You Keep Using That Word
For the longest time, when I’d hear the word evangelization, I’d crinkle my nose, thinking it meant proselytizing. I knew my Church, my faith, my God “called” me to do this thing called evangelization, but really, I’d rather not. The thing is that the popes, starting with Paul VI, then JP II, then Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis keep writing and preaching about the “new evangelization.” Not only was this “evangelization” thing not going away, each of these popes keep renewing our call to do it. (More uncomfortable shifting in my chair.)
Turns out my understanding of evangelization was off. Way off. Well kind of off.
Let’s start with a better understanding of evangelization; a definition which honors the intention, style, and practice of the apostles. Evangelization is about kindling the burning desire for God in our hearts.
From the beginning, evangelization meant bringing the Good News of the Gospel to every corner of the earth. The call to do this is in Scripture (at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew), and we call it The Great Commission.
Historically, we have limited our understanding of evangelization to the missionary work of bringing the Good News to people who have never before heard it. Which, in itself, is fine (if the ones sharing the message are, in fact, sharing what Jesus taught, how he taught it: with love; without force).
However, evangelization was never meant to be equated with the forceful, negative, judgmental practice of proselytizing. Because, as you may know, that’s not how Jesus did things.
Evangelization is about kindling the burning desire for God in our hearts. Proselytizing is focused on the surface experience of getting someone to agree with you that your religion, belief, or opinion is the right one. We are not called to proselytize. We are called to evangelize.
Even better, the “new evangelization” that all these popes have talked about explicitly recognizes that there are actually three distinct groups in need of evangelization:
- NEVER BEFORE – those who have never before heard the Good News
- ONCE MORE – those who are regular, committed faithful who are in need of rekindling their passion for God. For many, the fire is there, but it wanes. For others, it’s less of a fire and more of a flame.
- THIS TIME WITH FEELING – those who (for whatever reason) have left the Church and are “searching” for something… are considering coming back… are unsure… and are in need of kindling that passion, as well as direction, education, healing, etc.
Each of us falls somewhere in here. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re somewhere between #2 and #3. Think about that: Where on this continuum would you place yourself?
What I love most about this renewed understanding of evangelization is that there are many, many legitimate ways to evangelize.
Start with yourself. Ask yourself: What fuels my own passion for God? And then (presuming it’s life-giving and loving) do that thing. Here’s a list of ideas:
- Go do service (visit the sick or elderly, help the homeless, build homes at Habitat for Humanity)
- Participate in your Church (sing, read, serve, pray, adore)
- Learn about your faith – see what classes or book studies you could participate in
- Spend time being intentionally present to your friends, family, children, siblings, and parents. Nurture relationships.
- Do the thing God called you to do–that thing that fills your heart–and praise God for joy
- Go on a retreat
- Spend time in nature, thanking God for the gift of Creation
- What else would you add to this list
Because the funny thing about evangelization is that it’s contagious. When you tend to the fire within your own heart, your passion for God spills out into the hearts of others.
- So what will you to today to kindle the fire of your passion for God?