FORUM: Evangelizing Catholics

«It comes down to revealing what matters most to us—God’s mercy and love—to our friends»

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Here is last Friday’s column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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C.S. Lewis said that friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can be given in life. True friendship, he said, begins often with a common interest, or a shared experience, or a collaborative project. Often, friendship is formed through the appreciation of another person’s sense of humor, or because of similar viewpoint or personality traits. Friendships can also form out of admiration for the virtue and goodness found in another person. Friendships form when we find bonds that unite us to particular people in particular and joy-filled ways.

Friendship is the joy of discovering another person with whom we trust and can share our viewpoints and interests, and with whom, ultimately, we can share ourselves. Friendship begins with common interests, but in the friendships, we develop an appreciation for other people: we help them, we encourage them, we share with them, because we know them. At the heart of friendship is knowing the hearts of other people.

Over the years we get to know a great deal about our friends. We get to know what matters to them, what challenges them, what motivates them and what gives them joy. We get to know what is most important in their lives.

Imagine finding out, after a 20-year friendship, that a friend had a spouse, or children, about whom we never knew. Imagine how unusual that would seem. Most of us would assume the spouse or the family hardly mattered to our friend—if they were important to the person, we would have surely known. If a marriage had gone unmentioned for 20 years, most of us would wonder if our friend really loved his spouse.

Dr. Scott Hahn, director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, says that almost all married people share the joys of their family life with their friends. He says that we share a great deal with our friends—we tell them about the people we love, about music, movies and books that we like, we recommend restaurants and places to visit. But very few Catholics, Dr. Hahn says, share with their friends the joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes this may be because they are uncertain how to talk about Christ with other people.

Sometimes they’re afraid of being pushy. And sometimes, even when they attend Mass with regularity, Catholics don’t talk about Christ because they themselves are still longing to encounter him, to fall in love with him, and to experience his mercy and his peace.

Every Catholic longs to know Jesus Christ intimately. Every human heart is made to know, love, and serve Christ. We’re in need of his mercy, and we’re created for his joy. And every Catholic who loves Jesus Christ should share their love for him with their friends. Sharing the love of God in our own lives is what the Church calls evangelization.

Too often, the idea of evangelization seems like a daunting proposal.  For that reason, Dr. Hahn has written a book I recommend to every Catholic in the Diocese of Lincoln: “Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization.”

“Evangelizing Catholics” can teach us all that evangelization is really very simple: it comes down to revealing what matters most to us—God’s mercy and love—to our friends.

The book explains that before we can share Christ, we must be sure that we do know him: that he is at the center of our lives, through the sacramental life, particular the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Confession, through daily personal prayer, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and through Sacred Scripture. If those things are a part of our lives, we will encounter, know, and fall in love with the Lord’s mercy.

The new evangelization, Dr. Hahn says, consists of revealing God’s love in our lives to our friends. It consists of helping others to begin practices of prayers and study, and to commit to the grace-filled practices of the sacramental life so that they truly come to know Jesus intimately. Evangelization is Eucharistic, because it draws us more deeply into the life of God—all people, no matter who they are, can more deeply come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. Our call is to help our friends deepen their love of God by the witness of our lives, the proclamation of the Gospel, and by assistance in sharing the sacramental life.   

Some Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln feel very comfortable in the work of evangelization and can help us by their witness. The men and women of St. Paul Street Evangelization (Note: see the related story in this week’s Register), of FOCUS, and of many other apostolates have the experience of proclaiming the Gospel in the context of friendships. But many of us need encouragement and examples: “Evangelizing Catholics” is a handbook for those of us who would like to share the faith more openly, actively, and honestly.

Over the next few weeks, summer will come to a conclusion, and many of us will return to a more regular schedule and routine. We’ll see many of our friends more often. And each of the friends that we spend time with is a person made for eternal life.  Because we love Christ, and because his love matters most in our lives, let us proclaim the Gospel to our friends, and invite them to know Christ as well. In our friendships, at work, and in our families, let us, each one of us, be missionaries of the new evangelization.

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