Fr. Longenecker Missed a Big Reason Catholics Don’t Evangelize
Many Catholics have not experienced the grace and fruit of actually sharing the Gospel with someone.
Fr. Longenecker recently published one of those classic click-me internet articles called “10 Reasons Catholics Don’t Evangelize.” You click it because (a) you already know Catholics don’t evangelize and (b) you want to hear his 10 reasons, because they’re probably good. Most articles online get read by people already convinced the argument is true. And, by the way, he nailed it. I think anyone in the trenches or even just reading statistics about the trenches knows the thesis is true, and probably nodded through his reasons. But, as a former Evangelical Protestant and someone who has been blessed to see conversions to Christ and His Church since becoming Catholic, I think he missed a big one. Here it is:
Catholics have not experienced the grace and fruit of actually sharing the Gospel with someone.
They haven’t been a part of sharing the Gospel directly (not sharing something on social media), and seen the actual graces of conversion at work. If they had, they’d evangelize more. My introduction to Christianity was rooted in receiving and sharing the Gospel. It was presented as impossible to breath in the grace of God without breathing out that grace to others – it’s one act in a living faith. Evangelization, as St. Paul says, is something that we are “impelled” to do because of the love of Christ we have come to know (2 Corinthians 5:14). To not evangelize is to not experience part of Christ’s love, the kind that you see working in and through you in the life of another.
Here’s an example close to my home…
My wife was my high school sweetheart. And by “sweetheart” I mean that I fell in love with her and she rejected me for years – fodder in the friend trough I was. (I was a year ahead and went to college sooner, which woke her up to her undying love for me. But that’s another story.) It was a good friendship though, and it grew in those years without clumsy high school romance. And in that friendship with her I learned something: she was miserable.
I had a conversion to Christ when I was about 15, and it stumbled along until I got serious a couple of years later through the heroic mentoring of spiritually mature men. I had a keen awareness of life before Christ and life after. Vice is its own punishment and virtue is its own reward, and I knew this truth deeply. My crush (future wife) was treading the terrible waters of high school – social drama, doing all the “extras,” keeping up face, grades, betrayal, and a suffocating sense that its all ultimately meaningless. To the world she was the beautiful captain of the cheerleading squad, but I knew more about her. I knew she was metaphysically miserable and literally dying to find real life. I knew real life through Jesus Christ. She didn’t.
“Katie,” I said to her one day when it seemed like a good time to talk. “I just want you to know that I know deep down you’re unhappy.” I let her know all the “show” wasn’t fooling me.
She looked at me with a mix of fear, embarrassment and deep interest. She was open to hear more. I went on to tell her that God loved her very much, so much so that He sent His Son and that He died so that she could have life – the life of happiness that the world offers but cannot give, true peace and authentic love. I told her that God wanted to give her this life, and that she was free to accept it. She did.
Almost 16 years later we’re happily married Catholics (our conversion to the Church is yet another story). In that time we’ve been graced to see others come to know Christ and enter His Church. To see my wife and that steady string of souls come to a spring of life that they are dying for is truly one of the most beautiful and mysterious things I have known. We so often think of evangelization as arguments against “secular agendas” or some sort of duty we all diverge from and get darty when someone asks us about it, like flossing. It’s not that. It’s a joy and a part of the normal Christian life.
Evangelization is a gift. It’s a fact – a thing you can see right before you. That is, when you’ve seen it happened. Someone told me the Gospel once, and I believed. I’ve told other people, and they’ve believed. (Others have rejected it.) I’m pretty sure that’s how it is supposed to work. In the 10 years of being a Catholic I’ve seen a tremendous proliferation of Catholic media and programs. This is good, but sometimes I wonder if we keep trying to think of new ways to evangelize because we’ve never seen that good ol’ timey evangelization: telling someone that we’ve built a friendship with that God loves them.
If Catholics would experience the “breathing out” of their faith through Evangelization more I think they would sense the love of Christ more fully and be more eager to share that love.