March 2012 Evangelization Exchange – DeSiano

Evangelization Teams, Part 6
Can They Work?

by Frank DeSiano, CSP


Fr. Frank DesianoEvangelization teams can work, and they can be sustained, with the right attitude, organization, and—most of all—spirituality.

The spirituality of evangelization is not primarily an internal sense of union with Jesus, essential as that is. Rather, it’s a visible, outward expansion in the Spirit of Jesus toward others with a burning desire to make God’s love known and bring people into the Kingdom of God.

March12TrinityDesianoAs a consequence, evangelizing spirituality has to be rooted in the Trinity, and in the longings of people who do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus in his Spirit. Such an identity with the seeker, where we can relate to their longings (not necessarily our own), comes with great difficulty in our modern world where people in the culture are so casual about faith, casual about commitments, and causal about identity with a believing people.

“I’m OK, You’re OK,” is arguably the prevailing sense people have when it comes to faith and God. Rather than faith being a crucial element in their lives—something that affects their whole being—faith is more like an accessory to people’s lives today. It’s something they might like, or might prefer, but not something they utterly need, from the very core of their beings, to make sense of their lives and relationships.

Catholics easily pick up on this broader cultural coloring—and members of evangelization teams can absorb this casual attitude too. When this happens, spreading faith is a “nice” thing to do, and perhaps “very helpful,” but not a burning need, not absolutely critical. So when we invite people into the R.C.I.A, it’s only offhandedly. When we reach out for inactive Catholics, it’s put out there like another parish program, alongside the annual bazaar or the bishop’s appeal.

March12SacredHeartDesianoEvangelization team members have to pray to have the heart of Jesus, to know the burdens that others carry, to have a sense of profound absence in their hearts, to feel the drifting of folks from one trivial idea to another, to see the glimmers of the start of faith in others’ longings for wholeness, to burn with the same desire of Jesus to bring the Kingdom to the world.

I think team members have to make the cause of mission and evangelization part of their daily spiritual routine. They need to start, support, and end each day with thanks for faith, and with consciousness of those who do not yet know how to make their faith explicit. They need to focus on the Jesus who strains himself to reach out, who lives with astonishing urgency, whose whole purpose is to wrap humankind in a renewed love of his Father and passion of his Spirit.

Team members need to consciously have a particular person in mind to focus the needs of evangelization—someone struggling, someone floating, someone disconnected—and use that person as an icon, or avatar, of the whole range of people who are not involved in communities of faith.

They also need to appreciate their Catholic faith anew each day—the wonder of our Catholic way of life—but with two cautions. It is never the task of evangelization ministers to put down or dismiss the faith of another. Ecumenism is not an enemy of evangelization; it is a partner—for we are all geared toward the fulfillment of the wonderful promise of one Church, one Body, united in the One Jesus.

A second caution involves triumphalism. Nothing in our appreciation of Catholicism should make us naïve, as if we were a community free from imperfections, as if the Kingdom had already arrived in its fullness in our Church. The way we love a spouse or a child even with their blemishes, so we love the Church, aware of the blemishes—and aware of how Jesus upholds us in spite of those.

Our Catholic Church in America (I don’t want to even think of Europe) has gotten blah! We are beige with our comfort, gray in our tones, bland in our expressions. The passion of our faith has to be clear to the world—the passion of the Gospel, of the Triune God, of the Spirit’s presence in Word and Sacrament, of the path of holiness, of a life of selfless service. Our power does not come from where we feel we must battle the world, but rather in what we have, uniquely, to offer the world: the broadest, deepest, and richest expression of witness to Jesus in human history.

As we experience this, we experience as well the humility of servants, blessed to be called by God, and called to give ourselves in such a way that we do not shine, but Christ shines through us onto others.