1. We have a distorted notion of what it means to ‘evangelise’
For many Catholics, the word ‘evangelisation’ is still associated with bible-thumping Christians who come up to people at bus-stops and traffic-lights or knock on our doors to ask, “Have you been saved?” Understandably, we shrink back at the thought of being asked to do the same because we probably all know of at least one non-Christian friend who has been turned off from Christianity by such proselytising tactics.
We need to restore the term evangelisation to its original essence – to spread the Good News of God’s love. Put more simply, ‘to evangelise’ is to make Christ’s love and mercy present in the world through our lives.
2. We don’t see why other people need Christ
There is a popular line of thought that goes, “Every religion teaches us to love and to be good people. As long as someone is already a loving or good person, he/she does not need to know Jesus Christ.”
In Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Knowing and loving (and being loved by) Christ cannot be reduced to becoming a better person or pursuing a more ethical life. It is entering an intimate, personal relationship with God himself that brings us to wholeness and inner freedom and which fundamentally changes the way we live in this world. It is a beauty and a good that once experienced is too wonderful to be kept to ourselves.
3. We are afraid of offending others
Living in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society such as Singapore, this is a valid concern that many of us have. We may wish to share Jesus Christ with friends and family of other faiths, but we are afraid of making them feel disrespected.
This is when it is good to understand that evangelisation isn’t limited to telling people about Jesus Christ. In fact, there is little point in talking about Christ if there is nothing about our own lives that arouses curiosity in others to find out about our faith. We are always called to love, respect and honour our brothers and sisters of other faiths – not just superficially, but within real friendships and relationships. If we are faithful in our own relationship with God, we can trust that in time it will attract others to want to know “the reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:15). Then, we can share without fear of causing offence, because they want to know.
4. We don’t feel that we know the faith well enough to talk about it
Many of us feel that it is better that we do not talk about our faith because we know so little about it and we are afraid that we may give misinformation about it. While knowing about our faith is important for Catholics, evangelisation is different from catechesis. Catechesis requires us to be clear about the teachings and practices of the Catholic faith. Evangelisation requires us to have a personal and intimate relationship with God. In other words, catechesis requires us to know our faith but evangelisation requires us to know our God. The two are interlinked but distinct.
Perhaps not everyone will have the gift of being able to explain the intricacies of Catholic Church teachings to others, but every Christian, no matter their ability, is equipped to share the great and wonderful things that God has done for them in their lives. Everyone, young or old, is able to share about someone they know and love deeply, and that is what evangelisation really is.
5. We think that it’s the priests’ and religious’ (or parish staff’s) job to evangelise
There are many lay Catholics who still have the misconception that their duty as Catholics are fulfilled when they fulfil their Sunday obligation to attend mass. It is common to hear Catholics bemoan the state of those lapsed from the faith and to hear them wanting to know what parish priest or the parish pastoral staff is going to do about it. What they don’t realise is that every baptised Catholic has an equal share in the Church’s mission to fulfil the Great Commission that Christ gave us. Here’s a powerful excerpt from the 2nd Vatican Council’s Decree of the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuaositatem:
“For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church…
…Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.
In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.
They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelisation and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.” (AA,2)
6. We don’t know how and where to begin
For some Catholics, the idea of evangelising is intimidating because they think it is something that requires special skills or at least a gift of the gab. Some others think of evangelisation as something that must be organised and coordinated with other Catholics. These misconceptions set the bar to start evangelising very high in our minds.
In reality, some of us may already be evangelising more than we realise. The mother than soothes her young child who woke up crying from a nightmare by praying for him and assuring him that God is with him; the doctor who patiently listens to his disgruntled patient’s complaints and offers him hope and confidence; the teacher who builds up not only the minds but the character and souls of her students; the public servant who uses his influence and ability to make policies that upholds the dignity of the human person; the politician who boldly upholds the Church’s teachings in the face of public backlash… all these actions, if they flow from a lived relationship with Christ, make Christ’s truth and love present to the world and as such, are evangelising.
End of Part 1.
Written by VITA Scribes.
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