Q. What is Catholic evangelization?
A. Pope Paul VI answered this question in his apostolic exhortation, On Evangelization in the Modern World, published in 1975.
For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by baptism and by lives lived according to the gospel. The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs (no. 18).
The Catholic understanding of evangelization includes a number of interrelated elements: the renewal of humanity, giving witness to Christ, explicit proclamation of the gospel, acceptance of the Gospel message and entering into the community of faith—the Church, growing as a disciple, and sharing faith with others. Pope Paul VI summarizes these elements in On Evangelization in the Modern World.
Evangelization, as we have said, is a complex process made up of varied elements: the renewal of humanity, witness, explicit proclamation, inner adherence, entry into the community, acceptance of signs, apostolic initiative. These elements may appear to be contradictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact they are complementary and mutually enriching. Each one must always be seen in relationship with the others. The value of the last Synod was to have constantly invited us to relate these elements rather than to place them in opposition one to the other, in order to reach a full understanding of the Church’s evangelizing activity (no. 24).
America’s bishops provide another, more succinct definition of Catholic evangelization. In Go and Make Disciples, A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, published in 1993 and available in our bookstore, the bishops write the following:
The simplest way to say what evangelization means is to follow Pope Paul VI, whose message On Evangelization in the Modern World has inspired so much recent thought and activity in the Church. We can rephrase his words to say that evangelizing means bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself. At its essence are the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ and the response of a person in faith, which are both works of the Spirit of God (paragraph 10).
Evangelization must always be directly connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” [On Evangelization in the Modern World, no. 22] (paragraph 11).
The Commentary and Planning Guide to Go and Make Disciples by Fr Frank DeSiano, CSP, and Fr. Kenneth Boyack, CSP, also available in our bookstore, gives a more in-depth understanding of Go and Make Disciples.
Q. Who are inactive Catholics? Why do we reach out to them?
A. Almost every Catholic who goes to Mass regularly knows one or more inactive Catholics. The difference between the two is that inactive Catholics do not practice their faith. They do not go to Mass as often, may not be registered in a parish, and are not involved in serving in parish ministries such as reading at Mass, teaching in the parish religious education program, or volunteering in parish support of the homeless.
The fact that a Catholic is not active in a parish does not mean that he or she does not have faith. Some inactive Catholics are more spiritually-minded than those who go to Mass every Sunday. They believe, but do not belong.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in a 2008 study titled Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics found that 32% of Catholics rarely or never attend Mass and 24% attend only a few times a year. This means that 56% of Catholics have little or almost no contact with a parish. We call these brothers and sisters in Christ inactive Catholics.
An urgent concern is that inactive Catholics have fewer means available to encounter Christ and grow in their faith. If a baptized Catholic does not go to Mass or participate in a parish, his or her faith may deteriorate since it is not reinforced by active participation. Think of a runner on a track team. If she does not practice and exercise on a regular basis, she will lose strength and weaken her ability to compete. The same is true of Catholics who do not practice their faith. Catholics welcome and invite inactive Catholics because they want them to know the love of Christ and the joy that comes from participating actively in a community faith.
Q. How do we reach inactive Catholics?
A. From one point of view, the answer is simple: We reach inactive Catholics by helping all practicing Catholics to be willing to invite the inactive ones to join us. A number of proven and effective outreach methods are presented in the resources below. They include information on why Catholics become inactive, what causes them to return, and how they, on returning, can become active disciples of Jesus.
A Time to Listen…A Time to Heal: A Resource Directory for Reaching Out to Inactive Catholics(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1999).DeSiano, Frank P., CSP. The Evangelizing Catholic: A Practical Handbook for Reaching Out (New York: Paulist Press, 1998).Duquin, Lorene Hanley. Could You Ever Come Back to the Catholic Church?(New York: Alba House, 1997).Duquin, Lorene Hanley. When A Loved One Leaves the Church (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001).
Kemp, Carrie. Catholics Can Come Home Again: A Guide for the Journey of Reconciliation with Inactive Catholics (New York: Paulist Press, 2001).
Mews, Sally L. Inviting Catholics Home: A Parish Program (Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Press, 2002).
Awakening Faith, Reconnecting with Your Catholic Faith, published by Paulist Evangelization Ministries in 2009, helps parishes invite and welcome inactive Catholics. This resource includes a Participant Booklet, a Leader Guide, and a Parish Manual with CD. For more information, go to www.awakeningfaith.org.
Catholics Reaching Out. This program, developed by PNCEA in 2005, helps parishioners invite inactive Catholics to consider returning to the Church. The parish starter kit includes We Miss You invitations, Parishioner Guides, a Parish Manual, and a Display Poster with attachable pocket. For more information, click here.
Landings International. This ten week process is designed to help a person return to the Church. For more information, go to the Landings website, www.landings-international.org.
Sally L. Mews’ Inviting Catholics Home: A Parish Program runs for six weeks in a parish. Go to www.catholicsreturninghome.org for more information.
A website designed to attract and engage young adults is www.bustedhalo.org. Paulist Young Adult Ministry, New York City, runs this ministry.
A website designed to attract inactive Catholics, provide answers to their questions, and suggest pathways for returning to the Church is www.onceCatholic.org. This website is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Q. Why are some Catholics reluctant to share their faith? How can we help them?
A. While some Catholics believe that faith is a private matter and is best kept to themselves, the Church teaches that “the lay faithful…have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel.” Since lay people “are fully part of this work of the Church [they] should feel called and encouraged to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.” Catholics are prepared to share their faith through the sacraments and by the work of the Holy Spirit in them. As Catholics meet Christ through the sacraments, prayer, and Scripture, they develop a “burning desire to invite others to encounter the One whom [they] have encountered” and this “is the start of the evangelizing mission to which the whole Church is called” (John Paul II, The Church in America, no. 66, 68).
The best way to help Catholics share their faith is by helping them become comfortable with speaking about their faith and willing to share their faith with others (e.g., other Catholics, neighbors, etc.) We recommend the following resources to help Catholics grow in their ability and desire to share their faith.
- Spiritual renewal occurs when parishioners meet the risen Christ in new ways. Disciples in Mission creates opportunities for parishioners to encounter Christ through individual and communal prayer, small faith sharing groups of adults and teens, inspiring homilies, and appealing bulletin inserts that make Christ’s evangelizing mission more understandable and clear. Because of DM, parishioners become more intentional disciples who live and share their faith. They bring the light of Christ to their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
- Many Catholics grow in their confidence and ability to share their faith as they are able to recognize and name ways that God is active in their daily lives. Revised and updated in 2009 Discovering My Experience of God: Awareness and Witness helps people discover, explore and express the ways they experience God. The simple, practical approach of this book makes it useful for individuals and groups.
- I am e3 (evangelizing every day, everywhere) is a simple and fun community building activity for parish gatherings, sacramental preparation programs, committee and staff meetings, and more. With the aid of story-telling cards, e3 facilitates faith sharing, raises awareness that all are called to evangelize, and helps people share a faith story with others.
Q. Do I have to be an expert about the Catholic faith before I can share my faith or invite others? How can I learn more about the faith?
A. You do not need to know everything about the Catholic faith before you can share it or invite others. One of the reasons we share our faith is because that is how we learn more about it. We recommend the following resources to help you learn more about the Catholic faith. They are especially useful for Catholics who never learned much about the faith and for those who feel a bit rusty about what they learned in the past. They are also useful for those exploring Catholicism for the first time.
- One of the best introductory resources we can recommend is Invitation: The Search for God, Self and Church. This book presents the basic teachings of the Church in question and answer format especially suitable to adults. Frequent reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible in the 26 chapters helps readers continue their study in these sources if they want more. Invitation is suitable for both individual and group study.
- The Catholic Way of Life is an excellent introduction to the Catholic faith for inquirers. Its readable, contemporary language avoids “churchy” terms that can confuse people unfamiliar with the Church. Readers can go through each of the 11 chapters at their own pace.
- Published by the U.S. bishops in 2006, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults provides a contemporary and easy-to-read presentation of Catholic teaching. It includes stories of faith about Catholics who are part of our heritage.
- Yes, I Can Believe: Discovering the Treasure of the Catholic Faith is a short study—just 47 pages—for people searching for answers to life’s questions. This book helps them discover the truth found in God and Jesus, in God’s word in Scripture, in the Church, and in living a life of holiness seeking eternal life.
Q. How can we encourage more Catholics to become involved in evangelization?
A. Catholics will become more involved in evangelization through learning new information, acquiring new attitudes, and developing new skills. Paulist Evangelization Ministries has developed numerous resources to foster parish-based evangelization.
Living the Eucharist is a lenten-based renewal program conducted over the season of Lent on a three-year cycle.
Best Practices for Parishes, A Self-Study and Action Planning Tool, is a ready-to-use, self-study tool that enables parish ministry leaders and volunteers to assess the quality of seven dimensions of parish life using best practices statements drawn from church documents, pastoral experiences, and ministry experts. The assessment results become the basis for action planning. The seven workbooks are: Prayer and Worship, Catechesis, Evangelization, Justice and Charity, Stewardship, Ministry to Family/Pastoral Care, and Community Building. Each dimension is presented in the context of its contribution to the overall evangelizing mission of the Church.
Various resources include manuals that help in forming Catholic parishioners to be more inviting and welcoming (e.g., Invite and Catholics reaching Out).