Witness is Hard and Scary

What do you think of when you hear the word "evangelization"?  Some images that may come to mind are door-to-door missionaries, street corner preachers, or those in foreign mission-lands.  While these are certainly a part of proclaiming the good news, they do not make up the whole of it and are the more extraordinary forms of evangelization, not the normal day-to-day ways we are called to witness to others about Christ.

The first way we witness to others is through the witness of life, which is the initial act of evangelization, and is indispensable.  As Pope Paul VI says, "Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness."  The witness of the Christian life is done by conforming our human will to the divine will of Jesus.  In living out our faith daily, we point to the one who gives us the strength, joy, and love that draws people to seek the source of our joy and love.  This cannot be done without growth in holiness, prayer, conversion and continually seeking grace in the sacraments.  It is rarely seen in grand acts of holiness, but rather quiet and humble acts of love.  A saying, commonly attributed to St. Francis says it well — "Preach the Gospel always.  When necessary, use words."  Yet, we must remember that this phrase does not give us an excuse not to talk about Jesus.  If we are looking for opportunities to do so, it might be necessary frequently to preach the Gospel with words.

This kerygma, or preached Gospel, is a necessary 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 who become frightened when called by our Lord to vocally witness to others.

 I am one of many modern Catholics who grew up in the Church, fell away from practicing my faith, and now have come back to the faith through an initial conversion as an adult.  Later, through an intense study of Catholic teachings and prayer, I fell in love with the Catholic Church even more deeply.  This study of the faith helped me to understand what the Church taught, but like many Catholic evangelists, I made several mistakes when I started to answer the call to share my faith.  The mistake I can most readily identify with is using the truth 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 rather pride.

I am blessed to be able to see numerous young adults 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.  Nevertheless, many continue to fall into the trap that I did.  We mistake offensive volleys against others as a defense of the faith.  Yet, most 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."

One of the greatest evangelists in the history of the Church is St. Paul, and he 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.  Yet, it is not only St. Paul and the other apostles who were given this charge, but all who are baptized into Christ.  We have all been created to share in the ministry of preaching Christ to all souls on earth.  Do we share the gospel with others when we have the opportunity through both our deeds and words?  Let us pray that Christ will give us both the opportunities to witness to His truth in our every day lives and the courage to share the saving message of Jesus, through love, with our tongues.

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  • Guest

    A good start, Marcel.  Pope Paul VI also identifies catechesis, the sacramental life and the apostolate as aspects in the process of evangelization in Evangelii Nuntiandi.

     

    Pope John Paul II focuses on catechesis in Catechesi Tradendae as the sine qua non in the whole process.  If people do not know Jesus, who He is, what He expects of us, what the sacraments are, how to participate worthily in them, etc., we can never get to the point where we say with St. Paul, "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."

     

    Once we see the inherent and organic connection amongst all aspects of evangelization the Church will be more effective in its efforts.  Until then the fragmented and compartmentalized view of evangelization hampers our efforts to be saints and witnesses.

     

    Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

  • Guest

    We mistake offensive volleys against others as a defense of the faith. Yet, most need to be loved into the Church, not argued into it.

    There is nevertheless the need to know your interlocutor, which is even more important. I spent years hanging around Catholicism, even thinking I "knew" what the Church taught (and rejecting much of it) before I converted. All the while, there was no shortage of people offering this or that explanation of the love of God. Only the man who would eventually be my RCIA sponsor (a wonderful Deacon at our parish) ever met my arguments with what might be termed Catholic argument in return. I am forced to conclude that if I had heard such arguments before, I might have been argued into the Church sooner.

    Nevertheless, the article's point is well taken. The same gentleman who argued me into the Church did so with patience and love, not by scoring rhetorical points.

  • Guest

    I’m sorry. I couldn’t pay attention to the article because I couldn’t get past that idiotic “risen Christ” statue. Are there actually Catholics who can stand those things?

  • Guest

    Dumdum,

    -that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet –

    could you, by any other name, free yourself from your forum name and post

    sorry Marcel

    Mt 7:6

    Remember, the Sun is always shining!

  • Guest

    The author does not choose the artwork — we have a graphic artist who does that. I'll let him know that we would prefer something else, but I'm not going to hassle him to change it.

  • Guest

    …and how is Touche Turtle doing these days?

  • Guest

    I couldn't help myself. I know its not right, but…

    Remember, the Sun is always shining!

  • Guest

    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 rather pride.

    In my next column (out tomorrow, I think), I take a look at the Holy Father's recent letter on evangelization and reflect on how one does not need to have the skills or intellectual prowess of a seasoned apologist or catechism to make an important difference in the Kingdom of God. The original apostles were fisherman, not scholars. They were emboldened by the Spirit, and lived close to the heart of Christ. That was the source of their charisma – and served them far more effectively than natural eloquence.

    This article (the one here written by Marcel, I mean) is good news for the vast majority of us who tend to freeze up when someone dishes out anti-Catholic vitrole with the pumpkin pie. Even these faithful souls can make a real difference in the life of a seeker through their quiet acts of service, their refusal to take the bait and lose their cool, their faithful prayer for those who persecute.

    This does not diminish the importance of those who can articulate the faith well. We need them both. However, the "simple Catholic" often needs to be encouraged to share … whereas the apologist/catechist is rarely in need of this kind of encouragement.

    The most prevalent metaphor of the Church is not "army" but "Bride." The give-and-take of charitable debate is only one tool in an evangelist's tool kit. There are times when silence and service is the better choice (though it may not be so immediately gratifying).

    Thanks for this excellent article, Marcel.

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    Good article, but incomplete.  Let's see a few examples of what the author wants us to do.

    I used to be a "hit 'em over the head" kind of "witness"…..and still have tendencies in that direction.  I love a good "debate".  However, I've seen Archbishop Sheen proven true too many times.  Fairly recently, I've found a much better "tool" that works with anyone anywhere.

    I seem to have a "Mother-Confessor" quality about me: everyone tells me their problems!  This has been going on since I was in grade school.  Waiting in line at the grocery check-out, or standing around while a gas-pump fills my tank, people I've never seen before tell me their problems.  I've found that responding with "I'll pray for you" works wonders.  A few have said, "Oh, you don't have to do that"; others have looked at me with big eyes and open mouths and responded with, "You will?" as though it was the last thing they expected.  Even those who don't respond verbally look away and then back at me almost like they are trying to decide if I'm real.  (I am, and I really will pray for them.)  My favorites are the ones who smile as if we share a secret and simply say, "Thank you".

  • Guest

    Thanks for the comments. I agree the first poster who said that evangelization is more than what I discussed in the article, but editors always seem to want to give us a word limit. I have a book on the subject being reviewed for publication that covers the other aspects of evangelization as well. But, the purpose of this article was to merely introduce one aspect of the process.

    Cooky642 – Thank you for your comments. I have many suggestions and when I train Catholics to evangelize I go through many more than I will offer to you in this post. But, I would encourage you to continue offering prayers for others, because as you have already noticed it can be very powerful. My simple suggestion is to go one step further. Ask them if they would like to pray with you right then. Praying with someone in the grocery aisle is a great witness!

    Peace to all.

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