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Answering Pope Francis’ Call to Share the Gospel With Joy On and Off Campus
BY Ella Hadacek
Pope Francis, in his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), is encouraged by youth who share the Good News: "How beautiful it is to see that young people are ‘street preachers’ (callejeros de la fe), joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth! ... Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope."
As a Catholic college student who is attending a Protestant university, I want to be better able to share my faith. Consequently, I reached out to two dynamic apologists, Matt Fradd and Brandon Vogt, and a friend whom I admire for her fervent faith, Benedictine College student Carly Meixner. They talked to me about how young Catholics can share their faith with their peers in a kind and effective way on and off campus.
When asked how young Catholics can answer the call to evangelize, Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media and content director for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, has a simple answer: "Do it! It’s kind of the question St. Thomas Aquinas’ sister asked him — ‘How do I become a saint?’ He said, ‘Will it!’ The task of evangelization has always been the role of the laity."
In order to answer the call of evangelization, Matt Fradd, who recently released his apologetics DVD How to Win an Argument Without Losing a Soul (from CatholicAnswers.com), advises that the faithful live our lives according to 1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
Fradd says that we should foster reverence of God by daily prayer, adoration, frequent reception of the sacraments and caring for the poor.
But what does "make a defense" for our faith mean practically? We must be intellectually prepared, Fradd says. "So whether that is dialoguing with atheists or skeptics, we should be able to give a reason for why we believe that God exists."
Finally, this verse instructs us to share our faith gently and reverently. This is accomplished by trying to understand the perspectives of those we are evangelizing and by refraining from being judgmental.
"I think what we need to understand is that people don’t hold beliefs which they know to be in direct defiance of truth. People usually have reasons to believe the things they believe, reasons which we may not be able to agree with but we can at least sympathize with," says Fradd.
College student Meixner says that she tries to avoid being judgmental by looking at everyone "through the eyes of love, the way Christ would’ve seen them. I don’t know what’s causing someone to believe what they believe. All I can do is present my side in charity and try to be as sympathetic as possible without compromising the truth."
She adds, "One of my favorite quotes is from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: ‘If you judge people, you have no time to love them.’"
How to Share the Faith
Vogt says that, rather than trying to convert someone to Catholicism in one fell swoop, we should aim to remove the roadblocks between them and the Catholic Church one at a time.
"We hope that, at the end of the day, once all their obstacles have fallen (away), then they’ll become open to embracing the Lord," he says.
"We need to share one topic at a time. We don’t need to convince people of the assumption of Mary if they have not yet accepted the existence of God," adds Fradd.
Vogt, a Protestant convert, offers detailed advice about how to evangelize Protestants. He explains that the main barrier between Protestants and Catholicism is authority. "The best example of the issue of authority is which books make up the Bible," he says. "Ask a Protestant, ‘How do you know which books belong in the Bible and which books don’t?’ The historical fact is that these books of the Bible were settled at the end of the fourth century by the Catholic Church. So by accepting the Bible as it is, Protestants unintentionally accept the authority of the Church to put together the Bible. If they accept the authority of the Catholic Church for that reason, then they should also lean on the authority of the Church for all other doctrinal and dogmatic positions."
Fradd explains that the faithful can create opportunities to evangelize not only by living out the faith in front of friends, family and coworkers, but by praying for opportunities to evangelize.
Meixner says she tries to evangelize in her daily life as a college student by wearing a Miraculous Medal, crucifix and Catholic shirts; always praying grace before meals; and not being afraid to talk about God.
"All of these little things are invitations for people to ask me about my Catholic faith if they are curious. And if they don’t want to ask, I know I am living as a witness and maybe provoked some thoughts about religion or God in them," Meixner explains.
Fradd encourages Catholics not to be ashamed of evangelizing when opportunities arise. "I think a lot of people try to pretend they aren’t evangelizing when they actually are. They’ll say things like, ‘Look. I don’t mean to preach but …’ Why don’t you just say instead, ‘I’m sorry, but I have to preach to you. This is wrong, and here’s why’?"
Vogt offers more advice about how to communicate the faith effectively, based on asking questions and listening to responses. "When you ask questions that force people to probe their deepest beliefs, what you’ll often find is that they themselves will recognize the shallowness of their belief," he says.
He adds, "Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers — just let people come to the realization of the truth on their own. This is what Socrates did in Greece; this is what Jesus did in the first century; and this is what great evangelists have been doing every century since."
Religious discussions may lead to hurt feelings, so prudence is needed.
"I try not to get into heated debates, but just share the truth of the Church with others," Meixner says. She does this by keeping in mind St. Bernadette Soubirous’ quote, "My job is to inform, not convince."
Overall, Fradd recommends "prudent evangelization."
"Prudence is the first cardinal virtue, and it means the ability to act in accord with right reason. Sometimes when we’re dialoguing with a friend or a family member, we’re pretty confident that to bring up the topic of Christ or his Church would be counterproductive," he explains. "In this case, I think prudence would dictate that we don’t verbally share our faith; I think we need to find other ways to evangelize."
Evangelization doesn’t just have to happen through discussion.
Fradd shares that, after his conversion, his sister was a staunch atheist for eight years.
"I found that arguing with her didn’t help, but giving her literature and CD sets on the faith was helpful. She could reflect upon it in her own time, without feeling she had to be on the defensive," he recalls. After struggling with Catholicism for several years, Fradd’s sister converted to the faith. She is now a missionary in Canada.
Vogt suggests using social media as a tool for evangelization, too.
"I encourage people to share one good Catholic article a day, which can perhaps inspire or uplift somebody else."
He says that such sharing is a means to reach those who do not go to church or would never attend a class on Catholicism. "Because they’re connected to you on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, you have a direct way to reach them."
Vogt illustrates the effectiveness of using media to evangelize with a story that was told to him by Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire (see related profile in Section B).
Father Barron received a letter from an atheist who was raised to hate God, religion and especially the Catholic Church.
One day, while googling Bob Dylan, the man happened upon a video Father Barron made about Dylan. The man told Father Barron that when he saw the priest’s Roman collar, he wanted to exit the video immediately, but something compelled him to finish the video and to watch more of Father Barron’s videos.
Eventually, he visited WordonFire.org, the ministry’s website.
In his letter, the atheist wrote, "I wanted to let you know that, after months of watching your videos and reading your articles, I’ve become convinced that not only does God exist, but he established a Catholic Church — and I’ve now entered RCIA [the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]."
As Vogt put it, "I love that story because it exhibits the power of the new media to evangelize."
Ella Hadacek writes
from Idaho, where she attends
Northwest Nazarene University.