My husband and I are eating lunch in Whole Foods Market—something we do fairly often after our weekly grocery run. It's Sunday, and my thoughts are on the homily we just heard at Mass. "Do you think we're evangelistic enough?" I ask between bites of broccoli. "I mean, do you think God wants us to share our faith more explicitly?"
It's a fair question. After all, you don't have to go further than the Gospels to find the exhortation to "go and preach the good news." Frankly, it's a no-brainer. Being a Christian means telling others the best news you've ever heard: God became a man and died for us so we could live forever with Him in perfect happiness.
So why is this so hard to talk about?
Well, let's face it, the secular world considers Catholicism archaic, sexist and homophobic. It can be hard to let people know that you're one of them. Also, most Catholics don't know how to evangelize. It's not something we learn in Sunday school or at home; it's not something we see other Catholics do, and we don't hear about it at Mass.
Unfortunately, evangelization still has a stigma. We associate it with wild-eyed street preachers passing out simplistic tracts, or pushy neighbors who ask if we've accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Somehow it just seems impolite—unsavory—to be so in-your-face about it all.
Slowly however, Catholics are beginning to see evangelization in a new light. Pope John Paul II paved the road with his numerous talks and writings leading up the new millennium, in which he focused on the "new evangelization." It's a broad term, but put simply it means what it always has: Sharing the good news about who God is and who we're made to be.
Most Catholics don’t know how to evangelize. We don't see other Catholics doing it, and we don’t hear about it at Mass.
There are a myriad of ways to do this, but it begins with authentic living—being real, seeking truth, and taking counter-cultural stands. Actions speak louder than words and there's no greater witness than your own life.
But let's say that some of us find a way to reach out and touch someone with the message... what happens then?
A number of years ago, I had two roommates—a Protestant and a Zen Buddhist. We decided to visit each other's churches to learn more about our respective faiths. The first visit was to a non-denominational church called The Vineyard. The service was held in a plain building, the full band was rocking, and almost everyone was under 40 years- old.
What struck me most about the service was how it was designed to evangelize: Outsiders were welcomed, made to feel comfortable, and invited to learn more about Jesus Christ and the Christian life. The pastor specifically asked his congregation to invite friends and neighbors, and at the end, there were leaders to speak with and information on groups you could join.
This got me thinking. As a Catholic, when I want to invite someone to check out the Catholic Church, where do I bring her? The Catholic Mass is not a place for evangelization. (Though I dare say plenty have converted to Catholicism sitting in a pew.) The Mass is really for the believer—an hour when Catholics gather to listen to the Word and share in the Eucharist as one family. We all know the responses and when to sit and stand. The beauty, mystery and transcendence we seek and we love lives in this ancient liturgy.
But I'm still left with the question.
Sure, there's R.C.I.A. (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults). If dioceses implemented an R.C.I.A. program similar to the way it was in the early Church, this might do the job. Back then, joining the Church was quite a process. It could take years as the catechumens were formed in the teachings of Christ. Today, R.C.I.A. is about eight months long and is mainly for those who wish to either join the Church or become full members (i.e. receive all the sacraments). Some parishes do it well, but it's designed for those who are ready to make a commitment.
Let’s say we find a way to touch someone with the Gospel message. What happens then?
Still not what I'm looking for. True, some parishes have young adult groups, Bible studies, catechism classes, and social concerns committees. But again, these are all geared toward the already-churched.
So, here's a proposal: How about a weekly "Come and See" service? It could be held on a Sunday evening or a week night. It could be fairly casual, but geared towards whatever population it primarily serves. There could be music, Scripture reading, and a talk geared towards the seeker. Perhaps even a short personal testimony from someone who's journeyed to the Catholic Faith. Afterwards, there could be some social time and literature to take home. Above all, the guests would need to be invited back.
Of course, the priest or deacon of the parish must be a central part of such an effort, and a committed group of parishioners have to be part of it. It would undoubtedly start small since, as we've already established, Catholics aren't used to inviting people to Church.
But if we have a charge to preach the Gospel, isn't it the duty of the Church to make it possible for us to do this? The final commandment of Jesus before his Ascension was to go out, preach the good news and baptize, so let's have a mechanism that helps Catholics to actually do that.