I was reflecting a few weeks ago about who’s responsible for evangelization at the parish. This was before COVID-19 and the implementation of social distancing, self-quarantining, and government orders for everyone to stay home. Since I wrote the below the world has changed, but my message hasn’t. We are all responsible for sharing the Gospel, for creating community, and helping our neighbors (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). While life at the parish has physically stopped for a few weeks, the spiritual life of our people hasn’t. Our efforts as a community are needed now more than ever!
One of the open-ended questions on the most recent survey I did for a parish said, “What can the the parish do to help you reach out to people you know (family, friends) who don’t attend Church anymore?”
This is a pretty standard question we ask on our Parish Vision Plan Surveys and the answers are typically a form of, “I’m really not sure.” Basically respondents are asking the parish to come up with the answer and then share it with them.
My most recent survey had a lot of respondents who said a version of, “that’s not my job, that’s the job of the clergy.” Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated sentiment in the Catholic Church. It’s Father’s job to preach at Mass, celebrate the Mass, and run the parish … so therefore it must also be his job to evangelize to all who don’t know Jesus.
People even cite Scripture as the reason! “Well, Jesus trained the apostles and then they were ordained priests at the Last Supper and then preached the Gospel all over the world.” While that is a true statement, it’s only part of the story.
One of the common milestones in a parish’s Vision Plan is “Provide opportunities to teach parishioners how to evangelize.” I’ve written about evangelization here before, and I’m writing it again, because it’s so important.
Paul VI told us in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “The Church exists in order to evangelize.” We (you, me, and our fellow parishioners) are also the Church. We are Baptized as “priest, prophet, and king” meaning we have the obligation to share the Gospel. We do this in the manner in which we live, how we operate in our workplaces, the way we raise our families, and all of our interactions.
There’s a famous quote from St. Francis (that he didn’t say, btw) which is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” People mostly quote this and use it as the reason why they don’t have to talk about Jesus; they’re living it.
Paul VI says it like this:
For the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. […] “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”EN 41
To combine Paul VI, Francis, a common song refrain, the Scriptures, and me:
They will know we are Christians by our love, by the way we live our lives, and the manner in which we talk about the Lord, who is seated on the throne of our hearts.
People don’t typically follow a particular sports team because they like the owner or the coach. They don’t buy from a particular company because the CEO’s a fantastic guy. They don’t support a charity because the board president is a great speaker. They go to the game because of the players and the community they have watching the game. They buy from a company because their product is great and people can’t stop talking about it. They contribute to the charity because of the impact it’s making on the community.
Don’t misunderstand, we need priests. We need them living out their vocations and sharing the Gospel by the way they live. We also need each person who calls themselves Catholic to live true, authentic Christianity. This means we are witnesses to God’s love and mercy in the way we live and the manner in which we speak.
If people who have left the Church are going to come back, it is my believe that they will return because of the witness of His love and mercy working in their neighbor, sibling, friend, co-worker, cashier, Uber driver, hair stylist, etc.
The Lord will use all of us to share His Good News!