Monday, August 14
Catholics and Evangelization
Since you ask me to share more of my thoughts, here they are. Sorry for the length, but there’s not a quick way to explain it.
I had very powerful experience doing door-to-door work. Everything from getting doors slammed in my face to being invited in for pie and hours of deep conversation. Poor immigrants from non-Christian countries were hungry to learn about Christ; lonely people couldn't believe anyone had come to their door and didn't want us to leave. Wealthy people, on the other hand, acted like they thought we came to rob them, and wouldn't even invite us in out of the rain. It was quite a learning experience. The poor are MUCH more open to the gospel than the rich, that is for sure.
The most beautiful experience, which I had several times: leading someone to commit themselves to Christ, in prayer, right in their living room – and watching the transformation that occurs when they do. Most people break down into tears. There’s such a deep longing for Christ inside, and all the walls come down when they finally open up and let Him in. We just present the message; the Holy Spirit does the work. When we find a ripe one, it is really something.
I think the main obstacles to people knowing how to share their faith is fear and inexperience; and for many Catholics, ignorance of their faith. My evangelical program was great because it dealt with all three. We went through a 12-week training where we studied a manual that outlined the basics of our faith, practiced how to approach people with each other, went out with trainers to observe them in action, and only gradually took over and began doing it ourselves. We stayed in the program for three months, going out once a week, then were invited to come back for the next term and train others, which made it what you call a "reproducing ministry." I was a trainer in the program, and left others in my place when I moved on.
Since coming into the Catholic world, I’ve thought a lot about developing a similar program for Catholics, but with a distinctively Catholic content and focus; and use it as a feeder for RCIA (I think it’s terrible that a 2,000 family parish might have only six people in RCIA, all of them already Christian - and this is the norm). One thing I know: people who know how to share their faith, and experience the effects of it, tend to become some of the most on-fire Christians around. It’s marvelous, and I think would do much to reinvigorate parish life and get people involved and on fire.
I’m a graduate student in theology, in the evangelization and catechetics track. Last fall, one of my professors was Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). When he heard about my idea, he was skeptical that it could be applied in a Catholic context. But after I wrote a term paper on the idea, in which I developed a tentative model for Catholics, he loved it and thought it might be doable after all.
Catholics up to just a few decades ago used to go door to door regularly. A few still do occasionally, such as Legion of Mary. At the Theology on Tap meeting I mentioned above, I spoke to Abp. Chaput for a few minutes afterwards about developing a program for Catholics, and he spoke wistfully of how, when he was a boy, Legion of Mary always went door to door. He said he would love to see it happening again, in some kind of parish-based program that could spread to other parishes.
I’ve thought about developing and testing some kind of model program for my thesis; in the meantime I’m reading a lot of literature on missiology and evangelism in a post-modern context, which is changing my ideas somewhat. I’ll be in the information gathering stage for the coming year; but after that will begin work on my thesis for real.
Glad I ran into you guys – it’s encouraging to know others are thinking about this, too. Catholics are the original evangelizers of pagans. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do it now.
I would like to see such a thing started, as well. One of the drawbacks of St. Blog's is also one of its strengths, that we're all spread across the country and the world. But I do wonder if St. Blog's could be a resource, one of many, in starting a couple concrete groups of such a thing...