Continued from last week
Everyone is talking about the New Evangelization. This makes me nervous. We are wasting our time with all this discussion of the New Evangelization if we cannot agree on what Evangelization, new or old, really is. When I was in seminary Evangelization was definitely out, because one religion was as good as another. There was actually a practicing Buddhist in the class ahead of me. He did not go on to ordination, but I thought his strobe candles were really groovy. We got past that silliness, but by the time we decided that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing for people to become Christians, and dare I say, even Catholics, we had gotten a bit muddled about what the Church actually taught. Evangelism or evangelization, or whatever we are calling it these days, meant having people break into small groups in which they discussed their feelings and then comes back together into the large group for a candlelight service during which really catchy tunes were sung. Then we moved on to the early RCIA in which people were taught this was optional and others taught that was optional. Nothing was really required.
I remember some poor fellow who eventually ended up being very Catholic, but who was told by his pastor that we no longer really believed in the Real Presence. This bewildered catechumen asked, “Am I allowed to believe in the Real Presence?” Things are mostly better now, but when they say “evangelize” most Catholics mean “catechize.” These are two very different things. To catechize is to help others know about the Lord. This is an absolute waste of time unless some one first knows the Lord. We teach our kids all about the faith and we prepare them for the sacraments and we make them sit in long boring classes in which we explain the fine points of theology to the little numbskulls who haven’t even a clue when Jesus was born, died and rose, much less knowing that he is truly present in the tabernacle. We can get them to parrot back answers on a test with no problem. They are regularly expected to do this in the government schools in which standardized tests have become very popular as a means of proving that the public funds are not being wasted. This process has nothing to do with the actual education of children whether in the government schools or in our religious education classes. We have religion programs in which all the records are perfectly kept, and all the appropriate courses, diplomas and certifications are required of the DRE, CRE, AC, UC, and DC for the RCIA and the RE and the CCD and all those other inscrutable collections of letters of which we Catholics are inordinately fond. We use them as if anyone actually understands what they mean. The end result of all the meticulous preparation, documentation, orientation, regimentation and consternation is that as soon as school is out, no one actually comes to church because it is as boring as getting a root canal.
Few of the certified and certifiable formators that we produce have a passion for the faith and the Lord. If our volunteers do have a passion for the faith, there is doubtless a diocesan program that can cure them of it. They will soon learn that the Bible is allegory, the sacraments are optional, there is no hell and maybe no heaven. There will soon be women priests and democratically elected popes and on and on and on. I have had people write and call me to say that they had been attending classes to train as catechists and had heard exactly these kinds of things during lectures. '
“Well, Father, that is an isolated instance.”
Are you sure? It isn’t in my experience. We are in a situation of catechetical chaos in this country, and this muddled catechesis passes for evangelization. That is why I say I am a bit nervous about the new evangelization. I hope it’s more coherent than the evangelization of the past 40 years.
So then what is evangelization? Or evangelism? Or whatever we are calling it? The best definition I ever heard of evangelism is “to bring someone to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” We are trying and failing to bring people to a historical or a theological knowledge of Christ but all the history and theology is pretty useless unless we first know the Lord. Don’t you just hate it when some crashing bore shows you picture of their Aunt Kunigunda’s vacation in the Adirondacks and regales you with humorous tales of her adventures with the local Mohawk Indians? Perhaps if you knew Aunt Kunigunda personally this might be entertaining. Usually you would rather jump out of a moving vehicle than hear the fellow drone on about his beloved aunt and her indigenous friends. You stare into space until the drone becomes a distant, irritating whine. Doesn’t that sound like religious education classes you have attended? Once I asked a waitress what she had learned in religious education classes. She told me that, “This is how you hold your hands for first communion and Jesus loves me.” I suspect she learned more than most. You can’t catechize someone without evangelizing them first. You are usually wasting your time talking about someone your listener doesn’t know and doesn’t care to know.
So how do you evangelize someone? Easy. You pray with them. It’s easy. I remember a young man, a committed pagan who had started to come to our prayer group because he wanted to get to know a young woman in the prayer group a little “better.” He was quite confused by all this Christian nonsense. He had cobbled together a personal philosophy from the best of all religions. He had blended Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Hinduism, especially the more, well, interesting elements of Hinduism. He didn’t understand why the Christian philosophy was so very narrow. I told him that Christianity isn’t a philosophy, it’s a person. To which he responded, “Huh?” I said, “Close your eyes.” which he did. I prayed very simply and out loud, “Lord Jesus when I was about my friend’s age, I was searching, too. Please let him know that You are alive and real and that You love him.” I left him alone in the room with his eyes closed. He came out into the hall where a few of us were talking after the prayer meeting, and all he could say was “Wow!” He said “Wow.” for about five minutes. He had encountered a third person in that room. He had encountered Christ. I could have argued with him for hours. He was looking for a good argument. It would have been a waste of time. He didn’t need an argument, he needed Christ.
When someone comes to you with a problem, don’t just give them advice, pray with them. After listening with patience ask that person “would you like me to pray for you?’ If he says yes ask him to close his eyes and then pray for him. “What if it doesn’t work? I’ll feel like a fool!” Good. If you are anything like me you probably are a fool. You might as well be a fool for Christ. Pray with your children. Pray with your friends when you visit them in the hospital. Pray with your grandmother. It is simple. Just have them close their eyes, and then, out loud, you tell the Lord what they just told you. Make it short and simple. The Lord knows the details. You don’t have to explain the situation to Him. You are just inviting Him into the situation. Maybe you can end with a simple Our Father. Then go away. Before you go away, you might give them your phone number or Email in case they have any questions. If they call you, invite them to go to Mass with you. Introduce them to the pastor. Bring them to the Monday night Bible study. That’s what it means to be an evangelist. To evangelize is to invite someone to meet Jesus, and then to meet his wife and family, by which I mean His church.
We Catholics have become so afraid to say anything about our faith that the world wonder if we have any. Another wonderful thing is to kneel at an altar rail in front of a tabernacle, if you can find an altar rail anywhere. Perhaps a kneeler in a pew will have to do. Pray with them there. This can be wonderfully powerful. Don’t explain it. Just do it. You can explain it later when they are signed up for RCIA, which by the way are the initials of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Just make sure they go to an RCIA taught by a Catholic who believes things like the Real Presence and the teaching authority of the pope and the power of prayer.
To evangelize is to pray with people, because prayer is a conversation, an encounter with God. You can’t prove that I exist by talking about me. I may be some tortured figment of your imagination. You can, however, bring someone to meet me. This is true of the Lord also. Bring people to Him. He really is alive. You can even say the Sinner’s Prayer with them, Here is a good example of it.
Lord Jesus, We know that we are sinners, and we ask for Your forgiveness. We believe You died for our sins and rose from the dead. Please come into our hearts and lives. We want to trust and follow You as our Lord and Savior. Give us the gift to know You, to love You and to serve You in this world and to be happy with You forever. Amen
A final question: Do you know the Lord? Have you ever felt that He was right there with you, did you once know the Lord but wandered away from Him? Wherever you are right now, you can pray that prayer. You don’t need me to lead you in it. He is in all places at all times and He wants nothing more than to give you new life. Try it. See you in church Sunday.
The Rev. Know-it-all