When I wrote on evangelization and discipleship yesterday, an old question came to my attention: How do we justify this behavior?
Very specifically, I want to talk about something that bothered me my from my tour through Protestant Evangelical world, and that I think is a reason many Catholics view “evangelization” with skepticism.
Think, for example, of this illustration I gave in my previous post:
And then, get this: After the mature Catholic hits “play” on the DVD, he or she steps out into the hall and sips on a beverage. And then this one parent wanders out, and the mature Catholic listens while the parent tells her tale of woe. Why she hates the Catholic church. Why she can’t get to Mass. Why her husband left her and her dog is ugly.
You create a situation where one person in your parish can actually be evangelized.
This is a very intentional behavior. We’re practically laying a trap, eh? Of course in my example, we’re in a Catholic church on religious education night, so no one can complain that you have the ulterior motive of foisting the faith on the unsuspecting.
But step out into the wider world, and there’s this thing evangelizing Christians do even in public: We order our lives and our relationships with the planned purpose of sharing the Gospel with others.
Before I reverted, one of the friends who patiently put up with my anti-Christian and pseudo-spiritual rambling was a student in graduate school at a local seminary. She was preparing for the mission field, and one day she got a homework assignment — a project for a grade. She and all her classmates were instructed to pick a non-believer and befriend that person for the reason of bringing them to Christ.
This is what missionaries do, so the assignment was preparation for her life’s work.
This assignment bothered me. It bothered me that my friend would go on outings with her chosen unbeliever, even if the activity wasn’t something my friend herself enjoyed, because the mission was the most important thing. Of course it bothered me yet more to realize that I was probably a ungraded assignment, too.
What bothered me then, and I still think is a hazard among certain strains of Christians now (but almost never among Catholics, so just put that out of your mind, sheesh), is that it seemed like the person wasn’t a person anymore. She was an object. Someone upon whom an operation must be carried out.
This was not my friend’s intent, I am sure of it. But it seemed that way.
Sometimes it seems like Christian evangelization can be summed up as I love you so much I’m going to treat you as a mountain to be climbed, a conquest over which to be victorious, and if I have to meet you everyday at Bojangles’ and endure another one of those over-sweetened biscuits, that’s a price I’m willing to pay to meet my goal.
But this is not the thing. Not the real thing.
If that’s your attitude, you’re doing the exact same thing, different format different goal, as the inveterate bureaucrat who just wants everyone to complete their mandatory sacramental prep program with no complaining and no dilly-dallying, then all stand in line and behave like little ladies and gentlemen as we approach the altar because that will make your family in the pews so, so proud!
Evangelization is not about getting other people to do the thing you want to them to do. It’s not about crafting just the right technique to make that right moment fall together so neatly.
Evangelization is about looking at the person in front of your face, no matter who that person is, and gasping in wonder at the miraculously beautiful creation God has endowed with a dignity and a worth that nothing can erase, no matter how deep in the mire that person is swimming just now. You see that person, and you know for a fact: Here is somebody worth dying for.
And then you try for a few minutes to do something worthy of being in the presence of such a person.