I write today with another installment in my series on the question, “How do you evangelize a culture that used to be Christian?” This is the fifth in the series. If you have not read the others, here are links to those articles:
- “The Quest for Fulfillment in the Modern World”
- “Has Science Eliminated the Need for God?”
- “Answering Those Who Think Faith is Irrelevant”
- “Answering Those Who Say They Don’t Get Much Out of Mass”
Now, I want to turn to the question of how do we share the faith in terms of whose job it is. My previous articles in this series focused on some answers to some of the questions that people who have left the Church or never gone to church might have.
So, whose “job” is it to give them the answers? First, I want to say I don’t like the word “job”. It is not a job in the sense of something we do just to make money. It is a ministry. What makes it a ministry? It is done in the service of God to lead people to his kingdom.
The average parishioner might answer the question, “whose job is it?” by saying it is the church’s job, meaning the clergy, religious, and, perhaps, other paid staff. The staff, clergy, and religious might respond by saying they can’t do it all. They don’t have the time. They say it is for the laity, the parishioners, to share in the ministry of evangelization. In turn, the parishioners might say they don’t have the knowledge to talk about the faith.
Are these real “reasons” or are they just “excuses” to get out of doing it ourselves?
Before discussing those reasons, I want to address another reason we might not like to talk about our faith, embarrassment or shame over the handling of the clergy abuse scandal. The abuse that happened and the coverup that followed never should have happened. To anyone who is a victim of the abuse and coverup or know someone who was, I need to say, “I am sorry.” It never should have happened. Much progress has been made since the scandal broke in 2002. Please pray for our church as we make sure it doesn’t happen again.
We need to trust in God to lead us through this. There has been scandal before in the Catholic Church and God has always helped lead us through it. The scandal is caused by humans. It takes God’s help to correct it. For more on this, I encourage you to read Bishop Robert Barron’s book, Letter to a Suffering Church published in 2019 by Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He speaks of how God has led the church through past scandals. He also speaks of the good works of the church and its role in starting the university system of education and hospitals, ministry that speaks of the good works done in God’s name.
We are not the first to face ridicule for the actions of a few bad religious leaders or by those who oppose our faith. We hear the prophet Jeremiah say (excerpts from Jeremiah 20:7-11)
- “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.”
- “Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail, and take our revenge on him.”
- “All day long I am an object of laughter, everyone mocks me…the word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision.”
Jeremiah was very discouraged. He wanted to give up but he did not. He continued to preach God’s message as his prophet. We need to do the same.
Returning to the idea that clergy, religious, and staff say they can’t do it all. They are right and they are not supposed to. Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council says,
“For their pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they were not ordained by Christ to take upon themselves alone the entire salvific mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary they understand that it is their noble duty to shepherd the faithful and to recognize their ministries and charisms, so that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one mind (30).”
It goes on to say of the laity in paragraph 31,
“But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.”
Living in the world in the same way as the people we seek to evangelize, parishioners are uniquely suited to share the faith.
What about the parishioners who say they don’t have enough knowledge to talk about our faith? My first response is to acknowledge they may not know all they should. We have not done a good job of catechesis. This is an excuse, not a reason. That’s because we can do something about it. As a church, we need to offer ways for adults as well as our youth and children to learn more about faith. In turn, parishioners need to avail themselves of these opportunities. Ignorance is only an excuse, not a reason, when you can do something about it. I am trying to do my part with all that I offer on this blog and website. You are working on your part by talking the time to read this.
As part of their lack of knowledge, people may feel like they don’t know what all the “big church works” like “transubstantiation” and “consubstantial” mean so how they can explain it to others. I would offer here that you don’t need to use those “big church words” when you first begin to talk about the faith because the people you talk to won’t know what they mean other. Tell them what it does mean to you. For example, what do you need to say about “transubstantiation”? It means that what was “bread and wine” is now the “Body and Blood of Jesus” (coming soon, after 3/4/20, my third presentation in my series, “Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace” on the Eucharist.).
In a society where relativism, believing there is no universal truth, we need share what our faith means to us. The most important thing you can tell others about your faith is what it means to you. How has God blessed you? How is God a comfort to you? When life is going rough, when things seem dark, how has Jesus brought light into your darkness. As we read in Matthew 5:15-16,
“Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
In sharing how Jesus has been a light to us, we bring his light to others.
As to those who acknowledge it is our choice to believe whatever we want but that we shouldn’t impose it on others, I offer two responses. First, we do not seek to impose our faith on others. They are free to choose to believe or not but they are not free to choose for themselves if they have never heard about Jesus and God. We need to tell them so that they have a choice.
Secondly, to those who say we shouldn’t talk about our faith, indicating that they think we are wrong, I offer the following thought, “If they are so sure we are wrong and they are right, then how come they are afraid to let us talk? Perhaps they are afraid that we are right. That would mean they have to change their lives. So, they choose to try to silence us.”
I will conclude this particular blog article with two thoughts from scripture. First, we need to realize it is not the “job” of the laity or clergy, religious, and staff to do all the evangelization on our own. In Luke 9:52, we hear that Jesus “sent messengers ahead of him.” That means He came after them. Jesus will do the same with us. We need to help people get on and begin to travel down the road to Jesus. Jesus will finish the “job”.
Secondly, while we each need to always seek to grow in our own faith, when we struggle with the worlds, realize we don’t have to do it on our own. I end with these words from Mark 13:9-13
“Watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over to the courts. You will be beaten in synagogues. You will be arraigned before governors and kings because of me, as a witness before them. But the gospel must first be preached to all nations. When they lead you away and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say. But say whatever will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking but the holy Spirit. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”