Who is called to evangelize?
In an episode of Catching Foxes that aired on Friday a listener wrote in to ask if we should focus our attention on training and equipping people to be evangelists and professional Catholics, or should we just focus on them being saints.
After the show I got an email from someone who listened to that episode, as well as my new podcast show, Every Knee Shall Bow, which is all about helping people evangelize. He noted how in one show I said “Nope. Not every Catholic needs to be a professional evangelist.” And then in the other show I talk all about helping every Catholic become an evangelist.
The reality is that every baptized Christian is called to evangelize. We must all profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as our brother and bridegroom. We must tell those around us, especially our friends and family. We are all tasked with professing Christ, giving witness with our lives and our words. This is not an option. If we don’t profess Christ in front of men, Christ won’t profess us in front of His Father. Plain and simple.
Yet, some are still called even further into a ministry of evangelization, whether it’s with a parish, movement, or on one’s own. In this case, the difference lies in the notion of charism.
God the Holy Spirit manifests the gifts or charisms to the Church in whatever way He pleases. The Spirit’s gifts reflect the diversity of imitating Christ in the Christian life. Not all are apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, administrators, or interpreters of tongues. There is a gift, or charism, of evangelization that the Holy Spirit can choose to manifest in someone’s life. If you discern that you have that gift (Check out “Called and Gifted” by the St. Catherine of Siena Institute for more), then you will magnify the fruit of your labor if you lead from that gift.
That said, there is more that may muddy the waters a bit when talking about the ordinary Catholic and the call to evangelize.
PROFESSIONAL LAY CATHOLICS
A further complication lies in the designation of “professional Catholic”. The role of the laity in the life of the ordinary parish is expanding, with either employees or lead volunteers, and so too are the duties that these lay professionals are taking up. At first, lay involvement was organizational: secretaries and personal assistants to clergy, or at the most, Directors of Religious Education (the venerable D.R.E.). Now there are not just administrative but pastoral/ministerial duties that the lay people are leading at the parish.
We are asking our laity to do more tasks that were principally grafted into the charisms of the office of pastor. Now we need to equip the laity to do these tasks that were originally taught to and formed within the pastor when he was in seminary. So the laity may have a Theology or Catechetics degree, but know nothing in terms of practical evangelization.
We lay folks are now placed in situations where we have to evangelize more often due to our roles as DRE’s or youth ministers because that’s what our audience needs at that time. So we have “Professional Catholics” who have no training in evangelism constantly placed in the position to evangelize.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
As Catholics today, we need to train and equip everyone to “[always] be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you (1 Pt. 3:15).
This is doubly-true of the so-called Professional Catholic, those who work in pastoral roles in parishes and non-profits. And this is triply-true of those that God has gifted with an unique charism of evangelization.
That said, my goal as an evangelist and as a podcaster, as well as my role in the parish, is not to make every Catholic a full-time, professional evangelist. My goal is to help ordinary people engage in ordinary evangelism. One of the problems afflicting Catholicism in America is that those who love their faith seek out professional expressions of it instead of being an “ordinary” worker, spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, etc. They want a stage and a microphone and a sweet stipend. If you think I’m joking, just ask any traveling speaker and they will tell you the the same thing. People line up to ask, “How can I be a speaker like you?”
That’s not the point. The point is to evangelize those around you in your sphere of influence and daily contact. But that’s too close to home for most people. They would rather head across the country than across the street or in the cubicle next door.
This is the crisis we are facing. Ordinary Catholics don’t want to be evangelists. They’d rather be sacristans or speakers. I want them to be equipped and called to do their duties right when God has them.