When we think of evangelization, we might think of a person with a Bible tucked under an arm knocking on our doors and asking us if we have accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Such examples of “spreading the Good News” may leave the average Catholic with an impoverished sense of what it means to evangelize. Some may even find themselves disinterested in the entire enterprise of spreading the Good News after just one pushy, negative encounter. Thankfully, the mission of evangelization is much broader and much more fulfilling than trying to convince another to believe what you believe.
When the Lord commands His friends to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), He doesn’t command them to become salesmen akin to the encyclopedia or vacuum peddlers of old. This is not to say that door-to-door evangelization is bad or that we should not boldly share our faith when the Holy Spirit prompts us. We would all do well as Catholics to be a bit bolder with our faith: speaking about our Savior openly, taking time off work to celebrate our holy days of obligation and advocating for our right to live out our beliefs (not trading freedom of religion for the anemic freedom of religious expression).
Still, our evangelization efforts tend to fall flat because we often forget what we’re about. Venerable Fulton Sheen once observed that Jesus’ ministry begins with a “come.” “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), He tells His disciples. His public ministry ends with a “go.” Go make disciples of all nations. Dutiful Catholics may find themselves at risk of jumping too quickly into the activism of a “go,” before they have encountered the Lord. We would like to skip right to the end.
Take the image of fire. It is apt here because the source of the fruitfulness of the Church’s evangelization is the fire of the Holy Spirit that descends on Pentecost and inspires individual Christians to live the life of the Gospel. The work of evangelization could be visualized as setting the world on fire with the Holy Spirit: “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49). Importantly, the Lord provides neither flint nor tinder. The only way to set another on fire is for you to be on fire yourself, and this fire can only be caught. It cannot be set by our own power or effort. We catch the flame when we’ve encountered our Lord decisively in the sacraments, prayer and one another.
What can we do to evangelize? Hear the Lord bid us “come” so that we can be set afire with the flame of the Holy Spirit. Fire begets fire when the fuel is ready; you will not have to work arduously to evangelize if your heart is already ablaze. The best thing we can do to evangelize is to fall deeply in love with Jesus Christ and let Him take it from there. He will inspire us to share what we have received because it is simply too good to keep to ourselves.
Father Conor Sullivan is currently in residence at Immacolata Parish as he works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Vocations Office and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary as a provisionally licensed psychologist.