Why am I terrible at evangelization?

| Father Michael Schmitz | June 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

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Q) I think that I am terrible at evangelization. I keep trying and failing. The last time, I was trying to help my friend see that he shouldn’t drink to get drunk. He was offended. We are still friends, but I don’t think that I’m built for evangelization.

A) Thank you for writing and for your question. I really appreciate the fact that you care. You care about people. You care about God. And you care that people are able to live in a way that reflects that they know God and his will for their lives. You do not lack courage or love. And these are very necessary characteristics for an evangelist. But in the case you described, there is a bit of an error.

You thought that you were “evangelizing.” But what you were actually doing was “correcting.”

This isn’t bad. One of the spiritual works of mercy is to “instruct the ignorant.” Again, I believe that your words were guided by a desire for your friend to know God’s will for his life and to live out the dignity your friend has been created for. That’s a good thing! But evangelization is something different.

Evangelization is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in such a way as to help a person (moved by grace) to place their faith in God. This can take any number of forms, from formal preaching to a conversation between friends. From sharing a reading from one of the four Gospels to sharing a tract on who Jesus is. There are innumerable ways that a person can evangelize. For this reason, there are very few real “rules” about how to share the good news of Jesus. Yet one of them is that Christ needs to be proclaimed in some way.

Of course, the moral life is not divorced from this proclamation. And offering a correction is not an automatic “dead end.” There are definitely times when a person could begin sharing the faith with another person beginning from a moral perspective. For example, I know of someone whose journey to encounter Christ began when a friend told him that he couldn’t receive holy Communion at Mass unless he was a practicing Catholic. This correction was the catalyst for him to begin asking deeper questions about how he had been living. It led him to ask, “What does it mean to be a practicing Catholic?” And that led him to a place where a different friend was able to share what a life surrendered to and centered on Christ could look like.

In addition, evangelization is not merely the proclamation of Christ. Pope St. Paul VI wrote a document called “Evangelium Nuntiandi” back in the 1960s in which he pointed out that, while there is always the proclamation of Jesus as Lord in evangelization, there is also the transforming encounter with the sacraments of the Church. Evangelization is not complete without reception into the Church through baptism, confirmation, and holy Communion. It continues with catechesis (further teaching) and must be lived out in faith, hope and love.

Where does that leave you? Where does that leave us? It should help us realize that evangelization must be more than mere correction. It must involve the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. Even then, evangelization is incomplete if it does not lead one to reception of the sacraments and a life of discipleship. Hopefully, this understanding changes how we approach sharing the faith with the people in our lives. But how does a person begin evangelizing?

I think that sharing the good news is often going to be very different than simple instruction. Of course, if someone comes to you and asks to be instructed, then that will obviously change things. But usually, evangelization will begin with relationships. And not just any kind of relationship, but a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

More often than not, these are relationships where the other person has not given the would-be-evangelist permission to talk about God. These relationships can be between friends or co-workers, family members or classmates. Nonetheless, if permission hasn’t been given, it will be difficult to make any headway. This is because, too often, the conversation will seem to have an agenda. I am not interested in your thoughts, I only want to tell you what I think about life and God. And the other person can sense that.

Because of this, evangelization can simply begin by talking about deeper things. It can begin by asking honest questions to which you actually want to know the honest answer. It is not “setting the other person up” with a question so that you can tell them what you think after they share. It is genuinely wanting to know who they are and what they think. If a person gets the sense that we are only speaking with them so that we can win an argument, that is not a recipe for trust.

Yes, evangelization is sometimes us teaching, but only after we have listened. And people will only share what they think if they trust us. So, evangelization begins by being a good friend or brother or sister or co-worker. If they trust us. And they will only really trust us if we have demonstrated that we truly want to know what they think. Not just so we can correct them, but because we care about what they think.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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