I’ve been thinking a lot lately about evangelization. This has been sparked in part by some conversations with principals around the diocese in which I work; in part because of the recent elections; and in part because of the flurry of recent surveys showing the declining adherence to traditional Christian beliefs and practices.
Catholics, in particular, have been hard hit, with nearly 30% falling away in the U.S. One in ten Americans now describe themselves as “lapsed Catholics”; the gross number of Catholics in the U.S. remains stable only because of immigration.
As someone who works in the area of catechesis, its easy to fall into the trap of creating a new education program or finding the “teachable moment.” But the truth is, as a colleague said the other day, that most of these people aren’t ready of catechesis — they are in need of evanglization. We can’t take for granted that they understand the need for faith and a relationship with Christ and his Church; we can’t take for granted that they are open to learning more about their faith. We need to start with the invitation to join us.
This is scary. It means getting into the dirty work of actually talking to people about our faith, engaging others about why we love the Catholic Church and her teachings. Worse, it means more than just typing this on a computer screen and hitting the “publish” button. We have to act like Paul. It’s hard to remember that he did more than just write letters. Indeed, it may be fair to say that his letters weren’t the most important part of his ministry. Paul went from town to town talking with people about Christ, arguing with them and demonstrating the reason for his faith. He didn’t stay in the safety of his home. He walked the roads, left his country and his people — ending, of course, with his death in Rome.
And that’s why we’re scared of evangelization. It leads to places we don’t want to go, where we won’t be comfortable and happy. It has to start with us, but it can’t end there. We have to think bigger than ourselves and reach out with an invitation to others. “Go and make disciples,” we are told. I think he meant it. But it’s not enough to believe; we have to act. We have to take up our cross and show that our faith is more than just a relic of the past.
It’s the key to our present and our future.