Thursday, July 15, 2010


Sometimes I envy the Evangelical spirit of going out and making converts. They have no compunction about going door to door, heading out on university campuses, or standing out on street corners trumpeting the faith. Catholics tent to be overly polite (do not talk about religion) to the point that we are very poor at spreading the faith at all. But there is a point at which this is not an entirely bad thing.

On “This American Life” in an episode from 2009 entitled “Bait and Switch” the host of the show, an avowed and committed atheist interviewed an Evangelical minister who has a different approach to sharing the Gospel. It was quite interesting.

He spoke about their usual means of trying to bring the Gospel to non-Christians – or at least non-practicing – or perhaps non-Evangelical people. He described such events as advertising a party with music and free drinks (though the drinks were non-alcoholic) and during the event itself the guests would be “ambushed” with a pitch for Jesus. Unfortunately, the minister reported, statistically the results were abysmal. It doesn’t work.

The plan he was putting into place for which he is receiving much criticism within his circles I think is brilliant, should be adapted by Catholics, and is much less painful. He had a couple of suggestions:

1. Go to the mall (or place where many people gather) and just watch people. See what they are doing, how they dress, what is important to them. What are trends, what is the focus of people, what seems to be driving them.
2. Pick people to pray for. You do not have to tell them. There is nothing wrong with it. It won’t hurt them or you. But it might help.
3. Be friendly. Pull people into your circle of friends.

Saint Theresa talks about doing this with a particularly crotchety nun. Though she had difficulties wanting to be around this nun, every day she would bring her her biscuit, cut it up for her, and then Therese would flash her most brilliant smile to the nun which eventually won her over.

The minister says to forget the hard sell in most instances. Just be good to people. If there is to be an opportunity to be afforded by the Holy Spirit for conversion you will have already become a trusted friend that could more readily share the comfort of the faith as opposed to a stranger who ambushes them at a party.

The host of the show said that some of his closest friends were deeply religious and have not swayed them in the least away from his atheism. But the commentator pointed out that if there was ever a point in his life at which he felt it necessary to explore a life of faith, he has ready friends to turn to in order to ask questions.

It seems to me that if someone were to convert, a more permanent conversion would come about because somebody freely chooses to explore the faith, has had good example to watch, and has friends to turn to in their journey.

It may sound easier than going door to door but it is not. It requires us to live our faith authentically – all day – every day.


Anonymous said...

I've thought about going to a local university campus and setting up a table that says, "Free prayer for you or for someone you are concerned about. Confidential."

I wonder if anyone would be brave enough to come over to the table.

Sarah said...

Thanks, father, for writing about this. I have often been wondering to what level of evangelization I am called. And, though I was entertained by the culture of inviting people to your church I experienced when living in Georgia (except for the Catholics, not surprisingly), I could not see myself doing this. You are absolutely right that the quite constant presence is harder, but it fits what I might loosely describe as my impression of the Catholic culture.

Robert M Kraus Sr said...

the atheist said "if there ever was a point in his life etc etc etc" that's what other atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, have said. it's kind of hypocritical, if you ask me.


Adoro said...

There's always more room to let the hypocrites join the rest of us sorry hypocrites!

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Anonymous said...

Compunction...good word, Father.

Patty said...

This reminded me of something that happened to me when I was in college. I had a coworker at my campus job who was an evangelical Christian who frequently invited me to her church parties but I always had reasonable excuses not to go. One time, however I didn't have one and so I agreed to go. I planned to take another Catholic friend with me and we had plans to "escape" at a certain time and go to another party.

I was running late that evening so instead of walking the few blocks to my friend's apartment I hopped on my bike. I never made it to my friend's house or the party, instead I landed in the ER on a back board. Thank God I was wearing my helmet! (Which previously I did not use regularly.) Luckily I had only a mild concussion. After hearing what happened to me the coworker never invited me to her parties again. I think it was perhaps God protecting me (in a painful sort of way!) because I was not strong in my faith at the time.

Mark said...

The best way for Catholics to evangelize is to know their faith well and live it. When others see us living our faith they will, when they are ready, begin to ask questions, etc. The problem today is that our faith formation has been so lax over the last several generations that it's hard to distinguish a Catholic from a Protestant. I think this is because the ecumenical model is distorted in favor of Protestantism. This was done with good intentions, that is, to accomodate potential converts, but at the same time it weakened the many of the faithful who in turn went to Protestant denominations.