Men need to be convinced evangelists, speaker says

| March 21, 2017 | 3 Comments

The Church is a half-century into renewed evangelization efforts called for by the Second Vatican Council, but Catholics in the U.S. have yet to move the needle.

So said Gordy DeMarais, founder and president of nationwide college campus ministry St. Paul’s Outreach, while speaking to more than 1,000 men at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Men’s Conference March 18. According to the research presented in a 2005 book, only 6 percent of Catholic parishes prioritize evangelization, he said.

Among Protestant churches, the percentages for interest in evangelization jumped into the 70s, according to “Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners,” in which author Nancy Ammerman presented studies and surveys of religions in the U.S., including Catholicism.

The research is now more than a decade old, but “I would propose to you that evangelization is still not a priority for Catholics,” DeMarais said.

The importance of evangelization was at the heart of the message DeMarais and other speakers shared with conference attendees of all ages at the University of St. Thomas Anderson Field House in St. Paul. The annual event was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

In his keynote presentation, Archbishop Bernard Hebda focused on St. Joseph as someone who responded quickly to God’s invitation to care for Jesus and Mary. Modern men, he said, similarly are called to listen to God and act decisively according to his will.

Speaking two days before the Church observed the saint’s feast, Archbishop Hebda described St. Joseph as a model for holiness who lived faithfully with the Lord, even before the coming of Christ.

“Joseph was a man who always listened to the voice of God, profoundly amenable to God’s secret will, a man attentive to the messages that came from the depth of the heart and from above,” said Archbishop Hebda, quoting Pope Francis.

In his presentation, DeMarais made clear that evangelization is not a Protestant invention, but rather the obligation of all Christians. It means proclaiming the good news — that Jesus Christ has come and died for sinners so that they can have eternal life with him.

A parishioner of St. Louis, King of France in St. Paul, DeMarais noted that evangelization matters because what Jesus has done requires a response. That response, he said, is a matter of spiritual “life and death.”

“We might be the only Bible our neighbor reads,” he said.

Evangelization is a lifestyle rather than another Catholic activity to schedule and check off, he said. It begins with personal holiness and happens through relationships, a mission field that exists everywhere, including one’s family, workplace and parish. He emphasized “incorporating a kingdom perspective” in living out one’s faith in the circumstances of daily life.

DeMarais said that personal witness of living the faith in a concrete way will draw people. He said people should look for opportunities to share the Gospel, but they often arise naturally.

He also distinguished between evangelization and apologetics, defending the faith. The former uses friendship to share the Gospel and doesn’t seek to win an argument, he said.

That friendship could eventually help other men overcome sins, he said, including ones the culture doesn’t often call sin. DeMarais said he was able to turn away from certain sins in his early life only after committing himself to Christ.

DeMarais emphasized the importance of relationship with God, something that doesn’t automatically come with Church involvement. He said someone could be involved and living a moral life but missing the most important part. “The preaching of the Gospel is indispensable,” he said.

DeMarais said he understands the challenge, having grown up in a faithful Catholic home. While his family put the faith front and center, he quit practicing it in his late teens when his father died.

It took a friend from outside his church circle to point him back to Christ while he was attending the University of St. Thomas in the late 1970s. He said recognizing his friend’s care for him as a person made it possible to being receptive to the Gospel.

DeMarais later responded wholeheartedly on a retreat through the Catholic Youth Center in St. Paul, and committed his life to the Lord. That led to focusing on lay ministry instead of his original plan to major in chemical engineering. He soon engaged in retreat ministry with youths and then began college campus ministry, which evolved into Inver Grove Heights based-St. Paul’s Outreach, which has a presence on campuses in eight states.

Since those early years, DeMarais has closely mentored more than 250 men in the faith, he told The Catholic Spirit in an interview. He has also trained thousands in living the faith and evangelization through St. Paul’s Outreach. Even in the busyness of his work guiding the ministry and caring for his family of eight, he finds opportunities to evangelize, he said.

DeMarais gave the men at the conference pointers on how to evangelize. Starting with personal conversion, he emphasized the need to pray for others and live as a witness to the Gospel.

DeMarais also said building community enables evangelization efforts, citing his experience at the Catholic Youth Center as an example of a place where he encountered many faith-filled Catholics.

The conference highlighted the archdiocese’s Catholic Watchmen initiative as a place where Catholic men could meet like-minded men and grow in faith. Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens pointed to disciplines Catholic Watchmen adopt: daily prayer, reading Scripture, imitating St. Joseph, Sunday Mass, serving family and community, monthly confession and building fraternity.

DeMarais encouraged attendees to jot a list of five to six people who need to hear the Gospel, adding that when reaching out, one needs to show interest in the person and recognize his or her real needs.

DeMarais also emphasized that Catholic men need to speak of Jesus, developing a conviction of the way God has worked in their lives and the willingness to share about it.

That sharing can’t wait too long. DeMarais relayed the story of a Christian who waited until a non-believing friend was dying to share the Gospel with him. Unfortunately, the dying man refused to accept it.

“This [dying] man turned to him and said, ‘What you have said to me is so important, that if you had really believed this were true, you would have shared this with me a long time ago,’” DeMarais recounted.

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