Thursday, April 10, 2014

A few thoughts on Evangelisation

A few thoughts on Evangelisation with SPES tramping the streets of my parish calling in the lost and the distanced.

Someone left a comment recently to the effect that ever since the Second Vatican Council we have been talking endlessly about evangelisation but in practice doing very little, in fact it could be said we have been 'counter evangelising', at least in the North we have lost far more than we have gained: empty churches, empty seminaries, empty convents are a testimony to our success.

On the eve of the Council ordination years of 60 plus were not uncommon in seminaries in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, even France, religious sister often had similar numbers of professions. The bitter truth is that seminaries and novitiates that trained these young men and women have now closed, Trads blame the changes brought in by the Council, liberals blame the changes not brought in after the Council, Conservatives blame 'sociological factors', though no-one seems to have done a serious study on what are these factors.

 Most Catholics, including priests and therefore one might also suggest bishops too, I would suggest are unconvinced about the need for Evangelisation, the notion of universal salvation, an empty Hell, have taken hold so tightly that there is no reason to Evangelise. It simply doesn't have a supernatural, salvific or teleological purpose. Universalism means that really evangelising people just ties burdens on people, alienating them from their culture and imposing unnecessary moral burdens on them.

A second not unconnected reason is that we do not know how to evangelise. We do not know what needs to be communicated. Do we actually dare to say that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and without him no-one can know the Father? Are we not more likely to suggest that Evangelisation is about joining a hand-holding, feel good community, with few moral or faith demands. Our problem is that there is so much confusion about what Catholics actually believe and how Catholics are expected to live.

Despite Vatican II urging everyone to Evangelise; a very characteristic trend of pre-Concilliar spirituality seen in such movements as wide ranging as the Liturgical Movement, Opus Dei, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Evidence Guild, not to mention such publications as the CTS the Tablet and the work many significant Catholic authors, Evangelisation has become like so many things in the Church an area of specialisation. Teachers or catechists not mothers and fathers are expected to evangelise children. The idea that a work of mercy incumbent on all to teach the ignorant has so slipped far from Catholic consciousness to the point where it seems many 'small group meetings', RCIA groups seem to be sharing and compounding rather than dispelling ignorance. Such discussion only serves to spread confusion.  As the previous Pope said to our own Bishops:
In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.

Evangelisation can only possibly work

  • if the members of the Church recognise the need to do it
  • if they are confident in doing it
  • if they know what message needs to be communicated
  • if there is no confusion about the message
  • if we have a leadership that actually practices it (rather than merely talks about it)
Ultimately it is possible only if we believe in it


Aussie said...

Spot on, Father.

Physiocrat said...

What did Oxford Oratory do to turn round a moribund parish?

Pétrus said...


Became unashamedly Catholic rather than pseudo Anglican I guess?

Jacobi said...

I am one who has some doubts about evangelisation - YET.

The Holy Father has recently likened the Church to a field hospital, a very good analogy. But it is the hospital of an army which has little recruitment, is diminished by long term desertion afflicted by ignorance, confusion, and is otherwise bitterly divided, not only in belief, but on how it should be announced.

I am not military by the way, but if I were, I think I would spend a lot of time sorting out the mess in my army, educating it, restoring discipline, improving training, giving it clear strategic and tactical objectives, but above all, restoring morale, before asking it to go over the top and evangelise.

Now all that would take time, perhaps a decade or two - and then we could go!

ps Some time should also be spent in the field hospital rehabilitating the wounded - but not by telling them that they are not actually wounded and there’s nothing to worry about.

gemoftheocean said...

Before I left San Diego for London, the parish I attended gave talks to assist Joe/Jane Parishioner in practical ways to evangelise. It was impressed on us that there were MANY opportunities in our daily lives to correct misimpressions about what the church teaches. MOST people we would encounter would likely have some protestant faith/background, even if they gave up on religion. Some would be strong Baptists, others found fault with their faith and left but still carry some notion that all Christians think X way about Y topic.
We were told that the BEST way for openers was not to get into "bible alone" vs. tradition and scripture argument 1st, unless that particular point was brought up because unless you had time for a lengthy discussion, and the person was already open to you, they would think you didn't know scripture. We were told which objections protestants would most likely have to the faith - we went over our faith to make sure everyone was on the same page, regards that belief (such topics as papal authority, Marian topics, bible alone versus scripture and tradition, purgatory, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, etc) - we were enjoined to learn chapter/verse of the most common questions WHICH portions of the bible supported the Catholic tradition we could offer to counter likely objections. The priest said that often times each minister was in effect a mini pope for his parish, the scripture they covered often had no set pattern and he might have wide latitude. So a given protestant church might NEVER or rarely hit John 6. They DON'T know the bible as well as some of us have been lead to think they do. So in order to teach it, WE OURSELVES must be very familiar with it.
One practical point was to have both a "short argument" and a "long argument" for every answer for the Catholic position. The "short answer" was a waiting for the bus or in-line-at-the-supermarket type thing. A quick answer where you had to go, but you wanted to give them a reference. So if you overheard a claim "oh, Catholics believe in things that aren't in scripture" - and your bus shows up - you can say, "well, scripture itself contradicts what you say when it says in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 "whether by word of mouth or letter." But by all means, be courteous and polite, no matter What they say. The "longer answers" are for people who are perhaps co-workers or those you run into every day. Start with your short answer, then you may have an opportunity to answer counter objections and give other supporting scripture. Note, depending on the person, and your relationship, this might even take years. A family member who is outside of the faith...a person with WAY different ideas/upbringing like Mormons. So no, you don't haveto have a degree to do this, but make sure you know your OWN faith first. Practice charity, no matter what they say etc. Two books I found MOST helpful re: learning how protestants think and what objections they have would be Scott Hahn's book about his own journey to the faith, Rome sweet Home, and Karl Keating's book "Catholics and Fundamentalism." The important thing for each of us to do is to know our own faith well, and reach out and do what we can. We're all suppose to be "soldiers of Christ." Not everyone is a general, but the privates and the non-coms do most of the grunt work day to day, and every good officer knows that.

Another bit of practical advice was to carry, or perhaps have in your work desk was a small copy of the New testament at least - a cheap version with notes that doesn't cost much where can perhaps highlight certain passages that are likely to come up and perhaps make a note on a blank page in the back and just write chapter/verse a key phrase or two. In your free time you could read it during lunch (others might see you do this and ask questions.)

Highland Cathedral said...

On this topic I highly recommend a talk given by Ralph Martin. You can get this talk by clicking on this link:
Then scroll down a long way until you see the talk: “Vatican 2 and Lay Mission”.

gemoftheocean said...

As a follow on to what I wrote, I have no illusions that in England or elsewhere in the British Isles people would have the same challenges. More UK people were not raised in ANY faith and UK Catholics may well have a harder task due to having to start more often with square one and go from that point, with the further handicap that MOST of what they think they know about Christianity in general and Catholics in particular is what the anti-religious media tell them, the government is often outright hostile to it, and people parrot that back without thought, or any background of solid history.

Plus the UK has more Muslims, Hindus, Hottentots and God knows what else these days. Now too many kids have no idea who Moses is, let alone Jesus, other than He's someone "who shall not be named" in public places, apparently He has something to do with rabbits in the springtime who lay chocolate cream filled eggs, and perhaps "Frosty the snowman" is really a code phrase for him, because you can sing about frosty in school, but not sing his real name, Jesus.

Anne from Bognor said...

I know several people who have become Catholic in the last few years and all said it was the 'witness' of other people. They say Catholics and said ' I want to be like that'

kkollwitz said...

I live in the US Bible Belt. I, and many other Catholics here, have an evangelical posture. We're ready to evangelize anytime, anywhere. Mostly we speak to Christian Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in work and social situations. My experience is that personal witness counts for more than one's apolegetic expertise, although a basic Catholic understanding of Scripture is necessary. I rarely get involved in verse-slinging. I do better by talking from a unified Bible-Catholic worldview. By the way, teaching a Catechism class will help hone evangelizing skills; the kids need evangelizing too, not just catechizing.

kkollwitz said...

Hey Gem, I ditto your comment: "...a cheap version with notes that doesn't cost much where can perhaps highlight certain passages..."

Physiocrat said...

Invite people to a good quality NO or EF liturgy. Many have been converted in that way down the ages.

Highland Cathedral said...

Well, wadye know, several comments have come from the USA. And a good thing too. From what I can gather they are somewhat ahead of us Brits in the New Evangelisation stakes. For example, Christian Leblanc doesn’t say so but he’s got lots of good ideas:
One important difference between the USA and us here is that they have lots of problems with Catholics defecting to Protestant evangelicalism, especially among Hispanics. Thus they really need books like Karl Keating’s ‘Fundamentalism and Catholicism’. Here we seem to lose people to nothing. They don’t defect to another religion – they just move away from all religion. So while Keating’s book is useful, I think that much more useful in this situation is Peter Kreeft’s, ‘A Handbook of Catholic Apologetics’, a book which defends Christian beliefs on the basis of reason.

gemoftheocean said...

Highland, thanks for the reminder about the Kreeft book. A I think it's tougher in a lot of ways for the British because Auntie Beeb (whom I detest) promotes people who mock people who "believe in sky fairies." In the US church attendance IS down. But most people DO believe in God or a "higher power" or however they want to express it. ABSOLUTELY right, Christian about the bleed we get from the faith among the Hispanics to the evangelicals. They sometimes will pull sneaky stuff like putting statues of Mary in their churches. Because, God love the Mexican people -- but they really don't know nearly as much about the faith *AS A GROUP* as past Catholic immigrant groups did. Part of it was so many were poor uneducated peasants, but a huge part is their government for decades and decades was actively persecuting Catholics, and there were many Catholic priests slaughtered for the faith and executed. Catholics who did want to evangelise for the faith were persecuted, arrested etc. When we first moved to California in 1970 and took a trip south of the border I was shocked to learn that priests were prohibited by law from wearing clericals in the street. One one only has to google anti-Catholic and Mexican Government is exceedingly corrupt and anti-Catholic. The Mexicans are easy pickings for the evangelicals

George said...

One of the central impediments to evangelization is that the Church to a very large extent has become a middle-class organization. With few exceptions (probably such as St. Mary’s of Brighton), the more vibrant a parish the more likely it is thoroughly ensconced in a middle class milieu. Based purely on demographics, most parishes should be filled with the poor and working poor. Likewise to the extent that there is lay oversight of parish functions or actions, these things should be largely run by people from the majority background – working class folk. A middle-class person going to church should be coming into contact with the fullness of the body of Christ. There should be a slight discomfort on a purely natural level to a middle class person going to church. He should be out of his normal element and for that moment in time be in contact with the larger society – manifest in the Church – people whom he’d likely have very limited contact with outside of the Church. This isn’t the case however. The middle-class person feels quite at home at Church. It’s congregated and run by his own people. We’ve even designed our church interiors to accommodate middle class sensibilities. Comfy chairs, bucolic water-falls, and leafy potted ferns. Rather, it’s the lower classes who tend to feel uncomfortable going to church. It’s the lower class persons who feels awkward, as if the Church is something not really for him -- that it’s a major social stretch for him to attend and participate.

The Church has the potential to reap a massive influx of new members, especially among the communities from African, Latino, and Muslim backgrounds. These three groups represent the future of the Church. The middle class won’t go quietly, however.
And one of the keys to evangelizing these groups is not so much theological doctrine as it is moral doctrine. These groups will be converted by the preaching and active defense of the Catholic truths on marriage and family, as well as through the Church’s social teachings on the moral economy – areas that the middle-class “trained specialists” are terrible at communicating.

Paul Hellyer said...

Good comment George. You are absolutely right. I also suspect the comfortable middle classes are the contracepting ones. I know such a person, a widower, who has had a vasectomy is now on the parish council.

Highland Cathedral said...

For those who like beer, here's how beer and the New Evangelisation can go together:

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