One day in college my friend Mike (Fr. Michael now!) was telling me about something he learned about the Old Testament in the seminary class he was taking. It was about what happened right before the 10 commandments were handed down – the people of Israel experienced the Love of God. God had rescued them from slavery, protected them in the desert, and was guiding them to enter the Promised Land of Milk and Honey. They first experienced His Love and then the Lord taught them how to love.
This idea has stayed with me for more than a decade. And I’m always reminded of this when I think of evangelization. The Doctrine, Teachings, and Beliefs of the Church are very important. For me, they guide the decisions I make every day. I’m presuming for you as well. But that’s because I have a relationship with the Lord because I’ve experienced His love and mercy first hand. It’s part of my love story.
I fell in love, and now I ask the Lord how He wants me to love Him in return. This is the case for many people in our Churches, but it is not the case for everyone.
It’s important to remember that Evangelization and Apologetics are not the same. They sometimes have the same outcome. They are both necessary. However, they are not the same. We must know what we believe. We must be able to articulate in an intelligent way what we believe. This is important, but it’s not the only important thing.
When thinking about Evangelization, I can’t help but think about the headline of this article. Stephen White writes:
What was needed instead, Pope Francis said, was to re-emphasize the church’s missionary character. Evangelization must be more about helping people to fall in love than about convincing them to fall in line. “The most important thing,” Pope Francis said, “is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” He continued, “It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
It’s about starting with the FIRST THING: Jesus has saved you. Then moving on to the rest.
Let’s use another example. I’m out on a first date and the guy shows some interest. So I say, “Well you’ll have to make sure you do the dishes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, & Sunday and mow the lawn every week.” He’d start running, and I wouldn’t blame him! After he falls in love with my charm though, he’ll be dying to the do the dishes and mow the lawn (I hope!). He’ll have a desire to serve me, and I, him.
It’s the same with people who come into the faith. Will they have questions about what we believe? Of course. Will those answers matter if they don’t know that Jesus died on the cross to save them because He loves them? Probably not.
After we fall in love all we want to do is to serve the one we love.
So what does this mean for the parish?
- Be open to those who are questioning their faith.
- Remember not everyone has a relationship with Jesus Christ, this is something that has to be nurtured. Parishes are places where this can happen. Parishioners are people who can help do this.
- Consider some ways you can create ripe opportunities for falling in love. Opportunities that welcome open hearts. Outreach & Service, Eucharistic Adoration (Everyone can participate, Catholic & non-Catholic), Faith Sharing Groups, and Fellowship are just a few that come to mind.
If we want to make an impact like we’ve never made before, then we’ll have to do some things we’ve never done before. So think outside the box! Share your ideas below!