As Catholics we believe we have the fullness of the faith, yet for the most part we keep it to ourselves. We’ve forgotten that the primary mission of the Church is evangelization. Millions of soldiers, commissioned as confirmed Catholics, are not showing up to battle.
In an effort to reinvigorate Catholics nationwide, I want to share five principles - a simple strategy - for winning persons to Christ in the fullness of the faith. Let’s begin.
1. People First
I once sat at table with a high school student, eating his lunch alone. He said he didn’t believe in God, so I gave him all the reasons he should believe in God. I talked for the rest of the lunch period, using premises along with their conclusions. My logic was sound. Yet, at the end of the encounter, he felt defeated and silenced. I won the argument but lost a friend.
The most important rule in sharing the faith is to put the person before the proposition. “The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity” (Peter Kreeft). People don’t want to just listen to facts, they want to be loved and affirmed. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34) Read 1 Corinthians 13 again. The message: love is central. We can do amazing things, even speaking in the language of angels, yet without love we gain nothing. You’ve heard it said many times (misappropriated to St. Francis), “preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” This is definitely the place to begin, but it’s not the place to end. WHEN necessary, use words.
So after getting to know the person, being genuinely concerned for them, what do you say? How do you get from gossip to the Gospel?
2. Know Your Audience
Eventually, the person you are speaking with will ask you questions. This is the time to share about the most important thing in your life: your relationship with Jesus. But first, some caution.
Nice Pagan: So what about you?
Cool Catholic: The Eucharist is my life.
CC: Did you know Jesus is really present in the host, at a Catholic Mass, when the priest repeats the words of consecration from the Last Supper, recorded in the synoptics? Well, not in John, but in John Jesus DOES say, "unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you" … and ‘eat’ is not like ‘consume’, it’s the Greek word ‘trogo’ which means ‘gnaw’, like an animal, so Christ meant it literally.
NP: What are you talking about?
CC: Transubstantiation, man!
NP: Oh, look! I have to … leave.
Everything said above is true. And, personally, I want to tell people about my relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But an unbaptized, nonbeliever is going to think you're talking about a sci-fi novel, not about your abiding relationship with God. Don’t begin with the Most August Sacrifice of the Mass, because that’s basically the finish line. Begin on their level.
Knowing your audience means, “one should not use the same arguments in discussion with a Muslim woman from Tehran that one would use with an African-American teenager from Los Angeles.” (Peter Kreeft) Therefore, if I want to talk about the Eucharist, I should first make sure my listener has a certain amount of pre-understanding, either as a believing Protestant or as non-practicing Catholic.
3. Tell Your Story
Start with your story. How did you meet Jesus? How did you develop an enduring relationship with Him? No one can argue with your experience.
Nice Pagan: So what about you?
Cool Catholic: Well, like you shared, everyone is searching for meaning. I think everyone also wants to be loved. And I had a particular experience of love and meaning.
NP: What do you mean?
CC: When I was in high school I was desperately searching for love and meaning. I thought love meant being in physical relationships with girls and thought that my meaning was to be the most popular kid in class. Yet when I had both of these things, I was still as empty as ever. That is, until senior year…
Everyone loves a good story. And someone who trusts you will be interested in the finale of your great story - how you encountered ultimate meaning and love, in this case. And since everyone is searching for these things you will most likely have a captive audience.
But it’s not all about you.
4. Tell God's Story
'Kerygma' is the Greek word for 'proclamation' and refers to the central message of the Gospel. Eventually you will have the opportunity to talk about Jesus.
When you get the privilege to name drop the Name above all Names, be ready to share the meaning behind the Name. Since Jesus means “God saves” we need a bit of context. “For salvation to be ‘good news,’ there must be ‘bad news’ to be saved from.” (Peter Kreeft) Do you know how to share the Gospel story? It will look different on a quick plane ride than it does with someone you have over for dinner. Here’s a possible outline.
Setup: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” (CCC 1)
Upset: Yet, we have sinned. Which means we have all done things we are not proud of. We have taken God’s good gifts and twisted them to our own ends. Scripture says that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) and we all know that lifelessness, that unhappiness that sin brings. But the verse continues…
Reset: “... the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:23) Since God is Good and God is Love, He sent a Rescuer to free us from our unhappiness, our lifelessness. Jesus gave His life for us on the cross and offers forgiveness for our sins.
This is how I might share the Gospel in two minutes, but your understanding and expression of the Gospel, insofar as it is true, is the best one. What is the Gospel in your words?
Don’t forget the crucial piece: asking for a response from your audience. Have they heard the Gospel before? Then I might ask to pray with them. Have they never heard the Gospel? I might ask what they think about what I just shared.
Unless we invite them to make a personal response, our sharing just remains a nice story on a shelf. But in inviting, we are opening the story to them as to a main character. We are introducing to them the King of the Universe. We are proposing a magnificent adventure of faith.
And this is only the beginning.
5. Make Disciples
Immediately following the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples go out to evangelize in Acts 2. Peter tells the story of salvation (note that he uses his own words and scripture) and converts three thousand souls. But the evangelists didn’t just ‘pray the sinner’s prayer’ and then move on to the next city. Notice what happens next. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Here we have the infancy of Catechizing, small groups, Eucharist, and prayer.
What followed evangelization was discipleship, just like Jesus’ last command to the Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
On a plane ride with a stranger, we might not have time to invite them to a small group or it might not be prudent to invite them to Mass, but we must be poised to share the Gospel and our relationship with Jesus.
But if we have the time, considering Protestant friends and non-practicing Catholics in our lives, we as the Church have the command to teach them all things. To lead them through the entire journey of faith, from initial acceptance of Jesus to the intimacy of the Blessed Sacrament.
To summarize, we must begin with the person, always with love. Then we share our story. And finally, we share God’s story, which opens up to the person. The movement is from the person, to you, to God, and back to the person.
The heart of God and the mission of the Church is evangelization. It is our sacred duty to share the entire journey of faith in Jesus - in Name, in love, in Sacrament.
“But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14)