Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 22, 2000
In Helping The Good Shepherd, Don't Be Sheepish
By Suzanne Haugh, Staff Writer
ATLANTAIt is easier for the sun not to give warmth and shine than for a Christian not to shed his light.
This bold statement by St. John Chrysostom makes apparent the call to Catholic Christians to become instruments of evangelization, said Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, president of Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, and a speaker on evangelization.
That same challenge to tap into ones unbounded spiritual energy finds its way into the vision of evangelization put forth by U.S. bishops in their pastoral plan for evangelization, called Go and Make Disciples, released in 1992.
The exhortation to Catholics to evangelize has at its core the Gospel story.
When the story of Jesus is truly our story, we have caught his fire, when his good news shapes our lives individually, as families and households and as a church, his influence will be felt far beyond our church (Go and Make Disciples).
Evangelization, Pope Paul VI taught, is enough to transform culture, to move mountains not thought possible. That mountain may be the return of a son or daughter, a parent or a friend to Christ.
As the archdiocese embarks on its effort to evangelize those not practicing their Catholic faith, as well as others, the thrust of this effort must come from those within the church.
While Catholics today are more educated on evangelization, negative stereotypes and what can seem like a monumental task hamper a process that essentially entails journeying with a friend, family member or acquaintance. Father Scanlan diffused any negative associations with the meaning of evangelization and proposed a four-step formula on how one can do it.
Catholics may confuse the term evangelization with evangelism or being evangelical, words used in other denominations whose aim is to also bring people to Christ.
But the Catholic Church uses evangelization so people can understand that it isnt sufficient to just have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but that it has to be rooted in the church and lived out through the community of the body of Christ within an ecclesial context, he explained.
Parishes have used (the term) evangelization more and more, but if people are relating to the media or people who approach them on the street and say, Are you saved? they can still confuse that with the fuller term of evangelization.
In his talks on evangelization, Father Scanlan suggests a short, simple formula that anyone can use in order to reach out to people, even to strangers.
Originally put together by Father John Bertolucci, who preached at FIRE rallies throughout the United States with Father Scanlan, the steps are prayer, care, share and dare.
The first step is to pray. Ask the Lord to lead you to whomever he wishes and then, when in their presence, ask the Holy Spirit what to say to most help the other personthe best blessing for them or to lead them into the holiest, happiest way of life, said Father Scanlan.
The next step is to care. Reach out in a loving manner to other people. It could be on an airplane, maybe help them with their luggage or when lunch is being served or help them be more comfortable, maybe by exchanging seats with them.
There are different ways one can help someone, he said. Listen to them and ask them about their life.
Having been an attentive listener through a loving outreach, you can then share about yourself, the formulas third step.
You share very personally, not trying to tell them to buy this as the truth or to come down heavy, but you share about your own life if theyve shared about things or if theyve asked questions.
Simply respond with what has happened or made a difference in your own life, Father Scanlan said.
1 Peter says, Always be prepared to give an explanation of hope in your life, and thats what I do very personally.
The final step is to dare, or propose some course of action to the person. It may be a mild thing such as sending the person some information or inviting the person to a meeting or to Mass.
But you give them an invitation of some sort so they can pursue the next step should they be interested in anything you shared, Father Scanlan said. Its such a simple formula anyone can do it ... I havent had anyone object to it yet.
Various ministries exist within the church to serve as access points for returning Catholics. While some parishes offer mens breakfasts or fellowship, one place women might want to invite their peers is to a Magnificat gathering. This Catholic ministry provides an opportunity for women to meet for breakfast, enjoy uplifting praise music and listen to a guest speaker share her testimony of faith. Held at Mount Carmel Christian Church in Stone Mountain, it is not uncommon for women of other faiths to attend as well as Catholic women who have been away from the church. Olga Myers has been involved with this ministry, a product of the charismatic renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and evangelization for many years.
We have to be sensitive to who the people are that come, said Myers. What they dont understand they can never accept ... We receive them with love, with the attitude, we love you as you are, not as you should be.
Myers recounted a phone call she received from a former nun who attended a Magnificat gathering. She felt so good to be back. Even though she was not going to Mass, she said, Ah, that was a taste of what Ive been missing.
Like Father Scanlans formula, prayer plays an important part in the evangelization efforts found within Magnificat. Hostesses are assigned to each table and pray over every seat before guests arrive.
Unless we connect in prayer, we cannot give, Myers said. Theres no telling what God does. We just prepare the place for what God decides ... (Those who come) experience the love of Jesus in whatever way God wants them to.
Those involved in evangelization, like volunteers with Magnificat, should be present to those journeying back to the church without trying to steer the experience.
I think we complicate things sometimes. Scripture tells us its the Spirit that speaks, Myers said.
There are times nothing needs to be said, but knowing where a person is spiritually helps. Love is the key.
Anne Frederick, director of lay ministry formation and evangelization within the archdiocese, agrees that knowing where an inactive Catholic, or anyone, is in Gods time and Gods space is crucial to the evangelization process.
Be on journey with someone and let Christs goodness be revealed ... We cant push people. Find places when its meaningful and relevant.
The language one uses should be invitational and one must try not to make assumptions.
People we may consider inactive, they may not see themselves that way ... We dont know whats going on in their lives or what situations theyre going through.
Thats why its important to be in a relationship with this person to know how and when to walk with them back to the church, Frederick said.
While some opportunities to share your faith may come while waiting in line at the grocery store or walking down the street, most will be slow go and not the Saul experience, she said.
Its a process. I can put the seed in the ground, but I cant make it grow. I can help it, but growth comes outside of us.
Being present to the process of evangelizing involves understanding why a person has left the church, Father Scanlan said.
There may be pain, confusion or harshness ... You dont have to agree with it, but can at least sympathize with the hurt or problem at the time that caused the drift.
Listen and then respond to the persons situation, balancing that with your own personal experience of what keeps you rooted in the church, he added.
You should also always encourage that person as having the potential of being a very good churchgoer and as a benefit and blessing to others in the church, not a reject that has to fight his way back.
As a person returns to active participation in the church, it may become apparent that for some reason he or she may not be able to receive the sacraments. Let these people know that there are still many avenues to a rich faith life in the church, Father Scanlan said.
My mother was in that category. For 20 years she wouldnt miss Mass or the daily rosary.
Then her marriage situation was straightened out, he said, and she came back into the sacramental life of the church again. She was so, so grateful that she was greatly blessed with contemplative and mystical graces before she died.
The church offers those not in full communion with it the opportunity to participate in the Mass, to participate in all types of devotions and to receive a good review of your (marriage) case. Father Scanlan specifically mentioned marriages outside of the church that often keep people from receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist.
There are ways within the church (to investigate ones situation) through the Tribunal that is set up to help people much more these days.
People come back to the faith or join it for the first time for different reasons. Father Scanlan recently talked with a woman who had been Episcopal.
In her case, the saints are very important, the Communion of Saints, and she has such a love for St. Francis and for Our Lady. That is an added dimension to her, along with the Eucharist. It fits with her personal experience of what God has called her to.
Another vehicle for evangelizing those in and outside the faith, Father Scanlan said, is the Coming Home network, once a part of Franciscan University but now a separate organization. Pastors, teachers and laypersons can study the beginnings of Christianity using a reservoir of early church documents, which leads them to roots in the Catholic Church.
In the evangelical, pentecostal world, the tradition of Christianity from the birth of Christ to the 1200s or 1300s is absent. And when they read the Fathers (of the Church) and work all the way back and close the gap, theyre all excitedbut they also become Catholic.
Myers stressed the importance of evangelizing in our own homes, our own parishes.
We have to evangelize ourselves before others. Youve got to start with you by having a relationship with God ... You might be the only Bible someone ever reads.
If we do not go within ourselves to find and claim our Catholic identity, we may find it hard to authentically carry out the mission of evangelization.
If were truly living the way God desires, that is the greatest witness of our faith to others, said Frederick. For me, evangelization is sharing the goodness of God in my life and how a relationship with Jesus Christ is central to who I am.
The bishops pastoral plan reinforces this.
This is crucial: We must be converted, and we must continue to be converted! We must let the Holy Spirit change our lives! We must respond to Jesus Christ. And we must be open to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who will continue to convert us as we follow Christ ... As (the Gospel) compels us, we believe it can compel, by its beauty and truth, all who sincerely seek God (Go and Make Disciples).
Each day the sun rises. Each day is another potential day of joining ones journey with Christ together with someone elses.
We insult God if we say we cant help others, Father Scanlan said. Its like saying the sun cannot shine.
LET YOUR LIGHT
SHINE -- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, speaking at a FIRE rally in the
archdiocese in the early 1990s, encourages using prayer and friendship to reach
out to people with the message of Christ.
MAGNIFICAT -- Olga
Myers speaks at a Magnificat breakfast where the faith stories of women are
presented in an atmosphere of prayer, community and friendship, based upon the
example of Mary and St. Elizabeth.