Just recently I had a conversation with William Hemsworth on his podcast, “Know the Faith. Defend the Faith.” We discussed three specific ideas or ways that can radically transform how we evangelize. And though I had hoped that by now these ideas would have become commonplace in the Catholic world, ever since St. Pope John Paul’s first call for the new evangelization, sadly, this has not been the case.
With that in mind, and with the lofty goal of correcting what should have been corrected from the beginning, let’s take a brief look at these three ways that will make your evangelizing efforts go much further.
We seem to believe that the most worthwhile endeavour is the one that captures the most people. We prefer to set aside the fishing rod in favour of the net.
It should go without saying that evangelization is not something that we simply do once. It should not be something that we can point to and say, “That’s the day and time when I evangelized.” But that’s precisely what most of us do, we internally monitor our progress.
We look to a program that we have implemented, or a key conversation that seemed to be well-received, or we notice that something we left for someone to be found “accidentally” (such as a book or a podcast) had been welcomed and even appreciated—we look for individual actions and even interactions that prove to us that we are doing what we are supposed to do for the kingdom.
The problem of course is that evangelization is not about deeds but about identity. Just as a fire gives off warmth because of what it is, we Catholics are supposed to draw people to Christ because of what we are and who we are becoming.
And while this may be terribly difficult for us to accept in a culture that claims the opposite—that is, that one’s actions define one’s identity—in this area at least, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you are Catholic, then by your baptism you have been made an evangelist. The question is, will you get better at being what you are?
2. Your Circle of Grace
We love big projects because, more often than not, we perceive that big rewards await us at the end. And the more people that our projects influence, the more we believe that we will be remembered in the end. In terms of evangelization, we seem to believe that the most worthwhile endeavour is the one that captures the most people. We prefer to set aside the fishing rod in favour of the net.
Yet, oddly enough, though it is indeed Jesus who told Peter to let down his nets into the deep (Lk 5:4), Jesus himself chose to capture the world through twelve individuals. Why is that?
Quite simply, it is because our Lord knows (as do you when you really consider it) that there are only a small number of people in your life right now who you can personally influence. This group of people, what I like to call your circle of grace, are the men, women, and children in your life that you have ongoing and direct contact with.
If you have an opinion, they are more likely to listen to you. If you change how you behave, they will notice. And if, over time, they too come to the faith, then suddenly you will have extended your circle of grace further than your mind can measure.
This is how God works. Like a stone cast into a lake, our eyes can only see the ripples and yet, we know that the change continues as that stone finds its final resting place.
What then is the lesson here?
Start small, take a fresh look at the people in your life, and focus on those that the Lord has put in your path.
One of the things I love most about our time in history is the ability to acquire knowledge and new skills, and I am pleased to say that this is no less true in the area of faith.
Apologetics, intimate knowledge of holy scripture, and so much more has suddenly become accessible to the willing and resolute Catholic. And still, questions like, “How do we use this knowledge? To whom should we impart it? When? How?” have never been more important. After all, a lecture on the fathers of the Church is hardly appropriate for one spouse to deliver to another, and a succinct explanation of Catholic morality is hardly ever the best approach when dealing with an annoyed and possibly rebellious niece or nephew.
This is why, when we have finally identified our circle of grace, we need to take a real and honest look at where each person is at in their faith journey. And we do that not only so that we can provide them the best knowledge (and at a level they can understand), but so that we can provide it at the best time.
More than this, we also need to ask where the other is hurting, what are their hang ups and how can I help them. In other words, we focus on them and what they need, and not on what we want to do.
Now imagine this.
Imagine that you take your role as an evangelist seriously. Imagine that you finally let go of trying to accumulate little check marks and instead you focus on becoming on fire for the Spirit.
Imagine that you get out the fishing rod and focus specifically on who God has put in your life. You look at their wounds, at their understanding, and at your relationship with them.
What would happen if you did this?
You would quickly become the expert in evangelizing these specific people, and because of that, you would know what to say and what not to say. You would minimize mistakes, make greater gains, and walk with them one step at a time into a life of faith.
That’s what these ideas can do for you. They can help you to evangelize the way that we have always needed to. You can bring them home, and together, you can go fishing for others.