As lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3)
One summer the Legionaries of Christ came to our parish for an intensive experience in evangelization. The plan was to go out two by two, as Jesus sent out the 72 disciples in Luke 10, like Mormon missionaries or Jehovah Witnesses, inviting our non-Catholic or formerly Catholic neighbors back to church. I don’t know how successful that effort was, but the very idea reminded me of Girl Scout cookie days, so I was not among those who went out.
These days the door-to-door approach might mean laying one’s life on the line. You might could earn the martyr's crown if someone stood his ground against you, but that would mean one less Christian to spread the Word that is so desperately needed in our world today.
If you share my distaste for door-to-door evangelization, you might be looking for other ways to evangelize. Remember that Mary was not among the 72. Nor were Mary, Martha and Lazarus and countless others who nonetheless have managed to help in the effort to spread the faith. Your own talents and skills can provide you a unique path for witnessing to the presence of Jesus Christ in the world today.I suggest seven for your consideration:
Seven Strategies for Evangelization
1. The Eucharist
Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. Here is the very presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, speaking to us, feeding us. Here we are built up by the prayers of the whole Church, and by our neighbors in the community. Here is the example of Jesus and the apostles, the strength and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refreshing us and sending us out once for on our mission.
Reading the Gospel accounts, you can't help but notice how often Jesus prayed. He is the Son of God, but even he sought out his Father in prayer. His strength, his direction, came from being united in prayer with the Father. Taking his cue, we can do likewise.
I belong to a healing prayer group that prays for the needs we are aware of among our community and circle of friends and family. We have a list that we update monthly, noting progress and recovery in the many answers to prayer. Friends ask for our prayers, and we check in with them for progress reports.
Answered prayer is one of the most powerful and convincing signs of God’s presence among us and his love for us. This is a testimony to those whose faith may gone dry, to family members who no longer find God relevant. Answered prayer is always relevant. Nothing convinces like a personal experience of God, and we can provide it through prayer.
Prayer for others is also a way of showing our own agape love: the love that makes God visible. Furthermore, you will find that prayer also nourishes your own faith and confidence in God’s power. It is this confidence that gives you the power to share your faith with others.
3. Scripture study, especially the Gospels and the Book of Acts
Observe Jesus’ own teaching in the Gospels. How does he convince people of the truth of his words? It is his signs and miracles of healing that bring people to listen to him. Yes there are his reminders, along with those of John the Baptist, to repent; but scolding can only accomplish so much. People are more apt to repent when they see the love of God in action.
Thus, the previous suggestion, praying for healing, is a way to practice Jesus’ own technique. When he sent out the 12, and then the 72, he sent them to heal and cast out evil spirits. It was this, not clever arguments, that brought people to follow them.
In fact, the Church has a wonderful sacrament, the Anointing of the Sick. I believe we could use this sacrament much more regularly than we do now, to help people experience the presence of Jesus’ own healing among in their lives.
Pay attention to how Jesus lived as well. How can you embody him in your way of living? How did he treat the needy? The sick? The outcast? How did he interact with those in authority? How did he speak about the Kingdom of God? How did he relate to God the Father? How often did he pray?
4. Being an example
St. Francis said :”Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Of the early Christians it was said, “See how these Christians love one another.” See! Let people observe us doing what is right, living the life Jesus taught. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, carrying Jesus out to the world. They should see in us the person God intends all of us to be.
This morning on the way to my grandson’s preschool, we were stopped at a railroad crossing. The engine was parked fifty feet or so from the crossing, keeping the security arms down, the lights flashing. Traffic was piling up on either side. Some drivers began going around the barriers. My son-in-law finally turned the car around, planning to take the long way around. “So you aren’t going around the barriers?” I asked. “No,” he answered. “ I don’t want Lincoln to see that it’s okay to break the law.”
Early Christians set an example of obedience to civil authority. We know that the Roman state did not promote Christian virtues; if anything, it sometimes put them to death. In spite of that, Christians were to be obedient. What does this say to us today? Our lawfulness speaks out more powerfully to the truth of the Gospel than does our resistance to government authority.
This is only one illustration of the power of example. Our own imitation of Christ is the best way of making him present to the world. Remember that we want people to see Christ in us, not US in us. Our goodness must point the way to God’s goodness.
5. Engaging with the World
You’ve done all of the above and want to let your voice be heard as well.
Don’t stay in your own little corner with those who agree with you. There is a temptation in today’s media scene to stay with what we agree with. The mainstream media sometimes seems to over focus on and favor points of view that clash with our Christian values, leading some Catholics to avoid and dismiss them.
How did St. Paul engage with the gentiles of the Roman Empire? “To the Jews, I am a Jew; to the Greeks, a Greek. (I Cor.9:20-21ff) “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul did not avoid the secular world, but challenged it. We must do the same. We do this by carefully studying the issues. Even seasoned journalists specialize in one area so as to be able to speak with authority. We can do the same. Is our issue abortion? Then, read up on pro-life issues so as to be able to speak/write with authority, factually. Practice conveying your ideas calmly, logically. Write to your local newspaper. Let your voice be heard.
It is important to avoid giving the impression of bias or prejudice. Find ways of communicating the truth in a way that upholds science and nature, which are respected even by those who have no use for God. Find common ground with others before you bring up points of disagreement.
Write to your government representatives, especially those who are doing the right thing. Let your voice be heard by your congressional representatives and senators. If you already approve of their positions, then let them know that too.
6. Support of the Media
If you are not yet ready to speak out in public on your own, support the media that is speaking out courageously. Write to journalists who are speaking out, to encourage them. Even the liberal mainstream media has Catholics speaking out. Let your support for these journalists be known. It is difficult for journalists who dare to go counter to mainstream thinking. They need your supportive words and prayers.
7. Saving the Children
A D.R.E. for many years, I used to tell my catechists that every child starts out ignorant of God, needing to be evangelized and then catechized. As Catholic families we evangelize our children by showing them the love of Jesus. Then we provide them catechesis in their parish religious ed program or Catholic school. You are an evangelist for your own children. You extend that work in your parish and diocese by you financial support, and even more by volunteering to teach. Every parish needs people to help with faith formation classes. Even if you aren’t ready to take on a class, you could be an assistant.
There are many ways to be an evangelist. The truth of it is, if you are imitating Christ in your daily life, fortified by the Eucharist, informed by the Gospels, loving your neighbor, you can't avoid evangelizing. People will see your charity, joy, peace, patience and the other fruits of the Spirit, and say, "I'll have what she's having."