One of my favorite subjects of reflection is definitely evangelization, which probably doesn’t surprise many of you considering how many posts I’ve dedicated to the topic over the past few weeks. Evangelization is a key part of my ministry, especially since many of my students (and their parents) are encountering Jesus Christ for the first time in our religious education program. But does it end when I clock out at the end of the day? Not really.
Honestly though, does the call and invitation to evangelize ever end? I’m inclined to think not. From dawn to dusk, from the moment we first open our eyes in the morning (and sometimes even before that) to the moment that our head hits the pillow (and sometimes even after that), there are countless opportunities to evangelize. The world desperately needs to meet Jesus Christ, to encounter Him and really embrace Him. It is one thing to know about Jesus Christ; it is quite another to actually know Him. And as we really come to know Him, there is also an overwhelming desire to tell other people about Him, to help other people to know Him as we do. And that’s really the foundation of evangelization.
Evangelization has to be rooted in friendship. It can’t be regarded as a task that must be performed, or a duty that must be fullfilled. Yes, Catholics have been charged with the task of proclaiming the Good News to the world, but if evangelization is only viewed as a duty, we will never succeed. As I mentioned in earlier posts, Catholics in general have not been very good at evangelizing in the past. Many Catholics don’t even know what the word means, or if they do, it brings to mind images of televangelists or street-corner types. But that’s not what evangelization is really about. Why evangelize? Because we have discovered the most incredible truth, and we want to tell the world. Because we have seen the light, and we want to help everyone to escape the darkness. Because we have learned that we are loved intimately by the God of the universe, and we want the rest of the world to know that love. The explanations are endless.
Why we evangelize is just as important as how we evangelize. Evangelization has to be a personal matter; it cannot be a matter of numbers. It can’t be about converting the greatest amount of people, but it must be about bringing those that we love closer to Christ precisely because we love them. Sadly, I’ve seen many passionate Catholics try to evangelize, but with little success. In fact, more often than not, the people that they are trying to evangelize end up farther from the Church and Jesus Christ than before. Why is this? Why are our efforts so often foiled?
While some of our struggles are the result of inadequate catechesis and lack of understanding, often our failure to evangelize can be linked to our intentions. Even the best of intentions can lead to failure if one central component is lacking: love. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “If I have faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing” (13:2). If we evangelize because we want everyone to accept the truth but we don’t love them, we will fail. If we evangelize because we want to bring people into the Church but we don’t love them, we will fail. Even if we evangelize because we want to tell people of God’s great love but we don’t love them ourselves, we will fail. Without love, our efforts at evangelization will come to naught. This reality might be hard to swallow, but I’ve witnessed enough to firmly believe that it’s the truth.
I myself have failed countless times at evangelizing, and in nearly all of those situations, it was because I failed as a friend. I failed to love. I was more concerned with making my friends see the truth, or leading them to believe and act as I did, than with actually loving them. When I become more concerned with converting my friends than actually being with them and loving them, not only do I not convert them, but I am not the best friend that I can be. Though I am in no way a good evangelist, when the Lord has been able to work through me, I have never been overly concerned with evangelizing. I wasn’t looking to convert my friends. I was just looking to love them. Because I was united to Christ and my friends desired to be more closely connected to me, they also drew nearer the Lord. Because our friendship was rooted in love, it was by necessity grounded in Christ. I was able to do more evangelization through my actions- through my attention, advice, support, etc.- than through the occasional conversations that we had on faith and Jesus Christ. We did talk about these things, but these conversations did not arise because of my knowledge of the faith, but because of our friendship and the love and respect that we had for one another. When our actions are inspired and fueled by love, and when our friendships are rooted in love, anything is possible.
The same idea can also be applied to evangelization and conversion in general. I have met many people who see every person as someone to be converted, rather than someone to be loved. Our mission to bring people to Christ must be firmly rooted in love. We must all ask ourselves whether this is the case, because if we can’t answer affirmatively without hesitation, people will sense our ulterior motives. They will know that our primary goal is their conversion, and more often than not, they will feel slighted. We cannot convert for the sake of converting. People are not longing to be converted; they long to be loved, and when we love them, their hearts are transformed and they are converted. Conversion can never be forced or coerced, but must always be fostered in love and friendship. A very wise priest once told me that the key to evangelization is to view every person that we meet not as a person to be converted, but as a friend to be loved. I really do think that if we take this suggestion seriously, we will all have a lot of more friends, and the Lord will have a lot more disciples.
My other suggestion is this: be joyful. We will draw more souls to Christ with our joy than with our words. It’s our joy that makes the faith attractive; it’s our joy that inspires souls to be converted. If we live joyful lives, I firmly believe that we can evangelize better than we ever thought possible. I think joy is the key is conversion. It is contagious- if people see our joy, they want to share in it. They want to know why we’re so joyful. They want what we have already found. And ultimately, that’s why we evangelize- because we have found something incredible, and we want to share it with the world. The deep and intimate love of God is the source of our joy. It is at the core of our most valued friendships. It is what every man desires. God created us to love and be loved- by Himself, and by our fellow-man. This love draws us closer to Christ, and closer to one another. That is how we will convert souls- as we strengthen the bonds of friendship that unite us, we also become more closely united to Christ. When we love others, they can come to know the love of Christ through us. When they see this love and witness our joy, they will want it too. Evangelization is not always about what we say; more often than not, it’s about what we do. Do you want to know how to evangelize better? Become a better friend. Love deeper. Be more joyful. That is the key to evangelization. Now go and spread the word.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!