July 19, 2013

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Peg McEvoy

We are evangelizers, not ‘haters!’

Being a parent—or in a parental role—isn’t easy. Sometimes a child deliberately does something wrong. We may look for reasons—“they are just tired/hungry/getting sick,” but deep down, we know he or she should “know better.” We know we have to confront the behavior or attitude, but always within the context of love.

In our country, there are similar wrong and, in some cases, just plain rotten things being done by people who should know better. Supreme Court justices, politicians and “regular folks” are working against what we know to be God’s truth in our world. And yet, when we speak up as Catholics, we are often seen as old-fashioned or ignorant at best and “haters” at worst.

At the same time, our Church is calling us to the new evangelization. Some evangelization approaches focus mostly on increasing numbers and making people spiritually comfortable.

From this perspective, publicly advocating for Catholic teaching on “hot button” topics like abortion, marriage and immigration seems to be in opposition to our call to evangelize. How can we speak out on these difficult issues which are divisive and uncomfortable, and still bring people into the Church?

The ultimate goal of evangelization is bringing people into full communion with Christ and his Church. This is not exactly the same as simply bringing people into the Church.

Being in full communion is about giving ourselves completely to Christ and his teachings, and recognizing that the Church exists to help all of us do that. This understanding and the call to change our lives will create discomfort for those coming into the Church and for practicing Catholics.

The goal of advocacy is similar to that of evangelization—to make timeless truth clear and to encourage behavior that corresponds to those beliefs, especially among decision makers.

Evangelization and advocacy are a “both/and” in our faith, not an “either/or.” And what links them is compassion and catechesis—being formed in the faith.

In both evangelization and advocacy:

We must witness to and model the mercy, compassion and love of Jesus Christ. As much as possible, we must begin to see things as Jesus does. He spoke the truth with compassion, but still “got in people’s faces” when necessary, especially if they were leading others astray.

There must be an understanding of the faith deep enough to apply timeless truth to current situations.

There must be respect for the dignity of all people—born and pre-born, old and young, sick and healthy, those who agree and those who disagree.

Remember the parental role? As Catholics today, we may be called upon to offer correction simply by sharing our faith, not with anger and finger wagging but with love, firmness and confidence.

In Pope Francis’ recent encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), he says, “Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love” (#50).

Deepen your faith by continuing to be formed—read the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, watch video clips at www.wordonfire.org, attend a solid Catholic Bible study and adult faith formation activities at your parish, and always pray.

In a parish, evangelization and advocacy need to work together. The parish evangelization team and the pro-life committee should be communicating and helping each other. The pro-life committee and the homeless outreach and social justice committee should be communicating and helping each other.

And by incorporating prayer, reflection and catechesis, each group will be evangelizing and becoming more confident in sharing the faith with others.

(Peg McEvoy is the archdiocesan associate director for evangelization and family catechesis. For questions and/or help starting a parish evangelization team, contact McEvoy at pmcevoy@archindy.org.)

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