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A Guide to Bold Evangelization

By Cecilia Dietzler
Evangelization Specialist for the Archdiocese of Denver

Holy Week has always been my favorite week of the year. Since I was 15 years old, I spend Good Friday rewatching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and still have to watch the screen through my fingers when it gets to the most brutal depictions of Jesus’ torture leading up to his death. My God, someone who never misses an opportunity to try to draw me closer to himself, the God who loves us so incredibly deeply, endured pain that I still can’t bear to watch all the way through, all to bridge the void in our relationship that we created through our sins. I watch this movie every year because I never cease to be touched by how far God will go to prove his love for us. By becoming man in Jesus Christ, God interrupted the world’s timeline to enter deeper into our lives, entering society quietly and transforming the realities of all the people he encountered, ultimately giving his life for them.

Even now in the 21st century, over 2,000 years after Jesus walked the Earth, God continues to encounter us and “interrupt” our lives. Every Sunday, every holy day, every time we call out to him in prayer, we encounter God’s desire for relationship with us and his overwhelming love for us. There’s a reason that Ash Wednesday is one of the most attended services of the liturgical year — we desire to allow God to interrupt our workdays and then return to them marked with ashes for Christ. It always serves as a great conversation starter when people return to the secular world with crosses on their foreheads, and many of us look forward to the moment we get to answer a question about it.

Why, then, is the word “evangelization” still enough to make people want to run for the hills? Why does it cause us so much anxiety to share the Good News of Christ’s resurrection with those around us?

A lot of the fear and anxiety surrounding evangelization stems from a lack of understanding as to what God has called us to do. Words like “convince,” “impose,” “proselytize,” and even “salesman” come to mind, along with a caricature of a fiery preacher with a table full of pamphlets and Bibles, shouting “Repent or you’ll regret it in Hell!” to passersby.

Replace that image with this instead: you have met the love of your life. Someone that gets you, someone that would do anything for you. Perhaps this person moved across the country to be with you. They provided you with the best life you could have imagined. And then, in a heroic act of self-sacrifice, this person jumped in front of a bullet for you, assuring you that they did it because they love you. They are pronounced dead at the scene. And then, after three days, they come back, in the miracle of miracles, and you are reunited with them.

Isn’t this the kind of miracle you would want to tell everyone in your life about?

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Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical as Pope, writes the following:

“We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words, the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (God is Love #1, Pope Benedict XVI).

These words challenge us to think differently about how we share our faith. It is not a lifestyle that we are trying to convince people of, though that will certainly follow. We should desire to evangelize because we want to share our experience of a God who loves us, who would do anything for us, and who has given us everything we have. With this in mind, evangelization is no longer a sales pitch approach, but a heart-level conversation to have with someone.

What is a heart-level conversation? These are conversations that reach a deeper level than just small talk. They can be with people that you’ve known for a long time, or with someone you’ve not known long at all! Especially in our current age of isolation, privacy and loneliness, heart-level conversations are the best defense against spiritual poverty, an increasingly worrying problem in the United States. It is all too often in today’s world that “trust” with neighbors, colleagues and even family members is implied but not actually developed. Without trust, isolation builds and relationships are stunted. To introduce a friend to a new relationship with God, it is essential to have a friendship with them first — a friendship without defensiveness, without judgment, and with openness and love for the other person (See the attached snippet from “99 Wondering Questions” by Doug Pollock as a starting place!). When the opportunity arises, don’t be afraid to share moments where God “interrupts” your life. Whether it’s a big life change, a decision you must make, or even a person you are called to forgive, sharing how these moments are an encounter with God are crucial to demonstrating his love for us.

It is primarily through these heart-level conversations that God puts his proverbial foot in the door to someone’s heart. While someone who is far from the Church cannot hear God’s voice, trust and vulnerability with one of his people eventually leads to curiosity and openness in that person. There is great power in testifying to your personal encounters with God, all the things he’s done for you in your life, and how even in your darkest hours, he’s always been with you. Just a crack in the door of someone’s heart can be enough for the Holy Spirit to begin to work in them. In the meantime, it is important to remember that while the person in front of you may not recognize God’s voice, the Holy Spirit is within you in these conversations:

“It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed” (Evangelization in the Modern World, #75, St. Paul VI).

The work of evangelization isn’t always going to bear visible fruit. As much as you would like to, you cannot reach into the chest of the person in front of you and convert their heart. Only God can do that. As a people of free will, we must first be willing to allow him to convert our hearts, which is where our witness in our relationships plays a crucial role. While the person in front of you may not be able to recognize God’s voice, they recognize your voice, and if you have trust with them, they are willing to listen to you and your experience of God’s love. It is in these moments of witness that the work of evangelization lies waiting for us.

 

Conversation Starters taken from “99 Wondering Questions” by Doug Pollock

Questions About Love

  • Has your understanding of the word love changed over the years?
  • Why do you think so many couples end up falling out of love?
  • If you could pass along one word of advice about how to keep a relationship going and growing, what would it be?

Questions about Dreams

  • Did you have any dreams or set any life goals when you were younger?
  • What dreams have you let go of?
  • What dreams are you still hanging onto?

Questions about Direction

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What life experiences have molded you and motivated you to pursue the path you’ve chosen for life?
  • If you were to choose your path over again, would you choose the same one? Why or why not?

Questions about Control

  • It’s been said that life is largely out of our control. If that’s true, why do so many people try to control the uncontrollable?
  • Do you struggle trying to control things?
  • What kinds of things do you think can be controlled in life?

Questions about God

  • Why do you think there are so many different religions?
  • Why do you think so many people prefer to live as if God does not exist?
  • If God had his way with you, what do you think He would change first?
  • What scared you the most about letting God change your life?
  • If Jesus were here right now, what would you ask Him?
  • How do you think He would answer?
  • How would you feel if that happened?
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