Community and Evangelization, part 2
My Little Series Continues...
Here is my second post on the interrelationship between community and evangelization. If you have not read the post on community, go and do so now. It will blow your mind. Or, it will prepare you for this article, at least.
PART TWO: EVANGELIZATION TODAY
I have about 15 articles on this website about evangelization. You can check those out to get a bigger picture of my views on evangelization and what it is all about, but for now, I am going to paint for you a quick portrait of evangelization in order to hasten the point of this most excellent blog series.
First, evangelization is the whole work of the Church, starting from grace and ending in glory. It is also a work of the whole Church, not left up to the priests on the altar, the monks in foreign lands, or the nuns in the inner-city Catholic schools. It is just as much your responsibility as it is mine, and I have a fancy website! So this means that evangelization is why the Church exists, how the Church continues to exist, and is the reason for our existence within the Church.
But what is evangelization?
For most human beings, evangelization is only proclamation, like a street corner preacher or an annoying pamphleteer. Many Catholics put evangelization as the initial stage of the Church's work, quickly followed by sacrament preparation and catechesis. But this is not the Church's view of evangelization. Sacramental preparation, catechesis, a life of charity, the initial proclamation of the Good News, all of these are moments or tasks within the overall work of evangelization.
Put simply, evangelization is the conversion and immersion of Creation into the grace and glory of Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do. Sacraments, discipleship, mystagogy are all parts of evangelization.
Evangelization: The First Three Stages
What I want to do is focus on the first few moments of evangelism and show you how important it is to renewing the life of the Church. And people in the Church sure do love talking about "Renewal". It is the theological buzz word equivalent to "synergy". Everyone says it, but no one knows really what it means. We all just feel a lot more thoughtful with that word hanging around.
Let us start at the beginning. I believe we have three informal stages to take someone who has no clue about Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church and progressively immerse that person into the Mystery of Christ. The three stages are: pre-evangelism, initial proclamation, and kerygmatic catechesis.
Stage One is Pre-Evangelism
This is the task of knowing where your audience is coming from and how to clear out whatever obstacles that lie in their path to full acceptance of the gospel. I talk to an adult who has been an atheist for years differently than a teenager on a Confirmation retreat who could care less. Just acknowledging these differences opens up in you the evangelist a more important task than a conversation. It opens you to a relationship (ahem, community!) with the other person in order to find out where they itch and how to scratch it.
Most of my experience in dealing with teens involves pre-evangelism by correcting their caricatures given to them by society of Jesus and of Genesis as well, and explaining the rational bases for supernatural faith, a lot of which concerns the Church's seemingly boring or antique moral views. Oh yeah, and dealing with their insanely huge amount of apathy. They just don't care. About anything. Except their friends and hanging out.
My experience in dealing with adults has to do with either their own sexual history and views, or with the priest sex scandals. They hate the Church for telling them to not live together before marriage or to stop using contraception or getting abortions. Sure, they have no clue why the Church tells them these things, nor have they ever sought answers out besides asking their brother-in-law's cousin who sometimes goes to Mass to prove why contraception is "really all that bad".
And hey, as much as we in the Church try not to talk about those past sex scandals, they are still unwinding whatever good work was done by the Church. There is zero credibility with the judgment of the Church concerning moral or political matters. We need to wake up to this reality. Most faithful people just go on with their lives, but to ex-Catholics or non-Catholics, such a scandal is just too much. Whenever I have done some Adult Faith Formation talks lately and there is a mixed crowd of people, and the topic of sex rises up, I almost always bring up the scandals, putting the issue into the light. This candor, this transparency, is freeing. Speaking the truth in humility about humiliating things is tough, but seeing the truth plainly and boldly spoken, even if it is uncomfortable, is powerful. If this is a chip on someone's shoulder, the fact that an evangelist brought it up himself is supremely reassuring that all is not awry.
Stage Two is Initial Proclamation
Catholics cop out right here at this stage. They say, "Well, my evangelism is to just live as a good Catholic and by my silent witness convert people." While that is the right attitude to have to a point, you cannot hide your Faith, the Good News, under a bushel basket. You got to let it shine out the brighter. In fact, by actually walking up to people, listening to their story and sharing your own, you will find that Jesus Christ and you will get a whole lot closer. Evangelism breeds intimacy with our Lord because half of the time you are too scared to rely on your own gifts, skills, and knowledge. You need His Spirit. You pray more.
So don't quote me St. Francis with the whole "Preach the Gospel at all times, but only using words when necessary" in order to get out of preaching with words. Because it is necessary! Have you seen the world today? We have atheists who are becoming fundamentalists in their atheism. We have Christian who call themselves "Pro-Life" that are viciously in favor of warfare and the death penalty. We have broken homes, a pornography epidemic, and a silly little thing called politics that is quite seriously tearing our country apart.
In the middle of all this, some of us Catholics actually think it is acceptable to never mention Jesus' name in public, never invite a co-worker or neighbor to Mass, nor ever tell what a gift of salvation you have in the Eucharist!
Here is where we start with the initial proclamation: "God is love." That is a non-offensive beginning, but within those three words contains the full gospel. What we need to do is know our story- our testimony or witness- in what Jesus Christ means to us and how He saved our lives. We need to be able to communicate, simply and powerfully, our experience of His grace. With a story, there is no rebuttal.
How has God shown you His love in an unmistakable way? Do you know it? Then tell just one person that you love about God's movement in your life. Pray, listen, and speak from the heart and head. That's the initial proclamation.
Stage Three is Kergymatic Catechesis
This is my favorite part. The kergyma is the basic gospel message. Kerygmatic catechesis is a systematic immersion into this most basic message. Kergymatic catechesis presupposes no active faith in the hearer, but suspects that grace is waiting to be stirred up within them. They have only to hear what they are getting into when they say "Yes" to Jesus Christ.
This is where the crucial role of kerygmatic catechesis comes in, because it forms the foundation upon which further conversation and conversion can happen. The message of "God is love" or "Jesus Christ is our salvation" is spelled out for the maybe-believer in the simplest of terms, correcting any obstacles along the way.
Here is the kerygma.
First, God is love and thus created the universe as a sign and expression of His love. He created human persons to participate in His life and love, and this is what we call "Happiness." God wants you to be happy, and happiness is defined as union with Him forever.
Second, sin interrupted the divine plan. Human persons did not choose to hate God, but simply chose themselves over and above God. Sin destroys the life of grace in our souls, wounds our relationships with others, and alienates us from Creation and even from ourselves. We are no longer at home. Sin, death, and disintegration became the new default life experience.
Third, Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God, and He chose to become one of us and experience all that we endure in order to redeem us from the inside out. By choosing God over and above Himself, Jesus undid the bondage of sin, and by His sacrificial death on the Cross, He freed us from sin and death forever. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ not only proves His divinity, but makes our union with the Trinity possible again.
Fourth, those who respond in faith to the grace that Jesus Christ offers us by His cross and resurrection are gathered together into an assembly, into a people, called "The Church". The Church is the place of intimacy with God and thus of true and lasting brotherhood.
Stated briefly: God loves you and wants you to be happy. Sin frustrates your own happiness. Jesus Christ's work on the cross and by His resurrection destroys sin's claim over you and restores you to the Father. That union of souls to God is called the Church.
Conclusion to This Fancy Evangelization Part
Evangelism is the whole work of the Church and is the work of the whole Church. If any of us think ourselves exempt from evangelism, we do not belong to the Church, we are merely in it, and not of it. This is unacceptable! Imagine how the American Church today would be altered if we dove into these first three stages of evangelization. Each stage pushes the hearer into discernment, into self-knowledge, into an awaking of the desire to know God and Christ Jesus Whom He has sent.
The Church ceases to be an institution run by old-as-dirt Europeans and starts to become a living, breathing community, an organism and not just an organization. It becomes the Body and Bride of Christ and "God is love" proves that God is real.