5 Steps To Effective Evangelization (& The Role of Community)
For two millennia, the Catholic Church has been the missionary church. Christianity, and more specifically, Catholicism, has and will continue to be the only religion whose primary goal is the conversion of souls.
Bold statement (see what I did there?).
You’re correct, it is a bold statement. It's also true. This truth is proven time and time again not only in the Gospels and the Epistles but in the lives of the saints. Think of some of the great missionary saints:
Jesuit priest and missionary, St. Francis Xavier, was said to have baptized more than 700,000 people during his time spent in Asia.
Saint Isaac Jogues and his companions traveled to the Americas and evangelized the Native American peoples, eventually giving their lives for the cause.
And of course, a more modern-day saint, St. Teresa of Calcutta or Mother Teresa. Her life was marked by mission — a willingness to lay down her life for the poorest of the poor in India.
There are so many men and women whose heroic lives we can highlight in witness to the Catholic faith over the centuries.
Unfortunately, we as the faithful have seemed to have lost this vital element of our faith: the need & urgency to evangelize. Why is this?
Honestly, take your pick of reasons why we’ve shied away from our evangelistic roots. For the purpose of this article, let’s simply focus on our response today to our current crisis of faith.
Pope St. Pius X once proclaimed,
“Whilst Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them in order to convert them and save them.”
This must be our next move. This is the answer to our culture of relativism and tolerance.
We must not be so quick to think that modern man can’t handle the truth. The reality is that if we speak the truth with charity - supernatural charity - anyone can handle the truth. People can handle the mystery of Christ & His Church.
But there is a caveat.
To those that we meet and have the opportunity to evangelize: the truth will be attractive only if we have supernatural charity within our hearts. What do you think St. Paul meant when he said to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me”? This is the distinguishing factor between all other Christians and the saints: charity.
The faith that you and I live and believe is the same faith that inflamed the hearts of the greatest of saints.
Pope Benedict XVI gave us great encouragement when he said,
“Faith must become a flame of love within us. A flame that burns in our lives and propagates to our neighbors. This is the essence of evangelization.”
So, how can we as Catholics, as Christians effectively share the gift of faith with those inside or outside the Church?
A priest by the name of Fr. David Nix, a missionary priest known for his work in Street and Marian Evangelization, has a simple yet powerful way of approaching evangelization in our daily lives.
It’s all based on the acronym: P.O.L.U.S. Let’s dive in!
Regardless of whether we are confronted or if we see an opening to share the Gospel with an individual, it is essential to simply resign yourself to a quick, simple prayer.
“God, please let only your will be done in this conversation.”
That’s it. No need to get super carried away with asking God to give you a prophetic word to speak into a person’s life, especially if this is new territory.
(Quick caveat. I totally believe in the gift of prophecy, it's scriptural and witnessed by many of the saints - but if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. Let’s focus on the basics first.)
BONUS TIP: call on your baptismal and confirmation graces. Ask God for His will to be done and to stir within you the graces you received at your baptism and confirmation.
2. “Only One.”
We all know that a conversation shifts drastically, especially regarding faith, when two or more people are speaking against one another.
Fr. Nix points out that if you are with another like-minded Catholic or Christian with an opportunity emerging to witness, it’s essential to have one person speaking on the matter. It isn’t meant to be an apologetics competition.
Takeaway: Our goal isn’t to scare off the person we are ministering to.
There is one thing we all crave and yet are deeply deprived of and that is being listened to.
A number of years ago, I was at LAX airport on a layover and decided to get lunch at a bar in my terminal.
About 15 minutes after sitting down, a young guy (probably my age) sits down and I begin a conversation.
This man seemed as if something heavy was weighing on him. I came to find out he was traveling back from his father’s funeral. In the moment, all I knew to do was simply listen. After giving him the chance to share a bit, I simply responded, “I’m sorry for your loss. That must really be difficult losing your father.” I wasn’t trying to be patronizing, I just wanted him to know I was listening.
Although I don’t know what ever came of him, I’d like to think that conversation was at least comforting.
Listening has that effect. And trust is built not only when we listen, but when we reiterate back to a person what they’ve just said to us.
Takeaway: Evangelizing isn’t a means to moralize another person’s situation (at least not initially). Instead, listening is a means to knock down any barriers to Christ in the hearts of those we meet.
This next step goes hand in hand with listening because at the heart of listening is a true and sincere attempt to understand another.
Recall the story of our Lord with the woman at the well in John 4.
4 He had to pass through Samar′ia. 5 So he came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him.
Notice how Jesus doesn’t dive head first into talking about worshiping in Jerusalem and on Mount Gerizim, or the fact that she’s had six husbands - rather, He connects with her on that which is common to both of them — their need for water.
It wasn't until asking this Samarian woman for a drink that Jesus made the connection between earthly water and the waters of grace that He offers us all, specifically through the Sacraments, which He shares with her only once some level of openness is shown.
Takeaway: People must trust us at the human level first. We can’t take someone to higher ground until we have found common ground.
For most of us, our bread and butter will simply be planting seeds of faith in the hearts and minds of those we meet.
There are those who are in the unitive stage of prayer (which is the height of the spiritual life) who will meet people and have them convert on the spot. For instance, St. Teresa of Avila was known to be walking through the streets of Spain and people would simply look at her face and convert.
If that’s you, great. But the majority of us will have to find other, more practical means to plant those seeds.
To do so, here are a few practical things you can do:
Carry Miraculous Medals with chains attached and give them to those you meet. Let people know of the promises for those who wear them.
Tell people about other sacramentals like the Brown Scapular.
Invite people to adoration or mass with you.
Ask if someone would like to get coffee and continue the conversation.
Or simply tell someone that Jesus Christ died and rose for them so that they may live with Him forever.
Some of these things may be cheesy. You may even have a sour taste in your mouth from seeing others who lacked genuineness use the same tactics. I get it. I’ve seen those people too.
The tactics aren’t what is broken though, our disposition and intentions are.
Takeaway: Being Christ’s hands and feet in the world is very simple if only we embrace the means at our disposal to plant those seeds and get out of His way.
The Role of Community in Evangelization
What is the relation between evangelization and community?
There are many, but the most obvious is that we are made for relationships and community. The greatest indication of this is inherent to our nature. The fact that we were made to know, love, and serve God — to be in a relationship with Him in this life and the next. Relationship and communion with Him are more essential and human than anything else.
This reality is also very practical.
We thrive when relating to and being surrounded by people who have our best interests at heart, whom we share values with, and whom we are pursuing a common goal with. We’ve been preaching this message for some time now, but it must be repeated:
In a time when faith is irrelevant to most, relationships are completely disrupted, and trust in institutions is gone...
...a concerted effort to evangelize through community is a must.
Takeaway: Only when we make this connection between evangelization and community will we see just how interdependent both are to the other.
As Christians, we must never lose hope and always give a reason for our hope, that is Jesus Christ, as St. Paul tells us. With the P.O.L.U.S. framework, our efforts will not only be more practical but will also bear more fruit with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time...
In today’s world, assume that people are wounded by the Church. Assume that many, if not most, are confused. Assume that people are angry with the scandals in the Church. Assume that most men and women are wandering through this life, never satisfied with the things of this world.
In the midst of it all, remember that this will not stop Jesus from pursuing souls and using you as His instrument.
Living in a time where all hope seems lost and evil seems to have conquered, we must look to the risen Christ. He has conquered death and has promised to be with us and His Church, even until the end of time.
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