It should come as no surprise that evangelization is by and large about a frame of mind. It is about how we understand what we are doing and who we are just as much as it is about the content itself. And if our thinking is off then our evangelizing efforts limp, no matter what money we have spent or what programs we have implemented.
So what frame of mind am I talking about?
Essentially, it is the mindset that our work in the vineyard of the Lord will either focus on what is new or on what is next. I know this is a little vague so let's take a look at each one in turn."
The Evangelist Must Do What Is New
Far too many Catholics in our world are feeling defeated right now because, try as they may, their efforts to hold on to what worked in the past is slowly but surely slipping through their fingers.
Like the lines on a battlefield that succumb to opposing forces, it seems that the enemy too keeps making ground no matter our effort or the will to hold on.
But herein lies the problem.
Evangelization begins with the understanding that what you are about to do with and for God in this community is radically new. And it is new because you are now in play.
Think about this.
The message has remained the same for two thousand years.
There have been many preachers, many faithful, and many saints, but no matter who or what has come before, you have not.
You are that new element in God’s equation to bring people in your life back to the Faith.
And the more you respond in humility to that call, the more our Lord will use you to do precisely that.
A light on the hill, salt to the earth, and leaven to the bread—all of these images describe what you are meant to be in the specific community that is yours.
So the question is not, “Has my brother heard the Faith proclaimed before?” but rather, “Has my brother had an evangelist for a sibling before?”
Essentially, it is the mindset that our work in the vineyard of the Lord will either focus on what is new or on what is next.
It is the same for the parish.
If a parish sees its efforts over the next year as merely a struggle to survive, then it is a foregone conclusion that sooner or later it will not.
However, if the mentality can shift to one of newness, then not only do I expect that parish to survive, but I am convinced that given a little bit of time it will even thrive.
And why is that?
Because the parish that sees itself as a radically new element in an old world, even if that parish lacks resources and many attendees, will in time do something that seems utterly fantastic.
It will no longer be about, “How do we fix the aging roof?” but “How do we (as few as we are) do something that shakes this very neighbourhood for the love of God?”
And the diocese?
Here, too, an old but persistent mentality reigns that somehow the role of the Bishop and his staff is to keep things alive no matter how bad everything gets.
And while that is completely understandable considering the hostile climates of the past (think barbarian hordes riding up to a crumbling civilization), or the present (think ferocious media who want the Church exiled forever), it is still not the approach that our Lord exemplified millennia ago.
“See, I make all things new,” our Lord said. And indeed, He does.
The Bishop must lead a similar charge.
In fact, crossing into a diocese today should feel radically different than what was felt even ten years ago. Not because of the scandals that have rocked the Church for many years, and not because of the silence that we hear from people of faith over the most important issues, but because somehow here in this diocese, new wineskins are being laid out.
In such places, the foremost question should not be, “Which parishes need to close?” but “What needs to happen here so that when others arrive, they can breathe new air?”
The Evangelist Must Do What Is Next
Just as we must be willing to be the new element in God’s equation, we must also be humble enough to recognize when we are simply that which comes next.
The truth is that our Lord was tilling the soil of this young person, and that parish, and this diocese long before that thought crossed your mind.
Sometimes the call from God is not to do something radically new but to simply do what comes next in the formation of the other.
Has your grandson already been to a retreat where he encountered the Lord in adoration? Good. Now ask yourself, “What comes next?”
Has your parish started a Bible study that is bringing out a steady number of participants on a weekly basis? Wonderful. Now ask yourself, “What comes next?”
Remember, the goal is not to do something new for the sake of doing something new. The goal rather is to do whatever is necessary to help this world conform to Christ, and often, though we are loath to admit it, that means taking numerous but small steps in the right direction.
But again, this takes humility.
It is humbling to admit that the programs set down by the pastor before you actually have some merit.
It is humbling to admit that the initiatives taken up by a previous Bishop might be worth preserving.
But the fact remains, if we honestly want a Christ-centered family, or a rejuvenated parish, or a truly renewed diocese, then we have to be okay with nurturing the soil that has been handed down to us.
So what is it?
Which frame of mind are you being called to cultivate right now? Are you being asked by God to do what is new or to do what is next?
Keep yourself focused on that question and your evangelizing efforts will bear much fruit.