I recently read The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did by Eric Sammons (El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers Press. 2017). When I saw the title, I ordered it based on my continuing desire to evangelize. As I read it, I found it as much about discipleship, if not more, than evangelization. The bottom line is that if we are going to be disciples, we need to evangelize, we need to share our faith. If you are interested in understanding the importance of sharing our faith, I encourage you to read this book.
Evangelization is not limited to a parish program. Sammons writes, “This book isn’t intended to help you start a new evangelization program in your parish or diocese. It’s intended to be a practical guide for everyday use in your interactions with family, friends, coworkers, and fellow parishioners” (13). We are all aware of the long decline in attendance at Mass. What many are not aware of is how each parishioner has a part to play in reversing the decline.
Sammons offers the example of Claire who did her job and keep quiet about her faith until one day when her coworkers were talking in support of abortion. She felt compelled to speak up. Because she spoke up, one of her coworkers, Linda, admitted to her that she had had an abortion and felt God won’t forgive her. Claire led her to Project Rachel and forgiveness. If Claire hadn’t spoken up, where would Linda be today (18-21)?
Why might we not want to evangelize? Sammons answers with four simple words, “A fear of rejection” (23). When we are speaking with family and friends who we enjoy being with, we don’t want to hurt our relationship with them. So, when we see them living contrary to our faith, we remain silent rather than jeopardize our relationship with them. I have a question. If we are really their friend, shouldn’t we tell them the truth about what they are doing? We are not called to force the faith on others. We are called to offer it to them and let them decide (see Ezekiel 3:17-21 and Luke 9:51-56).
We might think it is the role of trained theologians to share the faith. Sammons reminds us that Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to share the good news of his Resurrection with the other disciples. She was not a trained scholar. She was a sinner. Yet, God called her to share the faith. God wants you to share the faith. In fact, the average parishioner can be in a better position to share how important their faith is than priests, religious, deacons, or scholars. People expect the “professionals” to speak well of the faith. When the ordinary parishioner does the same, it flows from the heart and serves as witness to what our faith really means to them.
We share our faith in our actions but our actions are only a first step. Sammons presents “the four “Ps” of evangelization: Practicing the Faith, Prayer, Penance, and Preaching” (25). Prayer helps us in our discipleship because it helps us know God’s will. It helps us be more attuned to God in our lives (remember what I said about “praying without ceasing” in my series, Giving Our Hearts to God:: What It Means to Pray), and it helps us increase our charity to others (Sammons, 25).
In our prayer, we come to realize our sins and confess them and willingly accept our penance. Then, we “preach,” sharing whatever words the Spirit gives us. We are not all called to give a homily at Mass. That is for the ordained, but we are all called to speak about our faith. You don’t have to give a long theological discussion. Tell others what you believe.
In chapter 3, Sammons talks about the importance of being “welcoming”. Welcoming is not limited to having friendly ushers and/or greeters at the door, a friendly priest, or a welcoming note in the bulletin (48). Nor does being “welcoming” call us to ignore people’s sins. Sammons writes on Marty Haugen’s song All are Welcome for its popularity as a welcoming song (47). It is a good song in that we are called to be welcoming to all people. However, that doesn’t mean we ignore their sins. We welcome them in to lead them to conversion from their sins. Jesus didn’t ignore the sins of people. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).
Sammons point out Jesus’ words of how He will cause division in Luke 12:51-53 (49). It is not our purpose to cause division but we need to be aware there will be division when we speak the truth of our faith.
Sammons speaks of the misguided concept that a priest who speaks of people ending up in Hell will be seen as unwelcoming (50). If we care about someone, we should want to tell them that there are consequences to our sins. Actually, in today’s age, we have to start by telling them that there is sin. Jesus’ goal is to save people from their sins (Sammons, 52). If we want to be true Christian disciples, we should make this goal our own.
Could this make people uncomfortable? Of course it could! Sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable to get us to be willing to change! Sammons is a convert. He tells us that part of what led him to become Catholic was his Catholic friends in the pro-life movement weren’t afraid to let him feel uncomfortable when they prayed the rosary in public (55).
Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. To love our neighbor we need to be welcoming in the same way Jesus was and we need to tell them the truth about sin and Hell.
We pray that the Holy Spirit give us the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and right judgment (counsel) to know what to say to others and the gift of courage (fortitude) to actually say it.