How Effective Evangelization Begins

Does being Catholic bring you joy?

Do you show it?

St. Teresa of Avila would say of Catholics who took no joy in their faith, “Lord, save us from sour-faced saints!”

There is a tendency in the Catholic Church to emphasize the demands of Catholicism first.

Children’s catechesis focuses primarily on learning about doctrine, definitions, and rules–the “what” of the Catholic Faith. However, for an evangelizing catechist, there might be a better way to begin.

In the video below, Fr. Barron talks about that better way using the example of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Evangelization should begin with joy

What’s Cardinal Dolan’s great evangelization secret? Fr. Barron says, “The most effective way to evangelize is to share the contagious joy of being a friend of Jesus Christ.”

Cardinal Dolan shared this story in his introductory address on evangelization given during “The Day of Prayer and Reflection” before his installation as cardinal:

“When I became Archbishop of New York, a priest told me, “You better stop smiling when you walk the streets of Manhattan, or you’ll be arrested!

‘A man dying of AIDS at the Gift of Peace Hospice, administered by the Missionaries of Charity in Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s Archdiocese of Washington, asked for baptism. When the priest asked for an expression of faith, the dying man whispered, “All I know is that I’m unhappy, and these sisters are very happy, even when I curse them and spit on them. Yesterday I finally asked them why they were so happy. They replied ‘Jesus.’ I want this Jesus so I can finally be happy.’

A genuine act of faith, right?

The New Evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown.”

That’s effective evangelization.

What comes first? Rules or relationship?

Evangelization begins as friendship and intimacy with the Lord. That, in turn, leads to joy.

And joy leads to the desire to share it. That’s the right progression.

Fr. Barron cites The Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas’ systematic masterpiece on explaining the Catholic Faith. Thomas doesn’t begin with rules or law, Barron says.  He begins with joy.

The first thing Thomas asks is, what makes us happy? Our ultimate joy is found only in God, he answers.

Then, in the second part of the Summa, he speaks about virtue, the habits that enable us to move towards that joy.

And then, only after establishing these two things, does he talk about the laws that help establish the virtues and habits that produce joy.

When you begin with rules and not relationship, you skew the whole process. It tends, Fr. Barron says, “not to be evangelically compelling.”

Evangelization takeaway

So why is this important?

Largely in religious education today, we’re skipping the first two steps of this process. Our students are learning the rules before learning the relationship.

They learn the truths of the Faith without ever knowing the Truth of the Faith, Jesus Christ.

We need to teach them the profound joys and benefits of being Catholic. We need to help them understand the virtues and habits that make this possible. And then, when they’re interested, catechize them on the “what” of Catholicism.

If the New Evangelization is going to be new, we have to change the things that aren’t working. And, messing up this process for handing on the Faith is definitely not helping.

In religion, you must begin with joy. Then, people will naturally ask how to get that joy.

“The evangelical strategy is, first the joy, then the ethics, says Fr. Barron. “When we get that right, we get a lot of things right.”

Image: Stuart Miles /


Subscribe and start receiving free updates via email.
I guarantee your email address will never be shared.


  1. Sounds like a good way to present Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to parishes 🙂

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      You know, there’s a lot of stuff CGS does really well in this regard. It’s very evangelistic. I’ve often thought that CGS was the perfect pre-school/lower primary grade religious ed program for a parish because it works on just this level. It’s a fantastic introduction to the Catholic Faith and very relationship oriented. I just wish it was easier to get people trained in it.

  2. Shannon Cardaronella says:

    Father Michael Diaz at NAF Atsugi! Remember his joie de vivre? What a “fisherman!”
    And the lovely, lovely, joyful Filipino Catholic brothers and sisters at NAF Atsugi. We didn’t stand a chance against such a joyful group, did we. God did woo us back with joy.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      I think you’re definitely right there. Not only was it an intellectual conversion in that we were attracted to the teachings, but we found so much acceptance and friendship in the community. And, Fr. Diaz was so kind and understanding…and joyful! God really did work on us that way.

  3. Superb post brother. I’m alive today because of a JOYFUL priest. I came back to the Church because of a small group of people–namely this priest–and a few other joy and spirit filled Catholics who accepted me as a 500 lb. obese oil field trash potty mouthed, obnoxious, lonely, hurt 20 yr old young man. I returned to the Church through through RCIA because I wanted that same joy in my life. I don’t know what else “works”–really.

Speak Your Mind