If there’s one word that strikes fear into the hearts of Catholics, it’s this: evangelization. And if not “fear,” it’s at least good for a little eye rolling. For the idea of knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets, and discussing our faith with total strangers is both intimidating and unappealing to most of us – and understandably so.
But given this is the case, how do we respond to Jesus’ exhortation to “Go out and make disciples of all nations”?1 When He proclaimed these words, He wasn’t speaking just to the apostles; His message was for all of us. We – meaning you and me – have been entrusted with the conversion of the whole world, yet we often think this task belongs to someone else: to priests, missionaries, or maybe just Protestants. But the truth is, we each have a role to play; we each must do our part to pass on the faith.
Since the earliest days, this is how the Church has grown – from person to person. Yet it must have seemed like a daunting task when the first apostles were sent out to “spread the Good News.” Imagine how they must have felt! How could a mere twelve men make a difference, much less evangelize the whole world? Yet by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, look how far the Church has come: today there are over 1.2 billion Catholics in every country of the world.2
In today’s world, we’ve come to regard speaking about matters of faith as somehow off-limits. We want to be polite – and we don’t want to offend – so we often keep quiet. But our silence is a disservice to our fellow man. Evangelization isn’t meant to be an imposition, for we always respect personal freedom; rather, if done well, it is an act of love. It says: “I want the best for you, not just in the here and now, but for all eternity.” If we are gentle, respectful, and caring in our approach, we needn’t worry. It’s true that some may be offended no matter what we do. But many others who are disillusioned with what the world has to offer and are searching will welcome what we have to offer. To bear witness to the love, peace, and forgiveness that we’ve experienced is one of the most beautiful ways to share Christ’s love. How can we keep something this good to ourselves?
Where to start?
As Christians, we all need to be more concerned – and much more proactive – about evangelization. But how do we do this without sounding like a salesman or coming off as “holier than thou?” Here are a few ideas that are much easier and more natural than some of the “usual” techniques:
- Leave books, articles or other relevant reading material around your home or in the car. For instance, if I want my husband or kids to read something, I usually just sneak a copy of it onto their bedside table. Or, better yet, put it in the bathroom. (Why not take advantage of the fact that you’ve got a captive audience?)
- Give away or gift books. It’s one thing to recommend a book, but quite another to give one away. For starters, putting a book into someone’s hands means there’s a much greater likelihood they will actually read it. From spiritual classics to the lives of the saints, from apologetics to conversion stories, there’s no shortage of great books out there that can do the talking for you. Yet even books that aren’t overtly Christian can speak volumes. I can’t tell you how many copies we’ve given away of the book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Dr. Meg Meeker.3 I’m sure it’s helped many a father see the integral role they play in their daughters’ lives and how practicing their faith (or not) impacts the whole family.
- Share links to articles through social media. This can be a great way to inform and enlighten; just make sure it doesn’t become a forum for debate or disintegrate into arguments. Face to face is the only way to make sure your message is coming across accurately and charitably.
- Ask someone to pray for you. Chances are, if people know that you practice your faith, they’ll ask you to pray for them from time to time, which is a great start. But how about turning it around and asking for prayer? It not only speaks to the power of prayer and to the fact that we believe in prayer, but also specifically to the power of THEIR prayers. It just may help someone realize how important they are in the grand scheme of things and that God can work through their intercession too.
- Art or objects of beauty. Generally speaking, anything of beauty can lead us to God, whether it’s art, an exquisite flower, a breathtaking scene, or something more abstract (the perfect golf swing?). Beauty is one of the ways that God speaks to the heart – through the senses, especially our eyes. Dostoevsky even went so far as to say that “Beauty will save the world.”4 So go on a hike with a friend or spend some time together at a museum. Make a garden or send flowers to someone, along with a heartfelt note. (Yes, evangelization can be that simple…)
- No need for subliminal messages here – good music speaks for itself. Our son has introduced us to some amazing musicians that definitely don’t fall under the genre of ‘Christian rock’ or pop. They’re more along the lines of folk or indie rock, with subtle (or not so subtle) spiritual undertones. You won’t hear them at church on Sunday (or mistake them for hymns), but you may find yourself reflecting on God’s love and mercy all the same. Check out this one from Josh Garrels’ new album Home:
- There’s an old saying that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’ll venture to guess we’re all susceptible to this tactic. Nothing says love like a freshly baked batch of cookies (or pretty much anything that you don’t have to make for yourself!). After one of our kids was born, a friend showed up on our doorstep one day with a casserole, and I was so overcome with gratitude that I broke down and cried. The key is to keep it simple. If we feel we must prepare elaborate meals in order to have someone over for dinner, chances are you won’t do it very often.
In all these examples, what’s the common thread? You. Each is a reflection of your own experience and perspective, one that is unique and personal.
Evangelization needn’t be pushy or intimidating. When done right, it’s merely sharing a part of who we are, about loving people and meeting their needs – in other words, being the “hands and feet” of Christ. Whether it’s a kind word, a hug, or something more, we all need that human element – to know that we are cared for, valued, and heard. Someone wiser than me once said, “Before caring about anything you have to say, people just want to know that you care.” That about sums it up, for in a world that’s short on kindness, a little goes a long way.
– Kelley Holy
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about the Church’s evangelizing mission, consider attending the 2015 Western Canadian Catholic Stewardship Conference in Calgary June 12 – 14. There’s a track called the “Joy of Evangelization,” which promises lots of great ideas! For more info, check out their website:www.wccsc.ca.
1 Matthew 28:19
2 How many Roman Catholics are There in the world?” BBC News [online news] available from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-21443313 Internet; accessed 16 April 2015.
3 Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Dr. Meg Meeker is available from amazon.com and most major bookstores. I highly recommend it to anyone who has daughters!
4 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot.