I had the privilege of attending the National Convocation on Evangelization in Orlando, FL a couple of weeks ago. What a gathering! Almost all of the dioceses in our country were represented by delegation. The keynotes were exceptional and most of the breakouts offered practical wisdom for going out to the margins of our church and society and sharing the gospel message. I have three takeaways from that event that I would like to share with you.
1. People come first, propositions second. Our church and its parishes and schools often do a fine job communicating the content of our faith, in terms of sacramental prep, religious education, and faith formation. However, we don’t do as fine a job relating with others on a personal level. which is a critical part of evangelization. In other words, we do a good job of telling people about God and God’s love for us, but we don’t do as good a job telling/showing people that we also love them.
2. Ministries are often too programmatical, too “one size fits all.” In our zeal to serve the People of God we oftentimes look for the panacea, the “one thing” that will solve the problem. The problem with this thinking is that people are not problems to be solved. They are uniqiue indivduals who deserve to be loved uniquely. Our approaches to ministry have not yet caught up with this reality.
3. We have yet to truly recognize who/what are the “peripheries” we are called to go out to. People in ministry know that they are called by God to reach those on the margins of the Church and, in a larger sense, of culture and society. But let me speak to the need to evangelize within the Church. We tend to think of the peripheries as groups of people “out there” and, more importantly, we pretend that we ourselves are not part of any periphery. Even those who have left the Catholic Church, their faith in God, their baptism still connects them to the rest of us. They are our brothers and sisters. Those who lead lifestyles that may offend us. They are our brothers and sisters, too. Those who are homeless or have been dislocated from their home due to war or political or social oppression. They are our brothers and sisters, too. Those with whom we disagree politically or who have made life choices contrary to the gospel of life, they are our brothers and sisters, too. Those who come from distant countries seeking a way to make a life for themselves and/or their families, they are our brothers and sisters, too. If we do not understand these things and do not act accordingly–by this, I mean with a merciful and respectful presence–we find ourselves on the most remote and perilous periphery of all: judgmentalism. Too much “Christ loves you.” And not enough, “And so do I love you.”