“God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We should like to hear you on this some other time.” And so Paul left them. But some did join him, and became believers. (Acts 17:30-34)
“His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive.”(Acts 25:18-19)
When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, “My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty. But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation. This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.”
They answered him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, nor has any of the brothers arrived with a damaging report or rumor about you. But we should like to hear you present your views, for we know that this sect is denounced everywhere.” So they arranged a day with him and came to his lodgings in great numbers. From early morning until evening, he expounded his position to them, bearing witness to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others did not believe. . . . He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:16-24, 30-31)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
For nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)
Editor’s note: This is the final article in the series of articles on evangelization. It is a topic we as Catholics are not as comfortable with as are our Protestant brethren. Yet, as Pope Paul VI has so profoundly stated it, “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church” (On Evangelization in the Modern World).
You’ve heard the adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That’s because most of our successes involve failings along the way. Babe Ruth was known for his home-run hitting prowess, but he also struck out 1,330 times in his Major League career—twice as often as the average batter of his time. And Thomas Edison tried thousands of times before inventing a light bulb that worked. “I have not failed,” he once remarked. “I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
We often think of St. Paul as the greatest of the New Testament evangelists. Yet we can see from the Scriptures quoted above from Acts that Paul often met with resistance and varying success as he preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Paul must have been frustrated to find that his evangelistic efforts before the Athenian intellectuals (Acts 17:16-34), before a king and a Roman court (Acts 25-26), and in Rome (Acts 28:11-31) were met with mixed reactions. Not all were convinced by his preaching, and Paul ended up his final journey as a prisoner under house arrest in Rome. But he didn’t give up. The book of Acts ends with these words: “He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31). And like Paul, we too should never give up. After all, we too have been called to announce the same good news of Christ’s love and salvation that he proclaimed.
So how do we get the word out? We can start by not being afraid of temporary setbacks. If someone seems turned off, don’t worry. Just pray that God will continue to work in that person’s heart. Try your best to be honest, authentic, and transparent, just as Paul was in his effort to “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22). If you persist humbly and gently, if you remain conversational rather than confrontational, if you let the Spirit work through you, then you can leave the rest up to God!
Not all of your efforts will meet with instant success, but that’s okay. Let me give you examples from my own life. Several years ago, my wife and I volunteered to do a Lenten Bible study at our parish. Eight couples signed up, but the DRE thought that would be too many so she assigned just four of the couples to our Bible study. Unfortunately, on the first night only one couple showed up. The husband was a member of our parish, but his wife was Jewish and not a parish member. After a time of introduction, and some sharings on our own spiritual journeys, I decided not to do the Bible study. Instead, I played some Christian songs that were based on the Psalms. They seemed to enjoy the music, but never returned to the Bible study (nor did anyone else come). Not what you would call a rousing success. However, a year later I received a call from the husband to thank me for that evening. He said his wife was very touched by our sharings and the music we played. She is now active in parish ministry with him.
Here’s a second example: One day I walked into our computer room at IBM and began talking to a colleague. Even though she was an unbeliever, I felt led to share my faith with her. She looked almost shocked as I spoke. She said she had just got off the phone with a Catholic friend who also shared his faith with her. I was able to tell her it was no coincidence, but a sign of the Lord’s great love for her. In a fairly short time, she came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, even though her husband remained an unbeliever.
As baptized Catholic men, each of us has received the Holy Spirit and is capable of bearing Christ to others. We may find it easy to recognize this truth when it comes to sharing our faith with a brother or sister in Christ. However, nonbelievers should move us even more, because they too are created in God’s image and are loved by God. In fact, he loved them so much that he sent his Son to die on the Cross for them as well. They too, by God’s grace, can come to faith in Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If they are so loved by God, how can we be fearful of telling them about this love? How can we long for a deeper sense of God’s presence in our lives, and yet disregard offering this same gift to people all around us?
Everyone, no matter how young or old, no matter how strong or weak, has been created as a dwelling place for God. Remember Mother Teresa’s remark: “God did not call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.” Not everyone will respond positively when you tell them about Jesus or share your own faith journey, but don’t let that dissuade you from planting seeds of faith whenever you can. His grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9). You never know when someone will respond. And who knows? What you consider a failure may well bear fruit later. Or it may teach you something about God’s mysterious ways.
Whatever happens, don’t give up! Remember, “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:38) and “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28).
“Heavenly Father, give me the courage and perseverance I need to share the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ. Take away my fears, and replace them with your love for those you created in your image and likeness. Your grace is sufficient for me to be a witness of your great love.”
(Maurice Blumberg was the founding Executive Director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.nfcmusa.org/), and is currently a Trustee. He is also the Director of Partner Relations for Partners in Evangelism, (http://www2.wau.org/partners/), a Ministry to the Military and Prisoners for The Word Among Us. Maurice can be contacted at email@example.com.)
[Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/) for allowing me to adapt some material from daily meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.]
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. Do you agree with the title of this article, “Fear, A Major Roadblock to Evangelization”? Why or why not?
2. Why do you think St. Paul never wavered in his desire to evangelize, in spite of the mixed reactions of those he preached to?
3. In the article we hear these words: “As baptized Catholic men, each of us has received the Holy Spirit and is capable of bearing Christ to others.” Do you agree or disagree with these words? Why?
4. The article goes on to say: “Not everyone will respond positively when you tell them about Jesus or share your own faith journey, but don’t let that dissuade you from planting seeds of faith whenever you can. His grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9).” Why is what we see externally, in response to our evangelization efforts, not necessarily a true reflection of what is occurring within a person’s heart?
5. Can you share one or two instances when you stepped out in faith and shared with others the impact your faith in Christ has had on your life? What happened?
6. If you are in a men’s group, end your meeting by praying for one another that each of you would overcome any fears you have of evangelizing and that each of you would have a new boldness in sharing your faith with others. Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point. Share the fruit of these prayers at your next men’s group meeting.