Today I conclude the series of blog articles I have been writing in my attempt to reflect on the question, “How do you evangelize a culture that used to be Christian?”
Of course, the ministry of evangelization will continue as long as there is someone alive who has not yet turned their heart to Jesus Christ. It is only this particular series of blog articles that comes to an end with this article.
In my last article, I addressed the question, “Whose Job is it?” In our Baptism, we each receive the Light of Christ and we are appointed to share the Light of Jesus with others. We are not to force it on anyone. They need to choose for themselves what to believe but we have an obligation as baptized Christians to speak up for how our faith teaches us to live. Ezekiel 3:17-21 tells us that we must speak up but once we do so, it is in the other person’s hands. On the other hand, Ezekiel tells us that if we don’t speak up, we are culpable for their sins. We rely on God to know what each of us are to do individually and together as a community of believers.
In thinking about our culture that used to be Christian, we need to think about why people leave the Church. Some may make a deliberate choice. Among this group, I would include those who reject faith because they think science proves that there is no God (see article #2 in this series, “How Science Eliminated the Need for God”).
Among those who might deliberately leave the Church are those who think faith has become outdated and irrelevant (see article #3 in this series, “Answering Those Who Think Faith is Irrelevant”). People in this group may make a conscious choice to stop going to Church but it is based on faulty premises that lead them to think faith is irrelevant. It is our task to help them see how faith is relevant today. It is only misunderstanding and/or incomplete knowledge of our faith that makes it seem irrelevant. We also need to help them see how God is active in our world and in our individual lives.
Another group of those who might deliberately leave the Church includes victims of abuse and people who know them. Because they are a victim of a great wrong by a priest, they may come to doubt the Catholic Church as the authentic Church or they might even become atheist, thinking that if there was a God, He would never allow the abuse to happen. First, I again say I am sorry to anyone who has been a victim. We must do everything we can to make sure such abuse or any other abuse never happens again.
There are those get distracted by earthly things. They might have good intentions of coming to know Jesus but they think they have to first get a good job with good money and power. They put all their energy into that and forget about God. Sometimes they come back to Church but many get caught forever in material things (see article #1 in this series, “The Quest for Fulfillment in the Modern World”). They may never make a conscious decision to turn away from the Church. They more just slip away.
Another group that might just slip away are those who feel like they don’t get much out of coming to Church (see article #4 in this series, “Answering Those Who Say They Don’t Get Much Out of Mass”).
So, what are we to do? We need to build bridges between our Catholic faith and the modern (or what some even call the “postmodern world.”
This means we need to meet people where they are at. Old school missionaries would often “force” their own culture on others while trying to evangelize. Today we understand we need to learn about their culture and then build bridges (see Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazoniaand the final document from the Amazonian Synod).
We need to respect different cultures and ethnicities in our work of Evangelization. We also need to understand the differences between generations. Within the Church, this starts with understanding the differences between the Pre-Vatican II and the Post-Vatican II generations. We must also understand that people born in the Great Depression of the 1930’s have a different sense of entitlement and sacrifice than those born in recent years. Events like World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and 9-11 all influence everyone some but most especially those who come of age when these events are happening.
It is the work of all of us, no matter what generation, culture, or ethnicity we belong to work to spread the gospel message. The Truth of the gospel does not change but we need new ways to help make our faith relevant to every generation, culture, and ethnicity.
I will end with the following passage taken from my document, “What Sort of Church Should We Be?” (November 24, 2017)
“If we are to build bridges, we cannot keep relying on old methods
“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel (EG, 43. Italics my emphasis). “
We cannot and should not change the Gospel message. Yet we need to realize that the world we live in is not the same as it was 200 years ago, let alone 2,000 years ago. We live in an age of communication where information is transmitted across the world in seconds. This gives us new means to spread the gospel but as Pope Francis points out
“We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data-all treated as being of equal importance-and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values (EG, 64).”
I know I may not have provided the explicit answers that we (myself included) would like in how to evangelize but I hope this series has helped you as well as me to take the next step to build up the Kingdom of God.