“I’m hesitant to evangelize, because I know that I’ll have to steer new Catholics so carefully, just to keep them away from the all the dissent within the Church.”
That’s what one faithful Catholic confided, when I brought up the topic of evangelization. Another such friend watches in horror as her parish falls apart from internal conflicts; she’s not sure she wants to attend her own parish, so how can she encourage would-be Catholics to do so?
We can pretend dissent doesn’t exist, and that these hesitant evangelizers are delusional extremists, longing for some fictional perfect parish. But it isn’t so. These are ordinary in-love-with-God Catholics, who have no opinion whatsoever about the Latin Mass or Eagle’s Wings, don’t know a canon lawyer, and never try to play one one the internet.
The reality is that the Catholic Church today is plagued by pockets of dissent, and by pockets of dissent’s poor relation, administrative incompetence. Certainly not everywhere! There are many fabulous priests, and many faithful, caring, effective parish and diocesan administrators.
But evanglization is a one-on-one, welcome-to-your-new-church-home process. If we’re going to evangelize, we have to address the real problem some Catholics face: Sometimes we live in a parish or diocese that feels eerily . . . historic. Historic as in: I saw Santa smacking Arius. Or: What is it that kept St. Catherine of Sienna so busy?
How do we think about evangelization, if our own parish has serious problems in its practice of the Catholic faith?
God Came Up With This Organizational System
The Sacrament of Holy Orders isn’t some tribute to the bravery of St. Peter, or the meekness of St. John — just as the Sacrament of Marriage isn’t a canonization of every man and woman who ever joined hands at the altar. But Holy Orders is the way God has picked to run His Church, and that way comes with a few sobering realities:
- The Church can be no holier than her priests. Just as your own family’s practice of the faith depends on the leadership of the mother and father at its head.
- The Church can be no more competent than her priests. Just as your own children depend on you to manage the budget, discipline fairly, and get dinner on the table every night.
- God has it in His pocket. He is fully informed of the situation, and is taking the necessary actions to bring all problems to heel.
Do we need to tremble? Yes. But not at the peril of the Church due to the misdeeds of Father So-and-So. Rather at the weight of our own responsibilities.
What can you and I, the average would-be-evangelizing laymen do, faced with shenanigans in our own parishes?
- Cultivate our personal holiness. It is our own relationships with Jesus, and only our own, that we can in turn share with others — both within and beyond the walls of our parishes.
- Remove those millstones from around our own necks. Be scrupulous in speaking and acting honestly. Gossip is the refuge of the coward. (I hate having to admit that.) We need to develop the habit of either addressing problems directly with those involved, or leaving it in the Lord’s hands.
- Pray for our clergy and administrators. Think that won’t help? Then how can we honestly evangelize, when we don’t even believe God answers prayers?
But I wanted to bring thousands to the Church, and I can’t even be sure Father’s Sunday homily is going to be Catholic!
It’s not fair, God! I wanted to do great things! As the Church’s legion of enthusiastic evangelizers, sometimes we feel like an aspiring five-star chef relegated to scooping out handfuls of rice to the starving.
Well, yes. Sometimes that’s what we are. Sometimes God plunks us down in a part of the world perishing in the great spiritual famine. We want to offer everyone the banquet of God’s grace, and instead we’re lucky if one or two stragglers get through the enemy’s landmines, and arrive at our little tent for half a meal and a cup of water.
Do you have the courage of a missionary? Then don’t be surprised if you’re sent to hostile territory.
Priorities Back in Order: Prayer as the Bedrock of Evangelization
It’s not fair, God! Sometimes I feel so helpless — like you’ve shelved me! All I can do is pray! Then thank God He didn’t stick your slack rear end in some cushy den of orthodoxy, where you’d just goof off all day. Prayer is the one great thing. Let’s take heart, recognize our privileged position for what it is, and be faithful to the work we’ve been given.
Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his appearing and of his kingdom: Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience — but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.
The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths. Be careful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.
2nd Timothy 4:1-9
Copyright © 2012, Jennifer Fitz