Britons are eager for spiritual knowledge, says Mgr Keith Barltrop. So what are we waiting for?
HOW TO EVANGELISE
PART THREE OF FOUR
Iwould never tell anyone that they are not ready to evangelise. Part of what holds Catholics back in evangelisation is that we never seem to be ready. You get people who say: "We really need to do a lot of evangelising of ourselves first. And then we will go out." There's a danger that they will end up never actually evangelising others. The best evangelists do it the other way round: they go out first and share their faith; only later do they think: "If I'm going to do this well I need to know more about it."
. That is the way evangelisation actually works: you do it, get the taste for it, and realise then that you need more formation. A good example of this is St Paul. He evangelised almost from the day of his conversion, even though there were plenty of other people better qualified to evangelise than him.
The best form of evangelisation is known by the technical term "household evangelisation", from the Greek word (Jaws, which means "household". In today's parlance, this is our social network: our family, friends and colleagues. This type of evangelisation comes out of a pm-existing, loving relationship with people. It's not about feigning an interest in someone so we can get them as an extra statistic in the Church. We must genuinely care about the people we evangelise.
One of the things that we at the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation (CASE) stress is reliance on the Holy Spirit. We suggest that people pray every day for the opportunity to share their faith. When the opportunity comes we should take a deep breath and pray to the Holy Spirit. We've all got the Holy Spirit through our confirmation, but He is often a sleeping partner.
A friend of mine was recently talking to a Muslim woman who was criticising Islamic countries where women caught in adultery are severely punished. She felt it was very unjust. So my friend said to her, very simply: "Have you ever heard the story of the woman taken in adultery?" She hadn't, so my friend told it to her in her own words. The Muslim woman was very impressed with the story.
That's a wonderful anecdote because it shows that, first of all, we need to listen to those we evangelise. Then we need to tell them the Gospel story in our own words. We must simply witness to the story and leave the rest to God.
Members of the French Emmanuel Community do missions where they stand outside churches inviting people in. When they are asked why they do this, they reply: "All we're trying to do is to invite people to take the next step on their journey to God." That is a good answer. Any Catholic can do that: we can open up a new horizon for someone or show the attractiveness of faith by a smile and a good word. When we begin to evangelise, our belief is immediately strengthened. Take my friend: her encounter with the Muslim woman led her to reflect more deeply on her own faith. I know a man, sadly no longer alive, who had about 14 children, all of whom had stopped practising the faith. He decided to do something about the decline of the Church, Together with is parish priest he gathered volunteers in his parish and they did some rigorous professional training. They then went from door to idoor in the local area, inviting people to come to church. They had a huge positive response rate.
This shows that you've got to study what people out there are really wanting. You've got to find out where the itch is before you can scratch it. As Catholics, we generally don't do this. What are the questions people are asking? What do they need? The house visitors discovered that if they knocked on a door and asked the owner: "Is there anything we can pray for?" they got a warm response. If they had said: "We're from the Catholic Church and we want to tell you about our beliefs", quite a few doors would have been shut in their faces.
Some Catholic groups have had stalls at New Age fairs. They offer prayers for healing in the name of Christ. Again, people queue up for it. People are also fascinated by angels. Most Catholics could talk very interestingly about what guardian angels are and how they work. Of course, this approach could be dismissed as "Christianity Lite" because it's not soapbox preaching. But this method is using somebody's interest to communicate the Gospel gently and, I would hope, clearly. To me, this is what John Paul II meant , when he called us to find new methods of evangelisation by taking prudent risks.
Mgr Barltrop and his team can be contacted at: CASE, 114 West Heath Road, London. NW3 717C. Tel. 020 7458 3316. E-mail: [email protected] caseresources.or g.uk Website: www.caseresources.org.uk