We need a deeper and more personal approach to evangelisation, says Stratford Caldecott In recent years and months the Catholic Church in this country has begun to focus on the need for evangelisation. Largely that is thanks to one or two bishops, and the efforts of the Catholic Agency for Support of Evangelisation (CASE) founded a few years ago by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. In this, the Year of St Paul, there is renewed discussion in the face of declining church attendance and closing parishes, other religions, youth culture, and militant secularism of how to evangelise most effectively in modem society.
It may be helpful to draw on the experience of lay people who have, within their own families and in their own circles, been trying to do evangelisation for a long time, even if they wouldn't always have called it that. Parents and teachers who value their faith simply want to communicate it in fact they feel a burning need to do so. Lay people involved in this work do so in a myriad different ways. Writing books and articles, running conferences, starting movements and magazines and websites, leading pilgrimages and teaching students. But they also undertake hidden, unacknowledged work, helping people in their own individual search, mopping the brows of the sick and elderly. raising children who, secure in the experience of family life, themselves go on to evangelise others.
Some of the most interesting and profound thinkers of our day, such as Pope Benedict and his predecessor, have an amazing grasp of the modern world. With their help we now know where the culture of death comes from and how it spreads. But what can we do to counter it?
hi one way, "evangelisation" is nothing special, and it can't be planned. It is just a way of living the faith and responding to the needs of people around you. The best evangelisation is the kind that happens simply by being a Christian, cooperating with the Holy Spirit and that is why saints are always the best evangelisers. Of course intellectual arguments are important, for those who can muster them if only to help dispose of silly objections to belief, like those bandied about by Richard Dawkins (Oxford's Professor for the Public Misunderstanding of Religion). But as a matter of personal observation, very few people listen to arguments. A more important role is played by feeling and imagination: we need an evangelisation of the heart.
The woman who spends hours listening to a distraught soul is "doing" evangelisation. The sacrifice of time and of everything else that might have been in those hours is worth a lot. But it is worth less if she is just going through the motions, following some bureaucratically devised strategy. The person who smiles after Mass is doing evangelisa tion but hardly if the smile is forced and calculated. The person who swallows his annoyance at a noisy child and helps the mother come to church is doing evangelisation. But not if he begrudges the gesture and makes the woman feel it. What evangelises is love, and, actually, nothing else. Ever.
Young people, on whom the future depends, seek the friendship and community that will help them define their identity. They find it through music, the intemet, social events, hobbies and so on, but also in movements and gatherings. If there is a way to evangelise the young, it is through community. They want to be "cool", to be part of some group they respect. But cool doesn't mean "cold". What they actually are looking for is warmth. And though they need to hear the Gospel, they won't listen unless the conditions are created for them to do so. Communal activities like theatre are one of the most powerful ways of reaching the young, enabling them to explore issues through their imagination, while sharing and developing their talents and having a lot of fun into the bargain.
We need to recapture the holiness of recreation: reclaim it from the peddlers of destructive recreational pursuits, reclaim it as a re-creation of the dignity of human life. (It was a wise man who said "leisure is the basis of culture".) We live in a world where the biggest industries are catering to two things: lust and violence. It is almost impossible to maintain a pure outlook or a chaste spirit. If it is the pure in heart who will see God (Mt 5:8), no wonder so few believe in him these days. In such circumstances it will not help "evangelisation" to adopt the moralistic high ground, and trumpet our moral theory as the answer to society's woes. Morality is needed. but Ethos can only be restored through Logos, and morality by spirituality. The hunger in people's hearts is for spiritual transformation. If we offer that, if we exemplify that, then they will flock back to church, but not before.
In many schools and homes, young people are taught not that their bodies are sacred vessels for life, but that they are biological instruments, machines or tools for giving and receiving pleasure. Nothing is sacred in a world that has lost the sense of an inner life, or the sense that there are levels of reality. and absolutes. But we don't lose our need for the sacred and our obscure desire for it just because it has been taken away from us. If the parish or diocese can do anything to encourage evangelisation, it might think of starting groups to nurture the spiritual search mystagogy groups, continuing catechesis, silent prayer, spiritual direction, Lectio Divina. And such groups should be open to non-parishioners, even non-Christians.
The present generation has lost faith in religion because it is shallow, in politicians because they lie, in the economy because it has let them down, in experts of all kinds because they know nothing, and in materialism because it is no good. To evangelise is to deepen our religion, to restore truth to politics, to build a sustainable and humane economy, to recover the wisdom we have lost in information, and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.
Above all, evangelisation requires us to transmit, on a oneto-one basis, the life-giving love at the heart of our faith. In a culture that offers no hope beyond the next fix no amount of schemes and training programmes can replace the presence of spiritual mothers and fathers.
Stratford Caldecott directs the Centre for Faith and Culture in Oxford for Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire