May 9, 2014

Evangelization Supplement

Parishes seek to help Catholics spread Gospel in their daily lives

(Photo illustration by Natalie Hoefer)

(Photo illustration by Natalie Hoefer)

By Sean Gallagher

By virtue of their baptism, each Catholic is called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with other people. It’s not the sole purview of overseas missionary priests and religious men and women.

Yet many Catholics don’t see how they are to live out that baptismal commitment in practical terms in their daily lives. Other people might either not know enough about their faith, or are not enthused enough about it to make an effort to share it with others.

Three parishes in central and southern Indiana are taking steps to help change that situation. They’re helping adults learn more about their faith, grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church, and learn ways that they can help others share the Gospel in their daily lives.

Different faith communities carry out this task in ways that fit with their overall context.

For example, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville is in rural Hancock County and its members comprise a few hundred households.

Lisa Hersberger, the parish’s director of religious education, sees Father Robert Barron’s 10-part “Catholicism” documentary series as a good way to expand her parishioners’ view of the Church.

“Being from a small parish, the series helps people understand the bigger part of the Church,” Hersberger said. “It’s huge. It’s universal. This helps them visually understand that.”

She also thinks the documentary series’ focus on the beautiful way that the Catholic faith has been expressed throughout history and around the world can be an effective means for parishioners to share that faith with other people.

“I think them learning and seeing that kind of stuff helps them to evangelize more, and to understand their faith more so they can share their faith,” Hersberger said. “Father Barron has such a good way of being able to explain things in an easy-to-understand way.”

St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute serves a mixture of parishioners. Like most parishes, many are youths, families and older Catholics. But they also serve as the campus ministry hub for Catholics at Indiana State University and Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, both in Terre Haute.

Donna McKenzie, pastoral associate at the parish, is working with a group of staff members and parishioners in crafting a strategy that will help all members of the faith community more effectively lead others closer to Christ and the Church.

Many of their ideas have come from author Joe Paprocki’s book, Living Under the Influence of Jesus.

A meeting at St. Joseph on May 20 will help parishioners see that evangelization has at its core helping other people grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“It doesn’t involve the things we do in the parish per se,” McKenzie said. “It involves what you say to your family, how you bring what you’ve got to strangers, how you start up a conversation in a non-threatening way. Or how do you respond when people ask you something?”

Sometimes the prospect of answering specific questions about the faith can scare people away from the mission of evangelization. McKenzie, however, will seek at the May 20 meeting and in the months ahead to calm such fears in parishioners.

“Don’t be afraid to share your faith,” she said. “Here is how you can talk about it. Here is what it is. This is what the Church expects of you. And this is what the world needs. If they want more, send them to us [at the parish].”

Judy Koch has served as pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish (OLG) in Greenwood, a large suburban parish, for 30 years.

Over that time, she has seen the fruit of the evangelization that knowledgable and enthused lay Catholics, whom she describes as “self-evangelized,” carry out in their daily lives. Koch said some 1,500 people have entered into the full communion of the Church over that time, primarily through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, at Our Lady of the Greenwood.

And she noted that a large number of these new Catholics have come to the Church because of the example given by OLG parishioners who live out their faith in their daily lives in convincing ways.

“People who exhibit such a life [of faith] speak volumes without words,” Koch said. “[Others] look at these people and say, ‘I want to have what they have. Where do you get that?’ And if people have had that self-evangelization, they will say in response, ‘Come to church. Come and see what this is all about.’ ”

In recent months, OLG has sought to further the evangelization of regular Mass-goers by giving out copies of Matthew Kelly’s Rediscovering Catholicism to all parishioners at Christmas.

Koch explained that the parish followed up the distribution of the book by sponsoring monthly meetings to discuss chapters in the book, posting small articles about it in the parish’s weekly bulletin and posting those articles on the parish’s website.

“If you read [the book] in isolation, you get a lot from it,” Koch said. “But I think you really get a lot more when, first, you hear things come out of your own mouth about your faith and when you exchange ideas with other people and hear how a certain concept in the book affected them. It expands a great deal on what you get in reading it by yourself.”

Koch hopes these efforts will help individual OLG parishioners to take their mission of evangelization seriously.

“Learn more about your faith,” Koch said. “Experience your faith more. Because you can’t give to people what you don’t have.” †

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