Before His Ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) That Great Commission is meant for us still today, and we are called to share the Good News with those around us.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk of the New Evangelization – the call of Pope St. John Paul II to evangelize Catholics who have lost ‘a living sense of their faith.’ And while the New Evangelization is important, it is still necessary to share our faith with those who are not Catholic.
Eric Sammons, author of the book The Old Evangelization: How To Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did recently stopped by The Kristine Franklin Show and shared why it is important to look to the past in our desire to form future disciples. Eric said:
“When I was a Protestant, as an Evangelical I was of course involved in evangelism, and when I became Catholic in the early 90s I was a bit shocked and even scandalized by the fact that it seemed no Catholics really were interested in evangelization.
I would argue that a lot of what falls under the ‘New Evangelization’ ends up copying a lot of Protestant methods, copying a lot of corporate marketing methods. We feel like we attract people through marketing and what the mega churches do, and we just end up copying that.
And I don’t think that is what true evangelization is – evangelization how Jesus did it, or how great saints like St. Paul, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Francis Xavier did it. ‘The Old Evangelization’ is looking back at how they did it. How Jesus did it, how the saints have done it, and really see that as a model.”
Eric gave listeners some advice to keep in mind when sharing the Catholic faith with others:
Recognize What Evangelization Is, And What It Isn’t
First of all, recognize what evangelization is and what it isn’t. We picture evangelization primarily as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses going door to door. We don’t want to do that, and we think, ‘I don’t want to be pushy like that.’ Or we see Billy Graham or Scott Hahn preaching to tons of people and we think, ‘I can’t do that either.’ But really, evangelization at its core is one-on-one personal encounters that challenge people to conversion. That’s how I like to define it.
So, we start off with the one-on-one personal encounter: it’s typically with people you know. And in fact, the more you know somebody, the deeper relationship you have with them, the better you can evangelize them. Because you really understand what their issues are, where they’re struggling, what they believe already, things like that. If you can really have a personal encounter with them, where you can really have this personal discussion with them, it challenges people to conversion.
You’re not trying to sell Catholicism. You’re not trying to say that we have the best religion out there, like we have the best soda, or ice cream, or something like that. What you’re trying to say is, ‘This is the way God has created us to live. This is how He wants us to be happy in this life, and happy with Him eternally in the next.’ And if you have that belief and conviction that it’s true, why wouldn’t you want to share it with somebody?
I think of it how we share all of our interests with other people. For example, I’m a big fan of baseball. And so, people that I’m friends with know I love talking about baseball, and I like talking about different teams and different players and things like that. I don’t feel weird about that. I can talk to my friends about that pretty naturally.
I also love the Faith, so I should be able to talk naturally about that. In other words, it’s not something where we’re trying to force ourselves or bring it up at every possible moment, or try to force people to become Catholic. No, it’s more of a natural kind of thing. … If people realize it’s just a part of who you are and it’s OK to talk about with other people, then I don’t think they’ll be as intimidated doing it.
Use Your Words
‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.’ I love St. Francis of Assisi, and there is no way he ever said that. The man would preach to birds! It doesn’t even fit with his lifestyle. And the truth is, if you look at the great evangelists, they all preached with words, and that is really sharing the Good News.
Now, yes it is true that in order to be an effective evangelist we have to live the life of the Gospel. Because people won’t listen to us if we’re just using words and our life says something different. They’ll know we’re hypocrites and they’re not even going to listen. But really that phrase has become an excuse that many Catholics have to say, ‘I don’t have to use words. All I have to do is live a good life.’ And magically people are going to convert left and right around them.
Well, that just doesn’t happen. What happens is living that life of the Gospel and following Jesus Christ as a Catholic does attract people, but then you have to tell them why it is you live like that. You’ve got to tell them it’s because you’ve given your life over to Christ, you’re living a sacramental life, you go to Confession regularly, you go to Mass regularly, things like that. Those things are necessary as part of evangelization.
And Jesus did it Himself. Jesus was the perfect man, He was the God-Man and if anyone didn’t need to use words it was Him. But what did He do? He spent three years publically preaching and telling people the Good News. If He needed to do it, I would say we probably do too.
Be Not Afraid
Even those who practice the Faith – go to Mass regularly, go to Confession regularly, try to live as a disciple of Christ – most of them don’t evangelize either, and I think that is because of fear. Fear of two things, the first fear is fear of failure, that they don’t really know their faith too well and maybe they’ll get stumped on something and take somebody away from the Faith.
The second fear is the fear of cultural rejection. The fact is, especially in America, we’re told that you can’t really talk about politics or religion. Those are two things you’re not allowed to talk about, and if you do you’re somehow breaking cultural norms and you’re being impolite. So we’re afraid that if we bring up religion people will look at us funny and they’ll think we’re one of those religious wackos, and we might not get invited to the next neighborhood barbecue. I have that fear at times too, that when I’m around people I know, like at my sons little league game and I’m talking to the parents, I don’t want to come across as the wacky one either, but sometimes we’re just called to do that. And it might mean coming across a little crazy, but we’re supposed to be faithful and do it.
Listen to the full interview below, and for more from Eric Sammons, get his book The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did
The Kristine Franklin Show airs weekdays from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Pacific on Immaculate Heart Radio.