A: Ourselves. In order to evangelize we must first be evangelized. The word “evangelization” comes from the Latin word for Gospel, evangelium. It’s the “good news” of salvation through Jesus Christ. So it all starts with a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. That’s the goal of the New Evangelization. But you can’t lead someone to a place you’ve never been. That’s why Pope Paul VI called personal holiness “the initial act of evangelization.”
Evangelization and conversion is a process that is integrated with the liturgy and the sacraments. It’s about wedding ourselves to the Mystical Body of Christ in a real way which starts with baptism and continues on a daily basis through the power of the rest of the sacraments and a life prayer. That’s how we get our own house in order. People have to see us living the faith, otherwise they’re not going to pay attention. The great thing is, once we’re really reflecting the love of Christ, people will be attracted to us. Evangelization is never easy because we’re duking it out with the false glamour of the world, but never forget that God created us for himself. Everybody wants what we have even if they don’t yet know it.
Q: You touch upon many sources of text, and many saints in your book Louder Than Words : The Art of Living as a Catholic. Do any stand out above the rest that would help someone wanting to spread the Catholic faith?
A: Yikes. Choosing a favorite from one of those texts I consulted is like asking which one of my children I love the best. They’re all different and have value for evangelizers. But if you’re going to force me under pain of death, I’d point to a book by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, titled The Soul of the Apostolate. I find it highly motivating, particularly because he keeps kicking me in backside and encouraging me at the same time. It contains a wealth of wisdom for evangelizers.
Q: What was the driving force behind you wanting to write Louder Than Words?
A: This wasn’t the book with which I planned on launching a writing career. Most converts start with a conversion story, which I have yet to do. But when my publisher, Our Sunday Visitor, approached me about writing a book somehow related to the New Evangelization, this was it. My underlying theme is sainthood. I know it’s become a bit of a cliche for a lot of people, which is unfortunate because that’s the goal. It’s the only way we get to heaven.
I subtitled the book “The Art of Living as a Catholic” because the Catholic life is art in the sense that it is a beautiful, adventurous, exciting life. But also because it is an art that has to be practiced. Sharing with others how all the pieces of the Catholic life come together to create a mosaic of Jesus Christ is what I love to do more than anything else.
Q: As a fellow convert I always find stories of peoples conversion to the Catholic Faith interesting. For those who have not read your book yet, can you tell us a little about yours?
A: Wow. I’ll try to give the Reader’s Digest Condensed version. I’m a pastor’s kid. My father was a Methodist, then Pentecostal pastor. I’ve spent time in lots of denominations including Bible churches, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free, Charismatic, Anglican…I could go on. I attended a Calvinist high school, went to Oral Roberts University, and graduated from a Swedish Covenant university in Chicago. So I’m kind of a Protestant mutt.
Never in a million years did I plan on becoming Catholic because I knew they were all going to hell. But when I was finally confronted in my twenties with the issue of authority (e.g. Where did the Bible come from? Why do I believe the doctrines I believe? Why are there so many Christians who believe different things?), that began a process that finally ended with God pouring out enough of his mercy and grace upon me to help me see the beautiful truth of Catholicism. It took a number of years, mostly because I’m a bit of a cuss, but also because it’s not easy to shed years of accumulated baggage from a multitude of denominational travels. I also think it’s sometimes harder for devout Protestants to become Catholic because it’s akin to leaving the United States and becoming Russian during the Cold War…only your eternity is at stake. Thanks be to God he had mercy on me. I entered the Church fifteen years ago and have been thanking God ever since. My life is the Catholic faith because the Catholic faith is the life of God.
Q: You are also involved with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology whose website can be found at www.salvationhistory.com. Can you tell us about your work there?
A: The St. Paul Center was founded by Dr. Scott Hahn about a dozen years ago. Our mission is basically to teach Catholics how to read the Bible from the heart of the Church, to light a fire of love in their hearts for the Word of God. We do that through our website, conferences, books, academic journal, the Journey Through Scripture program, and a host of other ways. I encourage your readers to head to our website because there are so many great, free resources geared toward helping people grow in their faith. I’ve been at the Center since 2007 and am the Executive Director. So in addition to administrative duties, I have the pleasure of writing and speaking to groups all over the country (and sometimes world) on topics related to biblical theology. It’s a great job and I get to work with a lot of fantastic people.
Q: Louder than Words is your first book. Do you have any other ideas for books you could share?
A: I’m in the finishing stages of an as yet untitled book on prayer that will focus on recovering some of the more traditional and ancient aspects of the spiritual life. It will be practical, but I’m aiming to re-introduce regular Catholics to the issues of what prayer is and how it works (i.e. grace and providence), the three major kinds of prayer (i.e. vocal, meditative, and contemplative), and how they’re related to the three stages of the spiritual life (i.e. the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways), among other things. It sounds a bit heavy, but anyone who’s read Louder Than Words has figured out that I like to have some fun with spiritual topics. It will be published sometime in the Spring of 2014 through Our Sunday Visitor.
Q: Time for my signature-ending question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
A: Hmmm…I need to finish “Christ, The Life of the Soul” by Blessed Columba Marmion and dig deeper into “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross.” There are a lot more, of course. There will always be more!
To read my review of Matt’s book Louder than Words : The Art of Living as a Catholic, click here.
To learn more about Matt’s work please visit his website at MatthewSLeonard.com