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  • Evangelization

    by Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

    evangelization1

    Passages in Scripture tell us that, when the Lord comes again, few believers will remain. Looking around the world, it is not hard to believe. Of the strict essence of the Christian teaching and practice, believers are a distinct minority. Both the Old and the New Testaments paint a dark picture of the number of people who believe, who believe properly, or who, believing, still do not live their lives in a manner proposed to them. But how often are we told to announce the good news so that others may also know what has been revealed? “How can they believe if they have not heard?” is a rhetorical question that we find in St. Paul.

    Christianity conceives itself — or better, “tidings of great joy” are announced to it. It too receives the Good News that it did not itself formulate. Christ told the disciples to “go forth.” They are to teach all nations. In order to present the Good News, in some sense, they need to be allowed to do so. The existence of martyrs in every era testifies to this abiding problem. The political order in existing states has to be formulated so that it is not a “hate crime” to state what one believes, nor a civil crime to join the Christian community. The fact is that few civil societies exist today in which the preaching, teaching, and practicing of Christianity is not in some way restricted or forbidden, often enforced with legal (sometimes criminal) restraints.

    In the documents of the Holy See, as in the American Bill of Rights, the freedom of religion is the first freedom. Without this freedom, the other freedoms become irrelevant. We are free to do everything except the most important thing. Yet freedom of religion stands within a political framework: Generally in Muslim countries, even when they grant freedom of religion, it is formulated so that Islam remains the only one allowed in the public space. However, Christ did not say go out and teach only those nations in which it is legal. In one of His instructions, Christ did tell the disciples to go in to a town or household; if they will not listen, leave that town, brush the dust off, and go on to those who will listen.

    The Church exists so that its teaching might be known and lived. Its teaching, moreover, is not an indifferent matter. The charge to teach has a certain urgency about it, even when it is not permitted or encouraged by the political or cultural order. But the faith is not to be imposed. I like the idea that we do not have to listen to every philosophy or religion that comes down the pike. Something is to be said of a “right not to be bothered.” We see signs on buildings that forbid literature to be distributed on their premises.

     

    Over the years, the Church has striven to find a space and place where it could present and practice freely and in public that life that is revealed. Wildly distorted pictures of this revelation are often found in the media and print literature. It is a full-time occupation just pointing out, against some claim to the contrary, that “the Church does not teach or practice what she is accused of teaching or practicing.” This effort to keep the record straight is necessary.

    evangelize1bChesterton said that the way he himself came to the faith was by reading what those who were not Catholic said of it. When he added up all the things that the Church was said to teach, he concluded either that it must be an extremely odd belief to hold such contradictory positions, or that the exaggerations indicated that in fact the Church was really saying what was true and sane.

    The Church understands that it must evangelize — that is, teach what is revealed to it. At the same time, it recognizes that what it presents must be heard and lived freely. The content of the faith, in some basic sense, is something necessary for each human being to hear — whether he accepts it or not, whether he practices it or not.

    The point I wish to make is simply this: Looking back over 2,000 years of evangelization, it seems clear that the objective, quiet presentation of what revelation teaches is impeded on every side. It is always precarious and never permanent. Revelation must be presented anew to each actual person, who is free to accept, reject, ignore, or oppose it. All that we can say of the initial mandate to “go forth” is that the Lord thought it worth doing, even when it is rejected. We may not want to know the truth, but Someone still wants us to know it.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • John

      The problem today which faces us Catholics is that the evangelization must take place in our own community first. Many Catholics have no idea what their religion entails. The nominal or cultural Catholics often try to force their interpretations on the rest of us; i.e. VP Joe Biden trying to speak for the Catholic Church in the matter of pro life and abortion was an egregious example of the Cultural Catholic war against the magisterium. We must try to defend the Faith against puerile politicians of this sort and other people who are in our cmmunity and consistently try to destroy Church teachings so that they can feel good about themselves. Evangelization must begin with the Americanized cultural Catholics.

    • Nick Palmer

      Rev. Schall reminds us that merely living a good, Christian life is insufficient. Yet for many Catholics, evangelization is daunting. I often find myself in distinctly hostile territory — e.g., the client who sits on the board of the local Planned Parenthood chapter. First, I find myself in need of a good dose of courage. To support that courage I need to understand the Church’s position myself, and to feel comfortable with it. This takes effort, especially in the echo-chamber world of today. Too often I find myself in discussions with those who agree, hence, never subject my thinking to hard criticism. Rev. Schall’s “Another Sort of Learning” is proving a great guide to living more thoughtfully. Finally, I find it self defeating to wade into discussions with a howitzer. I lose my arguments before I’ve begun, whether on abortion, gay marriage, women in the priesthood, or some other fad of the day. Inside Catholic and First Things have provided me with some “caritas-based” approaches to such discussions that seem to work far better.

      In the end, I have begun to realize that when I “lose” an argument, it does not necessarily mean that I am “wrong.” And, having given it an honest try, I can always shake the dust from my sandals.

    • georgie-ann

      St. Francis said to preach, using words when necessary,…hopefully our lives are a witness, weighing in as a valid testimony,…if this is the case, a few words to clarify what our lives are based on may be all that is necessary in some cases,…our peace and personal clarity may then speak volumes for themselves,…

    • Jason

      I believe that as a Catholic we are called to spread the Word of God to whoever has ears to hear, eyes to see, and mouths to speak. Each human being desires to know the Truth — a longing for God’s love and peace.

      However, I believe as Catholics it is not our duty to convert someone or to win arguments but to lead a person to the Truth and to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in conversion.

      God Bless you all and please keep me in your prayers so that I may have the courage to always testify God’s love.

    • John, Orlando

      The first step in Evangelization seems to be to first evangelize oneself.
      We often have the misconception that

    • lisag

      One way to learn how to evangelize is to catechize children. It forces you to learn the faith and present it in an uplifting, simple way. Most families do not talk about their faith in the home so you are truly spreading the faith. Your parish DRE will love to have your help.

    • Jean

      georgie-ann wrote: “St. Francis said to preach, using words when necessary, weighing in as a valid testimony,…if this is the case, a few words to clarify what our lives are based on may be all that is necessary in some cases,…our peace and personal clarity may then speak volumes for themselves…hopefully our lives are a witness”. (quote)

      The message of St. Francis provided is very clear on the point the that how you spend the money God gives to each one of us to use during our life on earth is critical. From what can be observed from their lifestyles not very many Catholic Christians choose to spend their money very much differently than those who do not “hear” the gospel Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. To what does that “witness”?

    • Jason

      Jean: “From what can be observed from their lifestyles not very many Catholic Christians choose to spend their money very much differently than those who do not “hear” the gospel Sunday after Sunday after Sunday”

      Generalize much?

    • Jean

      No, just observing in many pews and coffee hours of many Catholic parishes over many years. Beware of resorting to the accusation of “generalizing”. It is a weak defence. If you can contradict my observations with facts, I welcome your correction.

    • Jason

      Jean: “No, just observing in many pews and coffee hours of many Catholic parishes over many years. Beware of resorting to the accusation of “generalizing”. It is a weak defence. If you can contradict my observations with facts, I welcome your correction.”

      Unless you go home with those Catholics you have observed and have broken bread with them, will I accept your “observations”.

      Those who hear “the gospel Sunday after Sunday after Sunday” opposed to those who do not may commit the same mistakes with their use of money but the former has the Word of God planted in their hearts by taking part in Communion.

      A person is imperfect but with God’s grace may the person reach perfection.

      The Catholic Church is for the hypocrites and sinners, which I believe is all of us to receive God’s love and Truth (although it may take a lifetime to do so because sometimes the Truth that frees a person can also imprison them because they cannot let go of their ego).

      There is a beautiful passage that I love, it is from Mark 2:17 “Jesus heard this and said to them (that), “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

      God bless.