Debunking Myths around Evangelization (Part III)
This article is the 3rd in a short series leading up to my Evangelization Workshop on Saturday April 22nd. You can find the first article HERE . The second article can be read HERE. I encourage you to read or reread those before jumping in to this article.
Misconception 3: Experts Only
After understanding that evangelization is about introducing others to the person of Christ and realizing that evangelization is not solely about seeking out complete strangers, I find the next most common misconception is what I call “experts only”.
Experts only usually sounds a bit like this in our heads: “I totally agree that the Church should be reaching out to those who don’t know about Jesus and I’m happy to know that my priest or deacon has been called to do that”. Or, “I’m so happy to know that the Archdiocese has trained lay people organizing evangelization efforts on our behalf”. Or, finally, “One day, if I reach a certain level of training or expertise in the Bible/Catechism, it would be a nice extra credit task for me to dip my toe in the work of evangelization”…
Let’s tackle those first few thoughts. At the heart of this misconception is the idea that only a certain few are called to do the work of evangelization. We may have images in our minds of famous evangelists such as St. Paul, or St. Francis Xavier, or perhaps someone like Billy Graham; individuals who spend their entire lives, all their energies in the work of evangelization and spoke to thousands of people. It is unfortunately true that we don’t have many examples of “everyday Catholics” doing the work of evangelization so readily at hand. It can be easy to see the powerful and shining examples of those God called in a special way and, recognizing God has not called us to that same scale of work, come to the misconception that we aren’t called to any of the work.
“All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization…” (Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis, #120)
The responsibility to evangelize is entrusted to us in our baptism. “All of the baptized”… “every Christian” shares in the universal call to mission. We are used to hearing about and attempting to fulfill the “universal call to holiness”. But just as essential, in fact, just as core to our life of discipleship, is our call to participate in the mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
The late Pope Benedict XVI said it this way, “…it is clear that the Church’s holiness and missionary character are two sides of the same coin: only because she is holy, that is, filled with Divine love, can the Church carry out her mission, and it is precisely in terms of this task that God chose her and sanctified her as his property” (Homily June 15 2008, Pope Benedict XVI). Your participation in the mission of the Church is just as fundamental to your Christian life as your pursuit of holiness. They are the “two sides of the same coin”!
This helps us guard against the second misconception from above that sees the work of evangelization as some how an “extra credit” opportunity, as something “in addition to” the primary work of being a Christian. This may come from the mistaken belief that the sole purpose of my Christian life is to “pray, pay, and obey”, as some put it. Rather, Jesus has called each of us to participate in his mission, to “seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10). It is not enough for us to go to Mass, pray on occasion, and slowly improve in our fight against sin. We will be judged on whether we have sought to invest and “give away” the grace we have been given through the gospel (see the parable of the talents: Mt 25:14-30).
Jesus doesn’t obligate us to participate in the work of evangelization to punish us. On the contrary, it is only through fully participating in his mission that we receive and experience the “fullness of life” he desires to give us (John 10:10). “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment” (Joy of the Gospel, #9). This does not discount the fact that equipping and formation in evangelization helps make this work easier and more fruitful. However, as Pope Francis says, “anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (Joy of the Gospel, 120). Taking up our portion of the mission of the Church isn’t as scary or impossible as we sometimes fear! In the final article on debunking myths around evangelization, we will discuss our fear that when we agree to take up the work of evangelization, that we are agreeing to take on ourselves the responsibility to convert our friends and family.
CLICK HERE for more information and to register for this online workshop on 4/22. Come to be equipped to share the faith in your circle of influence!