By Chris Stewart
For eleven years now I have been traveling the country encouraging and equipping Catholics to share their Faith. Over time I have become convinced that when a speaker says the words “Go Evangelize” or “Preach the Gospel” the Catholic audience hears something completely different. It is as if the words traveling through the air transform into something causing fear and terror, something that the Great Commission should not do. What is it that Catholics are hearing???
When Catholics are told “Go Evangelize” they hear…
1. Go Door to Door
Many Catholics envision evangelization as putting on a white shirt, tie and name tag, knocking on doors with a great smile and some literature. Now I am not saying that door to door evangelization does not work. In fact, I have seen some great parish initiatives that did just that and produced some great fruit. However, the overwhelming majority of Catholics will not be called to the door to door mission field. Instead we are called to bring the Gospel to the doors our shadows already darken, our own homes, family, friends and work.
2. Go to Africa
Some Catholics think evangelization is something that only takes place in third world emerging countries. But let’s be honest, there are seminaries in Africa that are filled to the brim, while the national average of Sunday Mass attendance in America is around 25%. Our homeland is missionary territory.
3. Give Money to Missionaries
Too often when we hear about an urgent crisis we just throw money at the problem for someone else to fix it. Now do not get me wrong, there are many wonderful ministries doing much for evangelization and they greatly need financial support. However, our charitable giving does not remove the call to personal evangelization. Just as giving money to a soup kitchen does not remove our responsibility to feed the hungry in front of us when the occasion arises.
4. Father Should do More Evangelization
Many feel like evangelization requires training, degrees, and even ordination. However, to put the spreading of the Gospel solely in the hands of priests and religious would certainly be a poor strategy. Only 1% of the 1 billion Catholics are in the hierarchy of the Church. It makes more sense to use the 99% to bring the Gospel to every corner of the earth.
5. Convert Every Person in the World
“Set the World on Fire for Christ” can sound like “Go bring the ocean to a boil” which indeed seems like an impossible task which can then lead to never beginning the work of evangelization. Two things to keep in mind here, first the work of evangelization will always remain the Lord’s work. We are just instruments in His plan of salvation and Jesus is the Savior we are not. Secondly, we must have confidence that the Holy Spirit will put us in front of the people that we can witness to the light, life and love of our God.
So what is the next step? Keep preaching the moral obligation to evangelize and keep in mind you might have to retranslate that message a few times. I will never forget when Pope John Paul II told me (along with 500,000 people at World Youth Day in Denver 1993):
“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: ‘Woe to me if I do not evangelize’” (1Cor 9: 16).