And here it is. The deliverable. The mission: Go, make disciples of all nations.
In other words, evangelize. Yikes! To Catholics that’s a scary word bringing to mind images of people on street corners, telling us the end of the world is near (Chicken Little anyone?) or people going door to door with religious pamphlets. (How many of us have dashed back into the house and pretended to not be home when we see them coming down the block?) It just doesn’t sit well with us. Evangelize.
Can’t we just be private and quiet about our faith? Isn’t it between each of us and God anyway? Don’t we hear every Ash Wednesday that when we give alms, fast, and pray that we should do it in secret and not on the streets to win the praise of others (Matthew 6:1-6)? Don’t we frequently hear the quote from St. Francis of Assisi to preach the gospel always and if necessary use words? My heart did a joyful dance when I heard that. Rejoice introverts! All we need to do is live a good life and voila—evangelization!
Turns out St. Francis didn’t say that, though. St. Francis was a holy man whose actions reflected the Lord’s love but he didn’t shy away from speaking about the gospel. Unfortunately, this quote has given people permission to not talk about the gospel for fear of being seen as a kook. It‘s a safe bet that none of us are living so holy a life that our actions are enough. Jesus used lots of words; sometimes the same ones over and over. We are sheep after all.
Nope, Jesus didn’t tell us to take the easy way out. He didn’t say “just focus on yourself, learn some dogma, watch some videos, read some books.” He said, “Go, make disciples!” Those were his parting words. After everything that happened, he told us to do one thing: make disciples. One thing. He told us we may be hated and persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). But he also told us, “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Extroverts and Introverts
Some of the best evangelizers I know describe themselves as extreme extroverts. They are souls who love, love, love being around people. The idea of being home alone reading a book is anathema to them. They spend the day with people and then the evening and the next day and they never seem to tire of personal interaction. Extroverts get energy from others. A crowd … good. A party … good. The doorbell rings … friends! A day home alone … purgatory.
Introverts are the opposite. Those of us who identify as such can be very happy spending a quiet day at home. The more the merrier … nope. A good book by the fireplace … bliss. I love being around people, but they make me so very tired. If my coworkers were in the office every day, I might need to find a new job. Happily two days a week they are off-site and I can recharge for their return, which is no end of fun and exhaustion. If I don’t get quiet, down-time I get twitchy and angsty.
What to do? How does an introvert go and make disciples? It would be tiresome.
Evangelization, going on mission so to speak, is imperative. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reinforces Christ’s directive. While God doesn’t need us to evangelize, “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (CCC 848). Well, we can think to ourselves, it’s the job of the Church, as in the parish down the road and priests. Whew. Again, nope. “Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life. For lay people, this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.” CCC 905
My question has two parts: how should I evangelize and how will I be able to? Giving a talk at a conference a la Fr. Mike Schmitz is not my gift. While I enjoy conferences, I usually leave early and once even spent time a room designated for people who need a quiet space. I enjoy social events, but more is not merrier. Once there are greater than six people around the table, I stop adding to the conversation because there is someone more gregarious than I who is handling it.
I know I need to use words because I’m not holy enough to skate by on action alone, but what does that look like? Evangelization has many forms. God is smart; he gives us gifts to help out. Charisms are given by the Holy Spirit to assist in building his kingdom. Not all require an extroverted personality type. (An aside: A charism is different from talent. When a person is working within a charism, what he or she is doing enables others to experience God.)
If we are to evangelize, we need to be in contact with other people but it doesn’t have to be a party. Evangelization is relational and most effectively done over time with one person at a time—a boon for introverts who operate well in a one on one situation. One of the best ways to evangelize is to walk alongside someone as he or she explores faith. It’s spiritual friendship done over coffee, while on a walk, even over the phone. What’s important is building a genuine relationship with a person and being open to discussing faith. Maybe that means slipping in comments about what your faith means to you. Maybe it’s more direct and you know someone who is looking to discuss Jesus. Whatever it looks like, it means being relational and remembering that the person in front of you is not a project, but a human person. We don’t need to be experts. We aren’t leading the person, merely walking with him or her. The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. If asked a question you don’t have an answer to, that’s OK. Commit to looking for the answer, maybe together. Words are needed but they don’t have to be fancy or inspiring or big; they need to be yours and if you’re uncertain what they will be, the Holy Spirit will provide.
Most important, we should remember that we are not doing our own work, we are doing God’s work. He knows who he wants us to invest in and, if we consecrate it to him, he will give us the words we need and the time we need to say them.
As Pope Paul VI made clear in his 1974 encyclical on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi:
“Nevertheless [witness] always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified … and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”
Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.