In our day to day lives we encounter many people. In those encounters opportunities arise which allow us to share our faith. Do we? We are called to. The last three popes have all spoken of the New Evangelization a mission specifically designed for the laity. How we cary out that mission determines if we are successful or not. There are two options on how we share our faith. We can gently lead people to Christ or we can be aggressive. Let’s take a look at both
Brute force or gentle persistence
Once upon a time there was a piece of iron that was very strong. One after another, the ax, the saw, the hammer, and the flame tried to break it.
“I’ll master it,” said the ax. Its blows fell heavily on the iron, but every blow made its edge blunt, until it ceased to strike.
“Leave to me,” said the saw, and it worked backward and forward on the iron’s surface until its jagged teeth were all worn and broken. Then it fell aside.
“Ah!” aid the hammer. “I knew you wouldn’t succeed. I’ll show you the way.” But at the first fierce blow, off flew its head, and the iron remained as before.
“Shall I try,” asked the small, soft flame?
“Forget it,” all replied. “What can you do?”
But the flame curled around the iron, embraced it, and never left the iron until it melted under the flame’s irresistible influence.
It cannot be emphasized enough, the new evangelization is a mission for the laity. It is not a job for priests or bishops. It is a mission the only we, the laity, can effectively execute. We are the ones “in the trenches”. We are the ones who can go where priests and bishops cannot readily go. Not only can we go where they cannot but we as a whole can have more opportunity to interface with more people. Look around your parish. There are possibly hundreds of people registered with your parish. Multiple by ten. That’s how many people (if not more) in your locale that are not Catholic. One priest cannot possibly reach out to numbers like that.
The laity has the unique advantage of daily interaction with many of these people. They come in the guise of workers, family or friends. In those daily interactions at some point we may, and likely will, be asked about our faith. We have choices to make in those daily encounters. Scott Hahn in his book Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization pointed out two. The first is we could simply walk away and not address the question out of fear that we do not have the knowledge to adequately gie an answer. The second is we can do our own research, finding the answer to the question and returning with the answer. In effect we educate ourselves as well, building our own faith and growing our confidence for future interactions.
Evangelizaton is not new
We can use the early church as source material on effective evangelization. Simply put without the evangelization efforts of the early Church we would not be having this conversation on the Church. The early Christians spread the faith despite the very real, near constant threat of death. The Roman Empire despised Christianity and viewed it as a threat. Some very ruthless Roman leaders promulgated mass killings of Christians and yet….the Church survived and not only survived but flourished. How did they do this? The lived the faith daily.
Christians did the unthinkable. They cared for their sick and infirm. They didn’t deem the sick as useless and toss them off to the side. They married, committed themselves to a life-long partner and began families. They conceived children and saw them through to their birth. They didn’t abort their children as inconveniences to their lifestyle. How did this serve the church? Roman citizens began to take notice to what their Christian neighbors were doing. They saw them caring for each other an in particular the women noticed this. Women saw that Christian men loved their wives and did not treat as trinkets…and they wanted that lifestyle. Romans converted to Christianity by the thousands, by the hundreds of thousands! The Church grew despite threat of death by a rate of some 40% per year simply by evangelizing through example.
How can we evangelize today?
It must be said right up front that we must be gentle when evangelizing. No one likes a pushy car salesman and the same goes with faith. Be on the lookout for those subtle opportunities to share your faith. If someone asks you a question about Catholicism answer them and if you don’t have the answer simply tell them you don’t BUT that you will find out and get back to them. We are talking water cooler Catholicism here. Someone might ask you about the crucifix you are wearing. You could bring up the parish picnic and what a great time you had. Maybe someone sees you reading a faith-based book on your lunch break and asks you what you are reading…tell them. Most importantly, like the early Christians, live out your faith daily. Someone will take notice. You will not need a bullhorn to let people know that you are Catholic.
Some people fear evangelizing and sharing their faith. In an interview with Scott Hahn he told me, “There is a taboo about discussing religion. Americans say it’s impolite to talk about religion and politics. Well, where I live people are talking about politics all the time. Religion? Not so much. That’s supposed to be a private matter. There are many reasons for this, some of them cultural, some of them historical. Religious pluralism is a fairly new phenomenon on the word scene, and we’re still adjusting to it. But we need to fast-forward the process. It’s not like we’re trying to sell people something they don’t need. It’s more like we’re trying to give them antibiotics in the middle of an epidemic. Evangelization is the sharing of salvation; and, at least where I live, there’s a crying need for it.”
I encourage you to step out and fearlessly share your faith. Do so in a gentle loving manner and don’t be pushy. When you meet resistance back off. Do not pound and try break through. Be the steady flame that melts through the resistance.