If you talk to the “average Joe” Catholic, whether they’re in your family or in the pew, you’ll quickly notice that they’re afraid of something. Truth be told, if one of your friends is talking to you (and you’re a Catholic yourself), they’ll most likely notice the same thing: that you’re scared of something too! Now the typical Catholic may not verbalize it, but this fear is present and is very real in most of us.
What is it that we are afraid of? Evangelizing. Plain and simple, we’re afraid to talk about our faith either in public, at work or even at parish functions. Think about it for a second. When you’re at the parish picnic, or walk up to somebody after Mass in the parking lot, how often do we talk about our shared Catholic faith? How often do we speak about the love we profess for our Lord Jesus? Could it be that we just feel like nothing has to be said because we’re already Catholic? Because we should be on the same page?
But then how do we explain our reticence to speak up in the work place or in public when our Catholic faith is mocked or disparaged? How do we explain remaining silent or deflecting when someone asks us about that faith we hold dear? I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholics, particularly Catholics in North America (because that’s where I live) are afraid to live out the commands of our Lord Jesus. We are afraid to “go forth and make disciples of all nations”. How do we get past that fear? Fortunately, there’s one apostolate out there that has the answer, and it’s an answer that all Catholics need to incorporate into their lives.
Get out There
For quite a while, I’ve been looking for something to jumpstart not only my own mission given to me by God, but to get my brothers and sisters in Christ to recognize that my mission was their mission too: to lead souls to Christ. As St. John Bosco often said:
“Give me souls; take away the rest. The most divine of all divine things is to cooperate with God for the salvation of souls; this is a sure path to the heights of holiness.”
Now this mission won’t entail getting the band back together or donning a black hat and sunglasses, but it will entail getting back to basics, that is, biblical basics. Thankfully, the apostolate of St. Paul Street Evangelization has done just that.
St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) is exactly what it sounds like. It involves Catholics getting onto the street, in public, literally meeting people where they are, and “mobilizing Catholics to share the Gospel”. When I found out about all the good they were doing last year, I knew that I had to bring it to my area for the salvation of souls.
Back to the Basics
Too often, there is no immediacy from us as Catholics. We often forget that this world is passing, and that there is a world to come; that there is an age to come. How are we preparing for that age to come? Are we living in the world, or have we become of the world? For as St. Paul points out in Sacred Scripture, our true citizenship lies in heaven, not here on earth. Do we really remember this though, in practice? With the way SPSE does things, we get back to basics, in a non-confrontational way, and utilize those graces that God bestowed upon us in our own baptism and confirmation. The thing is, the thought of doing all this takes us out of our comfort zone.
We as Catholics in the West have become “comfortably numb”, as it were. Of course, I speak in general terms as there are heroic Catholics out there who have truly lived up to our Lord’s call to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed. But too often Catholics don’t put as much an emphasis on salvation as our other Christian brethren do. We all too often accept the world’s “live and let live” mantra, and would rather not do something as uncomfortable as sharing our faith with someone who is not Catholic.
If we meet someone who is Mormon or Muslim, or perhaps even agnostic or atheist, we shirk at sharing our faith, thinking unconsciously (or maybe even consciously) that they’re all right where they are. We don’t want to offend by having that uncomfortable situation of saying “Well, I think you’ve missed the mark a bit here in regards to God and his Will for mankind. Why don’t we talk about our beliefs for a minute?”
“Live and Let Live” Helps No One
The truth of the matter is simple: they are not all right where they are. If they haven’t had the gospel proclaimed to them, or have only heard the gospel proclaimed in a distorted fashion, how else are they to understand the fullness of the truth unless someone shares it with them? This isn’t something we should be doing when we feel like it or get around to it. It’s a duty that we have been given by virtue of our baptism. To embrace the “live and let live” mantra and not proclaim the gospel actually promotes the errors of religious indifferentism and relativism, i.e., “what is right for you might not be right for me”.
One anecdote I like to share from my own experience (before coming into contact with the folks at SPSE) is a great conversation I had with two Jehovah’s Witnesses. This married couple, in their late 30’s to early 40’s, had a great conversation with me and my wife about our respective religions, and then we invited them back a second and third time to continue the conversation.
Towards the end of our third meeting, it was clear that we had reached an impasse, and I told the husband something like this: “You know, I really appreciate you coming out here and talking with us. While we may differ in many various ways, one thing is clear. You take your faith as seriously as I take mine, without apology. I greatly respect that. I think we can both honestly agree, with no hostility, that at best only one of us can be right, and at worst we are both wrong. There can only be one truth; either one of us is wrong, or we are both utterly mistaken in our beliefs. But there’s no way that both of us are right”.
My new friend smiled and nodded his head in agreement. We had a profound respect for each other because we didn’t try to relativize our beliefs when talking to each other.
Unfortunately, many Catholics (and other Christians as well, to be sure) would be very uncomfortable having the above conversation, much less asserting such facts of life. That’s because it means that we must effectively say that men such as Joseph Smith and Muhammed are false prophets. We must say that TV faith healers and those peddling a “prosperity gospel” are nothing more than shysters. That these are the people who we are warned about in Scripture (cf. Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Corinthians 11:3-6, 12-15; 2 Peter 3:15-16). They preach another gospel, or even another Jesus, while we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must never be ashamed to do so.
We must acknowledge what is right in these different religions, but when hard pressed, we can’t sweep our differences under the rug. We can’t affirm that they are just fine to remain ignorant and unaware of the truth. We must proclaim the truth in its fullness, with both charity and clarity, even if it makes us feel extremely uncomfortable. As is often attributed to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
We need to have these “difficult” conversations.
How Catholics Should Evangelize
Now at this point, some people might be wondering how this type of evangelizing, particularly street evangelization might look. It’s very different from the kind of evangelizing that Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons do. While Catholic evangelization can certainly take a “door to door” component, it’s not strictly necessary to do so. Not to mention, the approach is totally different than the approach demonstrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. The two aforementioned religious groups often come to doorsteps with a pre-determined, heavily practiced script. They are to stay on topic and they expect to lead the conversation.
But when we as Catholics evangelize, we don’t stand on a soap box and scream at people. We don’t do all the talking in the situation. Instead, we interact with people in a non-confrontational way, and let them lead the conversation. This doesn’t mean we let them jump from topic to topic, but we allow them to decide what they want to discuss.
Sometimes we as evangelists are there to “pre-evangelize”. Other times we are to proclaim the kerygma, or we are to witness to our Catholic faith as apologists (not apologizing, but simply explaining our beliefs to honest inquirers). People are in different places, so we must approach them differently. With SPSE, this is often done on a public street corner, or at a county fair or farmer’s market, gently asking people if they’d like a rosary or miraculous medal. If they accept, ask them if they know how to pray the Rosary.
If they come up to you, ask them if they’re Catholic, and let the conversation go from there in whatever direction they wish to go. But make sure to give them “one good reason” for your faith. The goal, of course, is to lead souls to Christ. But we must not be aggressive. We may merely be the seed planter, or one in a chain of several people who lead the inquiring person to the Church that Jesus founded. Or perhaps the Holy Spirit wishes to use us as a direct instrument in their conversion.
Whatever the case may be, the Catholic evangelist is to be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and SPSE gives some great insight on how to accomplish that through their training. What is contained in this training is no secret (it can all be found in the writings of great popes, saints and the Magisterium) and can be incorporated into the evangelizing work that every Catholic parish is called to do.
Never Be Ashamed to Proclaim Christ
This command to evangelize (yes, it is a command of Jesus’) is not meant only for the apostles and their successors. This command is also meant for us, the laity. When we were filled with the Holy Spirit as we received the sacrament of confirmation, we were strengthened by God’s grace. We were fortified, and emboldened, to go forth spreading the good news of the gospel. The bishop says this prayer over the confirmandi during the rite of the sacrament:
“Confirm, O God, what you have brought about in us, and preserve in the hearts of your faithful the gifts of the Holy Spirit: may they never be ashamed to confess Christ crucified before the world and by devoted charity may they ever fulfill his commands.”
Did you catch that part about confessing Christ? We must never be ashamed to bring him to those living in the world. But in addition to bringing Christ into the larger world, we need to reach our own communities with our friends and neighbors. Reflect for a moment now: have we upheld the promises we made at our confirmation? Are we confessing Christ to others and evangelizing by our words and actions? Or have we remained silent and ashamed?
I simply ask that you pray about this. As you do, keep in mind the words of Pope Francis:
“The times we live in do not call for ‘couch potatoes’, but for people with shoes, or better, boots laced! The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench.”
It’s time to lace up our boots and mobilize! Do not be afraid to spread the gospel! For more information on SPSE, click this link, or listen to my own testimony on evangelizing in the public square on episode 10 of their podcast “Stories from the Street”. Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, souls hang in the balance. It’s time for us as Catholic to decide: Will we take action, or will we remain on the sidelines?
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About Nicholas LaBanca
Nicholas is a 20-something cradle Catholic who wears many hats, (husband, father, tradesman, religious education catechist, liberal arts college graduate, et al.) and hopes to give a unique perspective on life in the Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney and St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He currently writes for the Diocese of Joliet’s monthly magazine, “Christ Is Our Hope”.