Recycling the Term ‘Evangelization’
Evangelization is about bringing the Good News to a person or a group, and when that person or group has received it, accepts it, and wants to live it, we consider that person or group to be evangelized.
The difficulty though is that with God’s grace people really do hear the Good News in the most ‘unplanned’ ways. Some have heard it through the witness of someone in their life. Some have heard it through something said or read or an event where the Faith wasn’t mentioned in the least. In other words, God is always finding ways to reach us which is good, but it is a terrible model for evangelization in a parish.
Knowing that God can do anything we tend to expect Him too. Now, that doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that many parishes are excusing themselves from the task entrusted to them by labelling everything evangelization.
The men’s group wants to host a BBQ. Well God can reach people in between the bun can’t He? A parishioner wants to lead a Bible study. Well God can certainly bring the Gospel through the Scriptures. A parish mission; a trip abroad for the young people; a pilgrimage; a retreat; a monthly devotion; excusing someone from mandatory instruction, any and all of it is called ‘evangelizing’ simply because God might choose to use the occasion to bring a soul closer to Him.
However, evangelization in a parish is not about the exception but about the rule.
It is about figuring out what the people in front of you need so that they can hear the Gospel most clearly, and it is about helping those same people to fall in love with the message.
This Doesn’t Mean…
This doesn’t mean that you can’t personalize the message, not at all, in fact the more you can do this the more fruit your efforts will bear. And this also does not mean that you must come out of the gate hammering someone with the Good News. What we’re talking about is the choice between overtly and actively preparing the soil for a personalized message versus a haphazard one.
What Is At Stake?
I often wonder if my fellow Christians understand what is at stake in all of this. For surely, building community life, catechesis, outreach, and deepening popular piety are all necessary goods to be found among the people of God. But if we remove the first step in it all we don’t have an unbalanced Christian life but a imploding one.
“The Church exists to evangelize,’ is a fact affirmed over and over again by previous pontiffs. It is not a side issue, and it is certainly not something that God does in and through us while we are about more important things.
Evangelization is the first and irreplaceable step we all need to experience as we set out on the journey with this God. And it behooves the parish to plan for it; not recycle it.