What’s the first and most essential step for catechesis that’s evangelizing?
On the Tuesday after Easter, I get together with all the RCIA folks who just came into the Church and have a big party.
We celebrate, discuss what happened at the Vigil, and talk about their experiences of going through the RCIA.
I was really struck this year by a comment from one young lady who had no Christian background whatsoever before joining the RCIA.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with this. But you said there was no pressure, just come and check it out. If I didn’t like it, I could quit anytime. So, I came to the first meeting and it was so welcoming. Everyone was friendly and inviting. There was lots of food and it felt like family. Then I started learning and I didn’t want to stop or even miss a single week. Now I’m so glad I did this. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I was just through the roof with excitement because that’s exactly what I hope for at the first meeting. It wasn’t an accident. The whole RCIA team worked really hard to make that happen.
When I have conversations with parish leaders about evangelization, it always turns toward fancy programs, expensive venues, and great speakers. That’s all good stuff. However, I’d say that, in the beginning, 90% of evangelization is hospitality.
The importance of connection
Before you can deliver the saving message of Jesus Christ, you have to establish a connection on a human level. The human connection becomes, in a sense, a bridge or a conduit the divine message can travel on.
Hospitality builds relationship. From relationship you can build trust. Trust gives you the right to be heard, and once you have that, you know your audience will listen.
If you don’t do the crucial groundwork of earning the right to be heard, you are just a talking head, no different from any other salesman trying to get them to buy something they don’t want. Earn that trust, and you automatically speak from a place of regard.
So, how can you use this idea of hospitality for a more evangelizing catechesis?
St. Paul’s methodology
In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul recounts how his ministry with them started there. And thank God he did because it left us a record of his evangelization strategy.
Paul went to Thessalonica from Phillipi, where he had been beat up pretty bad and run out of town. But the Thessalonians gave him a warm welcome. He talks about how he was always completely transparent with them and never made any false pretenses.
“For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, no is it made with guile…For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men…but we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.”
Now here’s the key verse:
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you, not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
It’s almost as it Paul is saying he wasn’t going to share the gospel with them until he had become affectionately desirous of them.
But not only that, he shared his very life with them. This was not a blow into town, give a speech, and then split kind of thing. He’s not just teaching them the facts of Christianity. He’s sharing something precious with friends, the saving message of Jesus Christ.
So what did Paul do? He lived with the Thessalonians, set up shop and got to know them. And, when he had built a relationship and a level of trust, he shared the Gospel. Why? To share with his friends the driving passion of his life to give them new life.
Three things you can use right now
There are three things from 1 Thessalonians you can implement right away to build trust and earn the right to be heard with your students.
1. Be transparent: Your openness about your own life will facilitate the change you’re asking them to make. When you share how Christ has changed your life, they’ll be motivated to change themselves. If they see it in your face, they’ll know it’s real.
2. Build trusting relationships: Trust is the first big hurdle. It’s likely your students will be inspired to believe because they trust your witness that Christ has made a difference in your life. They need to know you think the Christian life is better than any other way of life.
3. Get personal: As best you can, get to know your students personally. Try to understand what makes them tick. What are their obstacles? What are they struggling with? If you know this, you can address how Christ can heal their wounds.
But don’t stop there
Hospitality and relationship is 90% of initial evangelization, but it’s not everything.
You have to proclaim the gospel too. Once people are open to your message, you have the opportunity to tell them why it’s awesome to be in union with Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church.
That’s your goal and the part most people are apprehensive to deliver on. But nothing happens without it.
What are your thoughts about hospitality and evangelization? Do you have a story where it really worked? Or, maybe a story where a lack of hospitality went really wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.