the Holy Father essentially said that Paul’s achievement was due to his extraordinary personal involvement springing from his total dedication to Christ, despite all obstacles.

In short, Paul really believed this stuff. He acted exactly like a man who really had met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus and was now perfectly convinced that Jesus had conquered death, forgiven his sins, and laid upon him the charge to tell the world. Because he really believed, he was willing to "pay personally for [his] faith in Christ, in every situation."

Benedict knows this because he’s read Paul, who bluntly states: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Paul no more felt equal to the task of evangelism than you or I do. His secret was not a technique or a philosophy or theory. It was that Paul believed that if he trusted in the Spirit of Jesus to provide the power and the wisdom, the Spirit would come through.

And He did.

We can do the same. The great thing about being Catholic is that you can plagiarize and call it “being faithful to the Tradition”. Not a theological brainiac when somebody asks you what Catholics believe? You don’t have to be clever. Go find a catechism.

Not particularly confident that your saintliness is such that merely knowing you is to be exposed to the living presence of Christ? Welcome to normal Catholic life. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or some other spiritual giant. Just ask a friend to Mass. They will, we are solemnly assured by God himself, have a genuine exposure to the actual, spiritual and physical presence of Jesus Christ himself.

Those are but two simple ways in which you can bear witness. The key is not mastering the techniques of Paul. The key is having the faith of Paul that Christ will keep his promise to us.

Mark Shea

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Mark P. Shea is a Catholic author, blogger, and speaker.

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  • Pingback: The Catholic need to evangelize « Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons()

  • Cooky642

    I have an option you might like. Instead of dragging out that “huge” Catechism (what it surely must look like to someone we want to evangelize), when asked what Catholics believe, try running through the Credo that we say nearly every Sunday at Mass. It contains a brief, concise summary of what we believe, and most people will stand still long enough to listen to the whole thing. Then, you’ve got a conversation going.

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Cooky642 has a good point re the Nicene Creed. Once I played the role of a captive audience for two Mormon relatives intent on changing my religion. They cited the LDS doctrine that all creeds prior to Joseph Smith were “abominations.”

    I asked them to listen carefully while I recited the creed that Catholics have been saying since 325 AD, and that we say at every Sunday mass. “Let me know when you hear one of those abominations,” I said. They were alert and ready to pounce.

    Fortunately, I have a good memory and lots of practice, having honored my Sunday obligation for several decades. When I got to the end of the creed, they were sitting there nonplussed. One didn’t know what to say. The other admitted, “well, I didn’t hear anything wrong with that.”

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