Bright Maidens topic: To Instruct the Ignorant
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Along with the Pastoral Council at my parish, I have been reading a book by Fr. Robert S. Rivers, entitled From Maintenance to Mission. In this book he explains that as Catholics we are called by our Baptism not only to be disciples of Christ, but to be disciple-makers, and to evangelize. Beginning to understand what exactly is meant by the terms "disciple-maker," and "evangelization," is the first step to being able to actually be a disciple-maker and to personally evangelize. I would like to reflect on a few things that I have been learning from Fr. Rivers's book, and some steps toward evangelization.
One very important thing that Fr. Rivers addresses is what evangelization is not. The concept of evangelism is often confused with the ideology that many public evangelizers seek to spread, and clarification is often needed to remove the act of evangelization from the stereotypical context that is often attached to it. "Fundamentalism and evangelism are not the same thing," explains Rivers, "...Fundamentalism is a narrow and incomplete understanding of scripture... Evangelism, on the other hand, is a real and vital element of the Christian faith." (1) Even with the understanding that we ought not to confuse the act of evangelization with the subject matter being evangelized, we may still be intimidated by the idea of having to evangelize.
When thinking about the idea of evangelization, we may be nervous at first about what exactly it involves doing. We may be hesitant to begin talking about our faith life, our personal beliefs, or our conversion journey if it is not something we are used to. We may wonder how much it requires knowing and fear being asked a question that we cannot answer. We may think that we ought to be experts about our faith in order to effectively share it at all. Contrary to all of these fears, and among the things that I most enjoyed learning from this book, is how simple evangelization can actually be for an individual person. Fr. Rivers explains that in order to be a disciple-maker, you do not need to be an apologist, and you do not need to have all the answers, but gives the simple criterion that, "A disciple-maker always invites and is always willing to be a companion on the journey" and the assurance that "our concern is not success but fidelity to the task" (2).
The task itself may seem intimidating at first, but can be easily broken down into smaller ideas. A recent post on the Women of Grace blog shared seven evangelization pointers given by Timothy Cardinal Dolan (3). I have summarized them here, so do refer to the WOG post cited below:
1. Keep the quest for God alive ... even those who boast of their secularism have an innate longing for the divine.
2. “Be not afraid.” Be confident in our message, which comes from Jesus Christ, but do not believe that our work is done and we have triumphed.
3. The new evangelization is not about presenting a doctrine or belief-system, but a Person, whose name is Jesus. We should evangelize "not a something, but a Someone,” Dolan said.
4. Because Jesus is the Truth, evangelization is linked to catechesis.
5. Be joyful evangelizers. “The New Evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown!” he said.
7. Martryrdom. All Christians are called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus. “It was Pope Paul VI who noted wisely that people today learn more from ‘witness than from words,’ and the supreme witness is martyrdom. Sadly, today we have martyrs in abundance.”
What I take away from both Fr. Rivers's book and Cardinal Dolan's pointers is that evangelization is something that we can begin to do in our everyday life, if we simply make ourselves open to the possibility. It can begin as simply as talking about how much you enjoyed the Sunday liturgy if you are asked on Monday morning how your weekend was, or mentioning how much you are looking forward to Easter, now that it Lent is here. We can be willing to share why we believe what we do as Catholics and why it is important to us. We can try our best to answer another's questions and also be willing to help find the answers that we may not have, both for the other person's as well as our own fulfillment. Evangelizing does not require expertise, it only requires willingness to share, with the goal that eventually sharing our religious life may eventually become for us as easy as sharing other aspects of our lives that we already do freely share.
1. Robert S. Rivers, CSP, From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and Revitalization of the Parish, (New York: Paulist Press, 2005), 46.
2. Ibid., 58-59.
3. "Cardinal Dolan’s 7-Point Evangelization Plan," Women of Grace Blog, February 20, 2012, (accessed February 25, 2012) http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=12625