The Coronavirus shutdown our Masses for three months. It continues to impact attendance as people stay home to protect themselves. For those who do come in person, attendance hovers about 30-40% of normal. There are others who continue to watch our Mass streaming on our new parish YouTube channel.
From this, we can consider the Coronavirus a threat to continuing participation in person at our Masses. We pray for an end to the Coronavirus pandemic and we pray that when it is over, everyone will once again attend Mass. Yet, we know some may not. There is the threat.
What about the opportunity? During the shutdown, people had more free time. Some took the opportunity to pray (more). People began watching livestreaming Mass who hadn’t attended Mass in a long time looking for God during the Coronavirus. Some of those who had been regularly attending Mass found a deeper appreciation for the Mass and for the Eucharist. In this, the Coronavirus has created an opportunity for Evangelization.
That’s a good thing. We are supposed to be evangelizing. As St. Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi,
“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection (14, italics and bold my emphasis).
Evangelization is at the heart of my ministry. It is the reason for this blog and website. We have a wonderful faith to share. We don’t have to create a new faith. The faith is the same faith that God has been offering since the beginning of creation. We do not need a new message. The message is Jesus’. However, we do need to look for new ways to communicate the message. As Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium,
“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).”
In Made for Mission: Renewing Your Parish Culture (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2019), Tim Glemkowski describes four steps in the catechumenate (RCIA process), Pre-Evangelization, Evangelization, Discipleship, and Apostolate (81). My ministry focuses on evangelization and discipleship but today it is “pre-evangelization” I would like to focus on.
Glemkowski describes Pre-Evangelization as “all of the preparation, especially the removing of obstacles, to make way for receptivity to the Gospel message” (95-96). To put it simply, before we can have any success in sharing the faith, the person must be open to hearing what we offer.
In reflecting on his work teaching young Catholics, Glemkowski writes
“I realized one of the core problems was that I was trying to teaching objective moral tenets to teens who did not believe in an absolute objective morality” (98).
If we want to bring people to a relationship with Jesus, we need to build trust and help them encounter Jesus (Glemkowski, 90). Among other things, the sexual abuse scandal broke trust for many people in the church. We need to rebuild that trust. However, I think the trust needed here is not simply trust in the Church. It also includes the trust people have in each of you. You have relationships with other people. Those relationships involve some level of trust. They are willing to listen to you. As to helping them encounter Jesus, I encourage you to share your own experiences of God that they might relate to. This is not about forcing faith on anyone. It is about seeing who is looking for depth and meaning in them and offering them Jesus.
Here, Glemkowsi offers his four A’s to Pre-Evangelization (100-101):
1. “Appeal to the Heart” – this is where I mention looking for those searching for depth and meaning.
2. “Appeal to the Intellect” – for people who need a reason or argument for everything, we need to learn “arguments” like St. Thomas Aquinas argument for a first cause. One might think the Big Bang Theory answers the question of creation but what caused the Big Bang?
3. “Address wounds” – we must realize that someone’s struggle with faith might be rooted in past hurts such as the abuse scandal or misunderstanding of church teaching. Those hurts needs to be recognized as real and addressed.
4. “Always build the relationship first” – Church teaching is important. It is essential, but we need to build a relationship before people will listen to the teaching.
This is a lot to digest. For those who wonder what to tell people first about God, I offer Glemkowski’s list (103):
“1) God loves you and has a plan for your life.
2) Sin separates us from God.
3) Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, saved us from sin.
4) By turning away from sin and toward God and his Church, we can live a new life as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.”
Tell them the truth. Tell them that God loves them and so do we.