Evangelization: The Church Ministry 700-Pound Gorilla

What are you looking at? You need me!

[This is a part of the Evangelization Basics Series. Have you read the other parts?]

I think evangelization is one of the most necessary and most feared aspects of the Christian life. Necessary because it lays the foundation for everything. Feared because it involves engaging people who don’t agree with me and asking them to change.

It Ain’t Easy, But it Could Be Easier

I admit, this is hard stuff to deal with, and we all tend to avoid hard things. However, evangelization is the very reason the Church exists. It’s like the 700-pound gorilla in the middle of the living room. Everyone knows you have to do something about him but he’s so hard to deal with it’s easier to just leave him alone. I think there’s ways to lessen the impact and hostility of proposing change to people. That’s what this blog series is about.

Metanoia…A More Positive Spin

The first thing Jesus says in Mark’s gospel is this, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). I find repent has a negative connotation. It can also be translated as convert. The Greek word used here is metanoia.

I like the way Fr. Robert Barron explains the meaning of metanoia. It comes from two words, meta (meaning “beyond”) and noos (meaning “mind” or “to think”). It literally means “to go beyond the mind, or the thinking, that you have.” The kingdom is here, God’s order is here, therefore, go beyond the attitude and perspective you have now and open yourself to the larger possibilities available through God.

Evangelization Facilitates Going Beyond

I think of conversion as a change in perspective. We all have our own ideas, opinions and ways of looking at things. These are conditioned by our upbringing, culture and situation in life. We look at the world and judge it through these filters.

In the process of evangelization, I ask people to step out of their conditioned perspective and look at reality from a new vantage point. Think of it like this, what if there’s an obstacle blocking your line of sight, a column or pole, and you can’t see what I’m seeing? You have to step to the side a bit to see it yourself. Our own projects, plans and agendas are often obstacles blocking our line of sight and keeping us from seeing God’s truth.

The work of evangelization facilitates this change of perspective. Conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit. What we do is dispose people to allow the Holy Spirit’s work within them, to allow their minds to be opened to God’s possibilities.

The Necessary First Step

Evangelization seeks to “bring about faith and conversion to Christ…a profound change of mind and heart, a change of life, a ‘metanoia’” (National Directory of Catechesis, p. 47). To go beyond one’s current thinking, to reorient one’s attitudes and perspectives, this is the necessary first step. Without it, further catechesis can’t gain a foothold in a person’s heart and soul. It becomes just one more ideology instead of life-giving truth. I think the reason our catechesis doesn’t stick is we so often skip this crucial step. But that’s the subject of my next post.

What do you think? Do you find evangelization scary? Why? Let’s see it in the comments!

[This is a part of the Evangelization Basics Series. Have you read the other parts?]

Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Evangelization Basics [Blog Series]

Evangelization Basics

This is the official announce post of the new blog series that will cover the nuts and bolts of evangelization.

Why Evangelization?

My fascination with evangelization began almost immediately after I came back to the Church. Right away, I felt the need to help people see the awesome beauty of Catholicism. I went to Franciscan University to learn how to convert people. That’s exactly what I told the orientation team when I got there!

What I didn’t know, however, was the actual “how to” of evangelization wasn’t so easy to learn. I studied, experimented, tried new things and changed approaches many times (much to the dismay of those who worked with me). Much of what I thought would work didn’t. Often new ideas came from unexpected places. I kept what worked and discarded the rest.

What I’ve Learned

Here are some things evangelization is not:

  • Apologetics. This doesn’t mean reasoned arguments are not necessary or that apologetics isn’t important. It means most people are not argued into the Church.
  • Expounding in detail the doctrines of the Church. Evangelization is a matter of the head and the heart…in almost equal measures. Understanding what the Church teaches is essential but it’s not the only thing.
  • Catechesis. Although catechesis can (and must) be evangelizing and is a vital part of the overall strategy of evangelization, catechesis on it’s own is not evangelization.

Evangelization is not any one of these things alone but each one of them plays a part in it’s appropriate place and in the right measure. I should also say I’m talking about leading people to initial conversion, which is a crucial piece of the puzzle that’s largely missing in the Catholic Church.

10 Basics of Evangelization

What I’m going to say is not new or revolutionary. In fact, it’s in the Bible! You probably understand this intuitively. However, the fact is that most people don’t practice this stuff, so I think it’s worth writing about. All of this was revolutionary to me, and if it was news to me, then I know there are others who can benefit from this knowledge as well.

Here are 10 posts:

  1. Evangelization: The Church Ministry 700-Pound Gorilla
  2. Why Evangelization is the Key to All Effective Ministry
  3. The Two Essential Aspects of Evangelization
  4. The Secret of St. Paul’s Evangelization Strategy
  5. Teaching Catholic Truth in a Postmodern Age
  6. 5 Reasons Why Relationship is the Key to Evangelization
  7. How to Use Personal Stories to Teach Difficult Subjects
  8. 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Crafting a Personal Story
  9. Transparency: The Motivator for Trust in Evangelization
  10. The Painless Plan for Confronting Problem Issues in Evangelization
  11. What You Need to Know About the Catholic Gospel

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Youth Formation That Sticks: Teaching Kids to Think Catholic

Did you learn to think Catholic growing up? I never did! My family was Catholic but they never understood the Church, and consequently neither did I. The ways of the Church were just mysterious and strange so they didn’t influence my life or how I made decisions for my future.

Is This Story Familiar?

The majority of my fellow Gen X Catholics grew up the same way and now they’re passing it on to their children. I heard a story recently about a junior high boy who was ridiculed at school, a Catholic school, for saying he wanted to become a priest. Obviously that boy’s tormentors were not formed to think Catholic. Religious vocation was not a part of their life-vocabulary. The priesthood, mysterious and strange, was not a serious option to be considered.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories like this as well.

The View From Up Here

My last post discussed Catholic Imagination, or Catholic worldview, as an essential tool in the youth ministry toolbox. A worldview is an interpretive context or lens that influences how a person views events and situations. It forms their understanding of the world.

On my first post about the youth ministry toolbox, my friend Roy Petitfils commented saying “a truly c/Catholic imagination” was essential in forming the “container” for the tools. He said:

“I worry that we are not devoting enough energy toward teaching our youth to THINK c/Catholic. So much catechesis today seems oriented toward amassing a lot of knowledge with little attention given to teaching youth how to think like the men and women who passed on to us that rich deposit of faith….The greatest gift of my “c/Catholic” education was not the information (which today can be retrieved online) but was learning how approach issues in a disciplined, philosophical and theological manner.”

Seeing the World As It Really Is

I think we have to be taught how to view the world appropriately. Because of original sin, reality is kind of fuzzy until we get the corrective lenses that allow us to see rightly. Evangelization happens when a person views things from a different perspective. All of a sudden a new angle opens up to them, one they never considered before. They see the world differently.

Most of us see the world through the lenses of secular society. Wealth, power, fame, sex and all the focus on me. Why? Because it makes more sense to our darkened intellects! It doesn’t make sense to be self-sacrificing, to love your enemies, to give your life for another, to remain celibate your whole life. But from a divine perspective, it makes perfect sense.

Get this straight, the Church gives us the lenses to see the world as it truly is. To see reality from God’s perspective is to know the truth because he’s the origin. The world is meant to be known through the Revelation of God.

Our youth need formation to see the world as Catholics. This formation must:

  • Present Catholicism as relevant to modern life
  • Expose them to Catholic thought
  • Immerse them in Catholic practices, devotions, customs and worship
  • Teach them to critically evaluate culture in a Catholic way
  • And, most importantly, impart the why of the Catholic Faith

This is a crucial aspect in evangelizing our youth. It won’t happen unless we’re deliberate. The default is the understanding the world gives and Catholic life will become incomprehensible.

What are some ways YOU were formed with a Catholic Imagination? What ways were you not? Tell me how you form students in a truly Catholic Imagination. I would love to know!

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Form Youth Like John Paul II, Instill Catholic Imagination

Through what lens do you view the world? It’s important because his determines your first take on life. Your relationships, goals, ethics, self-orientation and attitudes towards others are shaped by your worldview. Life viewed through a scientific lens looks for physical proof. An atheist discounts miracles and the transcendent completely. What if it’s a Catholic lens?

This post is further development on a spiritual toolbox for youth ministry. The “tools” being the knowledge and skills needed to equip teens for life as a Catholic young adults.

Catholic Imagination

A spiritual tool I consider essential is formation in a Catholic lens or worldview. In this video, Fr. Robert Barron discusses how doing just that is an integral component in implementing the new evangelization. Fr. Barron calls this lens Catholic Imagination. He speaks of how young Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II was formed and later formed others this way.

First, with his fellow seminarians during the Nazi occupation, he clandestinely read the Polish classics, which were filled with the “Catholic Imagination.” The Polish culture was so thoroughly Catholic that this was integral.

When the Communists had control of Poland, Wojtyla taught his students Catholic spirituality, literature, theology and formed them in the ideas of a Catholic mentality and culture.

By the time he became Pope, those colleagues and students were leaders in Polish society. When the time was right he empowered and unleashed them onto Polish society transforming it, and the world, through the power of this Catholic thought.

The Sources of Catholic Imagination

Where does formation in the Catholic Imagination happen? Fr. Barron says most especially in the liturgy. It also happens in the great intellectual life of the Church. He cites Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Dante, Teresa of Avila, John Paul II, Therese of Lisieux as sources of this life.

I think one of the best ways we can tap into this tradition of Catholic thought and imagination is by studying the lives of the Saints and their writings. One of the ways the Tradition of the Church is encapsulated and passed on is through the living witness of the Saints. Their “lived theology” is a tangible expression of the Catholic Imagination. I plan to talk about the lives of the Saints a great deal to my youth in the coming months.

Appropriate Goals for Youth Ministry Formation

I think this is an important goal for youth ministry. We need to form kids in Catholic thought and give them Catholic imagination. Then let them become Catholic businessmen, doctors, lawyers, professors, parents and unleash that dynamism on the world.

And, then we have to let that formation out into the world. Let them be great Catholic professionals in society…doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, journalists, actors. This, Fr. Barron says, is how we transfigure the world. By carefully spreading the seeds of Catholic thought preserved through the centuries in the great literature and spiritual traditions of the Church. There, Barron remarks, is the work of the new evangelization.

How have you been formed in the Catholic Imagination? What elements do you think should go into forming teens to become Catholic thinkers?

Image: vegadsl / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why We Need A New Evangelization


Image credit: JD Warrick

There’s a lot of talk about the New Evangelization lately.

That’s because the theme for the next Bishop’s Synod in October is the New Evangelization. It’s titled ”The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

So, what was wrong with the old evangelization? Basically, there isn’t one.

Just look around. One out of every 10 Americans is a former Catholic. The majority left because they stopped believing in Church teachings.

I’d say we’re not doing something right.

So what’s new about this New Evangelization?

The New Evangelization is for people like me

The New Evangelization is for people like me…or at least who I used to be.

I grew up in South Louisiana where there’s a lot of “cultural Catholicism.”

Growing up I went to CCD and did all the things I was supposed to do, but it never really did sink in. My family wasn’t really into Church either so it wasn’t re-enforced at home.

As soon as I had the chance to drop Catholicism–I did.

I guess I’m like the poster boy for why we need a *new* evangelization. I learned what the Church believed but not to believe. I learned to say prayers but not to pray. I learned about God’s love but not how to love.

Now only later in life do I realize what I missed all those years.

On a whole, we’re not doing the job of teaching our most fundamental truths in a way that people will believe them, take them to heart, and live them.

Would things have been different for me if my catechesis growing up had been evangelizing?

Catechesis must be lead to change

Most religious education in CCD and in schools is about information. We succeed in  teaching the doctrines of the Faith but that’s not the end–that’s the means to the end.

John Paul II said, “Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him…” (On Catechesis In Our Time).

The knowledge of doctrine really must be oriented toward a change of life where a person more and more takes on the mind of Christ. It’s not about the knowledge, it’s about the change.

I’m afraid too much of our catechesis is about knowing the meaning of words instead of what it means to follow the Word.

Why this New Evangelization is new?

The New Evangelization is less about what we normally consider evangelization–in places where Catholicism has never taken root. It’s more about re-evangelizing places (like South Louisiana) where Catholicism is supposed to be firmly rooted but really isn’t.

It’s targeted to cradle Catholics like me…baptized, sacramentalized, but never evangelized.

In an address to the bishops of Latin America and Haiti in 1983, John Paul II said, “Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardour [sic], new in its methods, and new in its means of expression.”

It’s the “new” part that interests me! We can’t keep doing things that don’t work and expect things to change.

Everything old is new again

However, we also don’t have to go looking for some “silver bullet” or radical breakthrough that’s never been seen before.

Pope John Paul also wrote, “It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program.’ The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, is has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated” (Novo Millennio Ineunte). 

Our traditions are ripe with effective methods for leading people to holiness.

The Church’s various school’s of spirituality are ancient but just as effective as ever. The problem is, these traditions aren’t widely known.

I think we need to discover them anew and put them into practice.

Now tell us how to do it

So, the New Evangelization will be focused on reinvigorating the Christian West. The synod is specifically about transmitting the Faith in a way that will do that.

That’s why I’m very interested in what the bishops have to say. Really everyone involved in Catholic ministry should be as well. Hopefully, this will give us marching orders and a  structure on how to proceed.

For a long time we’ve heard we need a New Evangelization. Now let’s figure out how.

What steps do you take? What do you say? What exactly is the gospel from a Catholic perspective?

Tune in with me next October and hopefully we’ll find out!


Responding to Fr. Barron’s Call to Arms

Fr. Robert Barron issued a call to arms in response to what he called “The Depressing Pew Forum Study.”

He wrote:

“We need a new army of priests, sisters, teachers and catechists who love this [Catholic] tradition enough to know it inside and out-and who have the passion to pass it on. As I have argued before, we have instructors in our Catholic high schools, who are willing and able to communicate “Hamlet” and Virgil’s “Aeneid” to young people. Why not some masters willing and able to pass on Aquinas and Dante?”

So how do we go about raising such an army?

[Read more…]

Preach the Gospel Always…Period

I love St. Francis of Assisi. He’s probably one of the most beloved saints in history. But I think people have some wrong notions about him. It seems like, every time I hear someone quote St. Francis, it’s the phrase, “Preach the gospel always and if necessary use words.” The thing is, St. Francis preached all the time! And, all his brother friars did too. He preached anywhere and everywhere, to anyone who would listen. He preached about the unfathomable love of God that moved in his heart, the beauty he found in poverty lived fully for the Lord and the peace he enjoyed in unswerving obedience to the hierarchy of the Church. He witnessed to his audiences how God’s love changed his life and how it could change their lives as well. People listened, were converted and that’s how his fame spread.

That’s why I find it interesting that people always use that quote! It makes it sound like he never preached, which is wrong! I have a feeling that people use that particular quote from St. Francis because they don’t want to preach. It sort of excuses them from having to say anything about their faith and they’re perfectly fine because St. Francis didn’t! But that’s definitely not the case.

Now the difference with Francis was that he lived what he preached. His words backed up his actions and his actions re-enforced his words. When he spoke of God’s love being transformative, people knew it was true because they could see it in his life. That’s why he could say, “Preach the gospel always and if necessary use words.” His every action was the gospel. He didn’t need to use words…but he did!

Pope Paul VI wrote in On Evangelization in the Modern World #41 that it’s “primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world.” However, in the next section he emphasized “the importance and necessity of preaching.” Really, we need both. If Francis needed both then I know I do.

Also in that encyclical Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” It’s not just modern man! It was true 800 years ago for St. Francis as well.

Let’s face it, it’s uncomfortable to witness to people and tell them what’s going on inside…especially when Catholicism can be unpopular. It’s even harder to live a life that proclaims the gospel merely by actions. In reality, both are necessary.

How can you witness to the power of God’s love in your life today? How about something as simple as making the sign of the cross in a public restaurant while saying grace before your meal? Or, telling someone about your Catholic faith if they ask? If people looked at your life, would they be able to tell you were Catholic? Francis preached the gospel always…period!

St. Francis, pray for us!

Maintenance Mode Dilemma

Why are some Catholic parishes stuck in “maintenance mode”? Matthew Warner posted on this recently at NCR. He characterized maintenance mode parishes as inwardly focused and unconcerned with reaching out or with increasing attendance. I’m constantly struggling to figure out why it is and what to do about it. I think at least part of the problem is a lack of vision. On the local level, we are not inspiring and moving people to view the parish as being outwardly focused.

Vision is that goal of an organization that fills a gaping hole in the world.  It’s the view of an alternate reality that should be, and if it’s not, the world becomes a darker place. Leadership must work constantly at communicating vision in order to inspire people to greatness and align them towards accomplishing that goal. Without a clearly communicated vision, members of an organization don’t know what to do in order to succeed.

What is the Church’s mission? The message of the Universal Church is clear…evangelization. Jesus told the apostles to go and make disciples! We are to extend the Kingdom of Christ on earth and push back the kingdom of Satan. In doing so we bring increasing numbers of people (and consequently the culture) into union with God and his life-giving Spirit. Now that is a vision that calls you to sacrifice! It’s large, it’s bold, it can (and will) change the world!

That’s not the mission message I got recently from my diocese, though. At the latest annual diocesan development appeal, we saw a video highlighting the diocesan services our money provides. These are maintenance services. The message? Our mission is taking care of your needs, not mobilizing you for mission. The video was well made. But it didn’t communicate a vision that inspires greatness. It was inward, not outward focused.

The Church is either outwardly focused or it is stagnating. For many years now, Church leaders have concentrated on those within the flock. It’s logical with limited resources to take care of those you know as opposed to those you don’t know. However, Christ’s mandate of evangelization defies logic. Not being outwardly focused means death for the Catholic parish and for the Church in general. It is the mission and life of the Church to evangelize.

I think we need to learn better how to proclaim the gospel in a contemporary and authentically Catholic way. This is something I want to post on in the future. And, we need to have a clarity of mission. The Universal Church understands exactly what she’s about. However, I think this gets muddied a bit at the diocesan and parish level.

What do you think are some reasons why Catholic parishes are predominately in “maintenance mode” and not outwardly focused?