The Holy Spirit and Evangelization: A Primer
One thing I have come to realize over the past few years, especially during the reign of Pope Francis, is that in a culture hostile to religious orthodoxy, it is easy for Catholics to fall into the trap of treating orthodoxy as an end in itself. When Francis warns us not to become a “self-referential” Church, he is referring in part to a defensive attitude that is satisfied with merely holding the correct beliefs on an intellectual level. Such an attitude makes us forgetful of what evangelization is, so that not only do we fail to go out to the world, but we even forget to evangelize our fellow Catholics – we may not even realize that such a thing is necessary.
I gained awareness of this pitfall chiefly through reflection on my own Catholic education. In the schools I attended, catechesis and apologetics were bound up together, and there was such an emphasis on the latter that a student might easily come away with the impression that the best way to win another person to the faith is by argument. But catechesis and evangelization are not at all the same thing, much less can mere orthodoxy be equated with authentic Christian discipleship.
Thus, after years of, by “conservative Catholic” standards, the finest Catholic education available, I found myself in the impoverished but not at all unusual position of knowing and believing the teachings of the Church, while remaining, at the level of the heart, unconvinced of God’s personal love for me. My faith, and that of most of my peers, was over-intellectual and far from integrated. Like so many other Catholics I know, I had been catechized, but not evangelized. Indeed, I have observed that many in orthodox circles are scarcely aware that there is a difference between the two.
For these reasons, I found myself challenged and startled a number of times while reading Sharing the Faith That You Love: Four Simple Ways to Be Part of the New Evangelization, a new book from The Word Among Us Press by evangelists John and Therese Boucher. First, I quickly realized that the New Evangelization is not so much “new” in the sense that it is innovative or different from some traditional model, but in the sense that there hasn’t been enough evangelizing going on in the Church of late! The introduction refers to a “‘culture of silence’ around conversion and discipleship” which leaves many Catholics unaware that they can have a personal relationship with God: these words struck me on a deep level.
Second, the book brought to my attention many seemingly obvious ways of evangelization, and ways to pray about evangelization, that had not occurred to me before. For example, the Bouchers recommend asking God to show us the best way to evangelize someone in our life. I was shocked to realize that I had almost never done this in all the many hours I had spent thinking about how to evangelize (read: argue into submission) various friends and acquaintances.
The great strength of the approach described in this book is that the Bouchers seem to have internalized fully the truth that it is the Holy Spirit who makes disciples. At every step of the process we are referred to how the Holy Spirit can work in various situations, and how we can discover ourselves as evangelists by simply asking the Lord to show us the way. This is not an intellectual treatise but a simple, humble and prayerful work intended to wake the evangelist dormant in each reader.
The titular “four simple ways” are prayer, caring, sharing, and daring to invite, and there is a chapter devoted to each of these aspects of evangelization. Each chapter opens with a prayer, scripture passage and a “mini-witness” (a short story exemplifying the way the Holy Spirit works to give us opportunities to evangelize or be evangelized), and is broken up into sections interspersed with various spiritual exercises designed to help the reader to understand better how he or she has been evangelized in the past, and to discover opportunities to evangelize others based on one’s own personality, circumstances and gifts.
While I found many helpful pieces of advice and spiritual insights in Sharing the Faith You Love, the book also contains plenty of examples of how not to do evangelization. One particularly astute passage describes a mistake I have seen made all too often by Catholics, not to mention one I have made myself. After a list of different kinds of conversion (intellectual, religious, moral, emotional, etc.), the authors dispense the following wisdom:
Although praying for another person’s conversion is part of evangelizing, it is important that we let go of our expectations and judgments about how and when that person’s conversion might happen, as well as what kind of conversion is needed. This is something St. Monica (331-387) had to do hundreds of times while praying for her son, St. Augustine (354-430). For example, perhaps you experienced a moral conversion first, as a result of the promptings and prayers of a teacher, as John did in high school. Because of this experience, you might be tempted to think that everyone else should begin a relationship with God through a moral conversion. This is simply not true. So rejoice at what God has done in you first, and then let go and give God permission to transform others through any one of these kinds of conversion and in any order that pleases God. Remember, conversion is, by its very nature, a surprise that is given as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Would that more Catholics understood this! As I said before: a simple, humble and prayerful work.
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