Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists from Liguori Publications, and a contributor to numerous Catholic books, magazines, and online publications. Find her online at JenniferFitz.com.
Missionary priest and evangelist Fr. Rob Galea is the author of Breakthrough: A Journey from Desperation to Hope (Ave Maria Press, 2018), the memoir of his conversion, vocation, and work in the ministry. Today we’re talking with Fr. Rob about what evangelization and discipleship look like in real life.
Personal Relationship with God
You describe how astonished and excited you were to learn as a teenager that it was possible to have a personal relationship with God – despite having grown up in a Catholic family and attending Catholic schools. That discovery was what completely changed your life. Tell us about the “before” and “after” of your life with God.
Well, before my relationship with God, I think I was desperately seeking for hope and love and unconditional love. The relationships we have in our families and friends are fantastic, and God-given, but they are so conditional, and sometimes we interpret things as rejection. I felt very rejected in my life, and this is why I tended to a life of rebellion. Discovering this love of God, discovering I was loved unconditionally in spite of my mess, in spite of my darkness, in spite of my lies . . . threw me. It just threw me, and my heart was just so full of love that it felt for a long time, for a couple of years, that it wanted to explode, and I just needed to share this love with other people.
Since then, this hasn’t gone. I don’t necessarily have the feeling, but I have the same passion to help people know the love of God in their life.
You mention the many people -- most notably your mother -- who prayed intensely for you when your life was completely falling apart as a teenager. I’ve never heard of a missionary who didn’t consider prayer the foundation of all evangelization. What does intercessory prayer look like in your parish and ministry today?
Well, I pray, I fast, I offer intercession at every Mass. I think it’s so important for us. Even in our youth group, we meet together and we pray, and I have a prayer army of people who pray for the work that we do every day. Prayer isthe foundation and continues to be the foundation for everything, because we’re fighting a spiritual war. We’re fighting a war for souls, and yet this is at the very core of everything.
Going Out to the Margins
During your time in seminary you started seeking out those who aren't connected to the Church in any way. Many Catholics have a hard time visualizing how you even do that. What advice and encouragement can you give?
Well, one piece of advice I give is don’t cut off your old relationships completely. I mean, if they are influencing you and they are pulling you down, absolutely keep away. But the world needsJesus, and you’ve discovered hope. We’re not in a kingdom of isolation, we’re a kingdom of the Good News, and we need to share this Good News with other people. I used to go to pubs and night clubs and birthday parties, and I just used to pray before I went into a club or a pub. I remember standing at the door saying, “Jesus, give me the opportunity today to speak about you.”
And 100 percent of the time, I was given that opportunity. Because I set my mind ready to speak about Jesus. Very often [it happened] in subtle ways.
Also, using talents and gifts in any way possible, not only to minister to the Church, which is awesome, but to evangelize, to go out. And don’t just think about building from within, but also from outside. We need both.
In your book you discuss the huge contrast between growing up on Malta, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, versus evangelizing in Australia, a highly secular culture, where many people have no idea about Jesus Christ at all. You underscore the importance of proclaiming the kerygma, the story of the Gospel.
In a nutshell, how do you explain the Good News to young people today who have no background in the faith? What would be a sample way to proclaim the kerygma to a completely secular audience?
Well, speaking about Jesus is very often the best way to do it.
Not the only way – talking about your own personal experience, giving testimony of what God has done, because people can prove anything, any theology, and they can prove it false. But they cannot prove [or disprove] experience. They cannot debate your experience. So talk about yourexperience of God with people.
And I talk about Jesus as a person. I often talk about the difference between religion and the things that we do for God, which is awesome, but also relationship with God: That God came into this world for a relationship to draw us to the Father.
I use very practical examples and things that young people can understand today.
And then also building relationships with them. Because [what good is] hitting them with the Good News and then not having a structure to build [relationships with] them? I do this through social media, through the book, and so on, to help them understand this love of God.
So that would be a sample way of proclaiming the Gospel.
One Soul at a Time
In your ministry you speak to large audiences around the world, but you describe your most important work as a priest being the evangelization and discipleship of individuals in your parish. This work doesn't have the bang or thrill, and at times it can be downright discouraging because progress can seem so slow.
Yes, because there’s maintenance and then there’s mission.
The contrast between “maintenance” and “mission” is sometimes used to describe a parish that is just trying to stay afloat versus one that is actively evangelizing. Here, though, Fr. Rob is using his own terms to make the distinction between bringing new believers into the Church versus building up the faith of those who are already within the walls. He continues:
I am a missionary, I am an evangelist, but also one of the most important works is maintenance: Making sure that the people that you do have in the net, people you do have in the Church, that they learn how to love Jesus and become saints. So this is what I do: I work on discipleship.
This work doesn’t have the bang or thrill, absolutely doesn’t. It’s tedious. It’s heartbreaking. It’s frustrating. And yes, it’s building people, and that at times can be downright discouraging, because progress can seem so slow. Absolutely right. And this is why we need both, on a human level. But also, without building people we won’t have the kingdom. We’ll just have an informed generation, but not a generation that loves Jesus. And this is what we need to do.
It is one of the most rewarding things we can do, to disciple young people, but again one of the most heartbreaking things. We need the grace of God, we need the support of other people around us.
What is it that young people going home from the big events need to receive in the way of on-going support from their pastors, youth ministers, and others in the community?
Well, they need discipleship. I’ve created a resource for discipleship called Encounter, which is a school-based discipleship program. But also we need pastors to speak about their experience. Not just they [the kids] go to an event and they hear a speaker speak about the love of God -- but what about people I meet every day? Day in and day out, my teachers, my parents . . . why aren’t theyspeaking about their faith in Jesus? And do they even really believe in Jesus?
And sometimes students assume you have faith, but sometimes we don’t speak about it.
A Missionary’s Motivation
What have you found helps you keep yourself focused on the need to love and minister to the individual person in front of you at home?
Well I would say it’s my on-going relationship with God. Knowing that I need to be loved and that I need to be continuously encouraged. Also it’s finding people around me to support and to pray with me, and also people who are enthusiastic about the Gospel. I try to reach out to people – it is discouraging on a day-to-day basis, but at the end of the day, people are thirsty. And whether they encourage you or not, they need Jesus.
My motivation, my biggest motivation, is my own relationship with Jesus and desire to serve Him.
You can learn more about Fr. Rob Galea’s ministry at https://www.frgministry.com/.