May 9, 2008

Evangelization Supplement 2008

‘Love in action’: All Catholics are called to evangelize in their everyday lives

In this file photo, Holy Trinity parishioner Barbara Pierse of Edinburgh helps Lilia Perez improve her English language skills during a class at the parish in 2004. A key part of evangelization is seeing the presence of God in others and acting in a loving way toward them. (File photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

In this file photo, Holy Trinity parishioner Barbara Pierse of Edinburgh helps Lilia Perez improve her English language skills during a class at the parish in 2004. A key part of evangelization is seeing the presence of God in others and acting in a loving way toward them. (File photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Leslie Lynch (Special to The Criterion)


The word, all by itself, provokes anxiety in many Catholics.

We may conjure up images of going forth in pairs to knock on doors or hand out religious tracts on street corners. If this is our frame of reference, it is no surprise that many Catholics do not feel an urge to “evangelize.”

But we are called to evangelize. Jesus tells us to go forth and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). So what is evangelization, and how are we to accomplish it?

Coming to terms

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, to evangelize means to spread the Gospel. Note that responsibility for conversion is not assigned to the evangelizer. But the expectation of action of some sort is. The evangelizer is simply the worker who labors to fulfill Christ’s mission.

The good news, especially for those of us who are shy or introverted, is that the Catholic Church does not require a “soapbox” approach to evangelization.

The Church provides open arms, room for questions and searching, and a place of solace and comfort for those in pain. The Church takes seriously Jesus’ challenge to feed the hungry, to care for those in need, without attaching a condition of conversion.

The Church encourages us to follow the model of St. Francis of Assisi, who, when asked to demonstrate his preaching method, went about his daily business of interacting with others in a spirit of love and humility. When one of his followers expressed disappointment about his lack of “preaching,” St. Francis said, “Go forth and preach the Gospel—and when necessary, use words.”

Most of us are comfortable with this approach. We use our time, talents and treasure to serve our families, our parishes and our communities. We pitch in to help those who have experienced misfortune or tragedy. We volunteer at soup kitchens, as catechists, as lay ministers.

This is, indeed, “preaching the Gospel,” and we each must examine our conscience daily to see what more we can do: a smile, a kind word, an angry retort reined in, engaging in a new—and possibly uncomfortable—act of charity, saying “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s nudging to attend a retreat, living our vocation with fidelity and perseverance, forgiving those who have wronged us, and forgiving ourselves.

We are charged to continue our own conversion through an ongoing practice of evaluating our motives and actions, of examining our consciences.

Building a base of knowledge

Let’s carry this a step further. This step may be uncomfortable for some of us.

Do we share our faith freely in our social situations outside our families and our parishes? Are we comfortable with speaking to non-Catholics or, for that matter, Catholics outside of Church settings, about matters of faith? Does peer pressure intimidate us, causing us to hesitate or keep our opinion private?

If so, perhaps an inadequate understanding of our own faith is a culprit. As adults, we are obliged to further our faith formation. Beyond weekly Mass, do we take advantage of parish programs such as Bible study, catechism study and faith-sharing groups? How about deanery programs or local retreat centers?

Myriads of programs are available, many at little or no cost. Our Church wants to minister to us, and that’s an avenue of evangelization in its own right.

But if we don’t ask, if we don’t seek to deepen our understanding, we risk hampering our spiritual growth with youthful memories of our faith that may be immature or even skewed.

If we don’t take responsibility for our continuing faith formation, we set ourselves up to fall victim to beliefs that the Church rejects as flawed. We need to know enough about our own faith to stand firm when faced with erroneous tenets.

Bloom where you are planted

Another way of looking at evangelization is the old adage to “bloom where you are planted.”

God has given us gifts and passions, and has placed us in different circles of people where we have a singular sphere of influence. Our distinctive ways of interacting, our own view of the world—these cannot be duplicated and are gifts that we are called to use in God’s service.

Even if we are in an environment where God is not apparent, we are charged to bring our witness, our light, our values into it. We may never know the end result of our stone dropped into a still pond, but the ripples go on and on.

Evangelization calls each of us to look at others through the eyes of God, to see Jesus in those around us and to minister to the needs of those whose paths intersect ours—and to do so without judging them.

If we keep in mind that evangelization is God-focused and God-serving, it becomes much clearer and much easier to accomplish. We allow ourselves to be the tool he uses to touch others in a way we may never know or understand to allow God to touch that person’s soul and ours.

Evangelization is a loving response to God’s goodness to us, and we embrace it by way of respectful dialogue (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #856). We plant the seed, nurture it or harvest the fruit—whatever role God has given to us.

In any case, the Holy Spirit does the work and the person involved is the only one who can accept or reject the challenge of conversion. Keep in mind that the conversion sought by God in any given situation may well be our own!

Jesus challenges us to step out of our comfort zone. At times, this requires courage and sacrifice, but mostly it requires fidelity to God. Evangelization is at the core of the two great commandments of our faith—to love God with all our heart, soul and might, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How, then, can we not share the Gospel?

Evangelization is simply another word for love—love in action.

(Leslie Lynch is a member of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.) †

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