Many Catholics say they evangelize. For example, in the Disciple Maker Index survey that was put out as part of All Things New strategic pastoral planning initiative, more than 70% of respondents said they invite friends to parish socials or Mass. While we should be proud of these invitations — they often required great leaps of faith — it’s important to realize that the invitations themselves are not evangelization.
The Church tells us that evangelization requires more than an invitation — it requires a proclamation. In “Evangelization in the Modern World,” Pope Paul VI wrote: “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.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 22)
The Disciple Maker Index survey revealed that fewer than 25% of respondents have regularly shared stories about Jesus with others, fewer than 23% regularly answered someone’s spiritual questions, and fewer than 20% have regularly shared stories about their own faith lives with others.
We have a disconnect.
We often think that our lived witness of the faith and acts of charity will suffice as our evangelical witness. We don’t speak because we want to let our actions do the talking. Fair point. Our day-to-day lives should express the reality of the Gospel.
“Preach the Gospel always, if necessary, use words” is a lovely sentiment often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (although recent scholarship indicates that St. Francis of Assisi likely never said these words). Again, the words of Pope Paul VI give us an important insight. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41)
It is a scandal if our day-to-day lives don’t reflect the Gospel’s demands that we preach to others. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, we are called to speak, invite, and propose the good news to others. St. Paul tells us, “‘woe if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
If we believe what the Church proclaims is good for our neighbors and us, how can we fail to share that Good News with those we love— our families, friends, neighbors and everyone else?
Invitations we are comfortable making are a fantastic start. We shouldn’t assume that we can effectively communicate the Gospel to others unless we are in a real relationship with them. The Church speaks of accompaniment, sometimes called incarnational evangelization, which means that we don’t just shout the Gospel message at people, but we share life with people and look for opportunities to share Jesus with them because we know and love them.
Parish social events should be an essential part of our evangelization plans, but they can’t be the only part of our evangelization strategy. Events must help establish or deepen relationships so we can accompany others on their journeys and invite them to share in the profound joy we experience from encountering Jesus. Deeper relationships lead to opportunities where we proclaim the Gospel and invite others to take the next step in their faith journey.
Miller is director of Evangelization and Discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.