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Attention Catholics…It’s Time To Get Serious About Evangelization!


 

“The task of preaching, teaching, growing and living the Catholic faith in our time, in this country, belongs to you and me. No one else can do it.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput at the Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Sept. 18,2012)

On October 11, 2012 we officially begin the celebration of the Year of Faith, as promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei. The Holy Father has declared that the Year of Faith is “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world”. His hope is that this commemoration will “arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.” If you’re Catholic, there’s a good chance that the Holy Father’s words about professing the faith will make you a little uncomfortable. Why?

Catholics are known for many things, such as novenas, devotions to saints, love for the Blessed Mother, and abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays. One thing that generally doesn’t come to mind when we hear the word “Catholic” is evangelization. To be totally honest, the vast majority of Catholics view evangelization as a negative thing. There is a belief among many Catholics that our relationship with God is a highly personal matter and that “we shouldn’t impose our religious beliefs on others”. I must admit that I felt this way for many years. Even though I went to Mass every Sunday, talking about God to others was something for Protestants and “Jesus Freaks”. I considered it offensive to tell others how they should believe. Furthermore, I didn’t want others to think I was strange. Evangelization is “not something that Catholics do”. To take it a step further, many Catholics don’t feel the need to learn or understand their faith, let alone share it with others. While that may be a common opinion, is it really what the Church teaches? Not at all! As Catholics, we are not only called to study and understand our faith, but we are mandated to evangelize.

Now that I’ve either piqued your curiosity or caused you to suffer a panic attack, let me present some evidence to support my claim and give you some simple and painless ways to fulfill the Church’s instructions. On December 8, 1975, Pope Paul VI issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN), which addresses evangelization in the modern world. In this document, the Holy Father explains the importance of Christian evangelization:

…the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation. (EN, Paragraph 5)

The above paragraph spells out the importance of proclaiming the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. It is not something that is “nice to have”, but is necessary for people’s salvation! That’s all well and good, but isn’t evangelization the job of priests, religious and deacons? Not exactly…

Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole. (EN, Paragraph 15)

In other words, evangelization is not only the responsibility of the religious and clergy; it is a requirement for the laity as well. Every member of the Catholic Church is personally responsible for sharing the gospel message with others. The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, teaches that all baptized Christians “must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God”. This profession of faith involves both actions and words. While it is crucial to set a good example, the Church teaches that we must also share our faith verbally.

…even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. (EN, Paragraph 22)

Now that we know what is expected of us, do we need to stand on street corners and hand out Bibles? Are we required to preach at the office and quote scripture all day long? While there is a time and a place for that approach, there are simpler and less threatening ways to “get our feet wet” in the world of Catholic evangelization. Here are some simple ways to get started:

1. Learn – We need to learn about the Catholic Faith. There is no way that we’ll ever be able to share what we don’t know. There are many great online resources to assist you in learning about the Catholic Faith. Among them are the USCCB and Vatican websites. Additionally, my Recommended Resouces page lists many authentically Catholic websites and books, all geared toward individuals with a basic or intermediate understanding of the Faith.

2. Witness – Christian witness lays the foundation for evangelization. Avoiding foul language, making the sign of the cross and saying grace before meals, having a positive disposition, and avoiding gossip are all ways that can be used to set a positive example for others. These techniques can be used anywhere: in the workplace, at school, in the home, even at the grocery store. People may notice that there is something “different” about us and could begin to ask questions. This provides the opening to share our “secret”, which is the Catholic Faith.

3. Share – There are many painless (but effective) ways to verbally share our faith with others. We can offer to say a prayer for a coworker who is sick or in a painful situation. We can explain how our faith comforts or sustains us in time of need. We can casually relate a message heard in a homily at Sunday Mass. This technique not only gives us the opportunity to share a positive thought, but it also sends the message that we attend Sunday Mass. Non-threatening techniques such as these are often very effective because they do not involve “beating people over the head” with our Bibles.

4. Pray – The most important step in being an effective evangelist is often the most neglected. We should always remember to pray, especially for an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone who is baptized and confirmed has received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we need prayer and grace to help them grow. Prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments will allow these gifts to grow and will ultimately lead to greater success of our efforts. We should also pray for the individuals to whom we are evangelizing.

As we begin to follow the Church’s command to spread the gospel in the world, there are a few things that are important to remember. We should not become impatient or discouraged if our efforts don’t appear to be effective. The Lord never asks us to be successful, instead He asks us to be faithful. In the end, any success we have should be attributed to God alone. Also, we must never forget to be charitable when sharing God’s message with others. Our goal must be to win souls, not arguments. Turning to Sacred Scripture, St. Peter provides an excellent one sentence summary of what is expected of us as Catholic evangelists. Staying faithful to his instruction will ensure that we are fulfilling the Lord’s command of charitably spreading the gospel to all nations:

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Sometimes The “Healthy” Are The Ones Who Need Healing


 

Even though I’ve never met her personally, I’ve been touched by the plight of Angela Faddis, a young wife and mother who is currently in hospice care as she battles Stage 4 colon cancer. Responding to the plea for prayers by her husband, Chris, I used my website to organize a spiritual bouquet for Angela. To date, over 34,000 Hail Marys have been prayed for her by visitors to my site. Although remaining open to the Will of God, I have been praying for a complete miraculous healing for Angela. While the Lord may still bring about that physical healing, an unexpected phenomenon is taking place. Although Angela has not been healed of her cancer, many people who are praying for her are being healed. What’s interesting is that many of them didn’t even realize that they were sick! Chris Faddis recently posted this on the Support Angela Faddis Facebook fan page:

I’ve heard from several people this week who have begun going back to Church because of Angela’s inspiration. I can’t tell humbling that is as a husband. But I want to just go ahead and encourage anyone else who is reading this page. If you are feeling a tug at your heart to pray more, or go to Mass or Church, or to go to Confession, or to begin seeking forgiveness from someone or to recommit to your relationships… whatever you are being moved to do because of Angela’s journey – PLEASE DO IT! Be not afraid!

You have no idea how much it means for us to know that God is healing other souls through our family’s journey. Angela and I will be praying for all of you who are feeling a tug to get back to Church this weekend, if you need specific prayers, please message us.

Love,
The Faddis’ Family

As Christians, we know that Jesus can heal the sick. We’ve seen many instances of this in the Bible and in our own lives. What we need to learn, however, is who the sick really are. Many times those who are seemingly healthy are the ones most in need of healing. Spiritual sickness is much worse than physical sickness because it can affect our salvation. Although we are saddened when we look at the Faddis family’s situation, much good is coming out of it.

Through her illness, this brave young women is teaching us the value of redemptive suffering. From her bed, she is instructing us in a way that far surpasses anything that can be found in a text book. By accepting his wife’s illness, Chris Faddis is reminding each of us that faith involves looking past the difficulties of life and trusting that the Lord has a better plan. If you want to learn a powerful lesson, please take a few minutes and watch the following video. Let Angela speak directly to you and then listen to singer Tom Booth as he delivers a message that we all need to hear.

This, my friends, is what faith is all about…

Empty Churches – Where Should We Draw The Line?

 

“Religion is popular only when it ceases to be truly religious. Religion by its very nature is unpopular – certainly unpopular with the ego.” (Archbishop Fulton J Sheen)

Recently, an interesting article was brought to my attention. Appearing in The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), the point was raised that organized religion was on the decline throughout the area. More and more, organized religion is coming under attack, as evidenced by the recent YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”. While the idea of individuals creating their own personal version of Jesus’ teachings is nothing new, this philosophy is now creeping into organized religion. Evidence of this can be seen in a comment made by Rev. Tony Sundermeier, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Allentown (in the above article):

“We create a space for different ways for people to engage with God. I still think people are spiritual and religious. It’s just not orthodox Christianity they’re looking for.”

Reaching Out or Dumbing Down?
In an attempt to reach out and bring people back to church, some Christian churches are bending over backward to give the people what they want, rather than what they need. If the teachings of Jesus are too challenging, let’s change them so that they are more appealing. Strong evidence of this can be seen in the churches that proclaim the “health and wealth gospel”. Sometimes referred to as prosperity theology, the message is that faithful believers will be rewarded with financial wealth. While this can be an attractive message, it is certainly not the message lived and proclaimed by Jesus Christ. Additionally, some churches water down their teaching to make it more “user friendly” and appealing. In other words, let’s make going to church fun. If we take away the negativity and challenging doctrine, then people will come back in droves. Sadly, I’ve even seen this in some Catholic parishes and it is a big mistake. Christians deserve the truth and not a watered down message that “feels good”. For, although it might feel good now, a diluted set of religious doctrine isn’t going to help us get to Heaven! The question that must be asked is, although it may attract more people to church (and even this is debatable), what good does it do to remove the difficult, but necessary, aspects of Christianity?

What Does The Bible Say?
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do know that the Bible provides some valuable clues about truth. In his letter to Timothy, Saint Paul states that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). That statement implies that absolute truth exists, God wants us to know that truth, and learning and obeying it will allow us to get to Heaven. Given that statement, it’s easy to see why distorting that truth could be problematic. While I understand why this is being done, what is the point of getting people in your church if you’re not going to give them the teaching that they need to one day achieve salvation?

There is no doubt that the truth will cause division, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be spoken. What does Jesus have to say about the truth?

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53)

Furthermore, the words of Jesus as He commissioned the Apostles affirms the importance of always preaching the whole truth:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)

Note that Jesus didn’t say to share only His pleasant and less challenging teachings…He said to teach ALL that He commanded. This includes unpopular and difficult teachings, even if they’re met with resistance. Jesus encountered this difficulty first hand when He taught about the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. In His Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6: 22-71), when He proclaimed that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53), many of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60). Instead of backing down or modifying this crucial teaching, Jesus let many of His disciples walk away from Him. (Jn 6:66). Why? Because He couldn’t compromise the truth!

A Catholic Response
As Catholics, we are blessed to have the fullness of truth and, under no circumstances, can we change the truth in order to make it more palatable. Although we should become creative and try to meet people “where they are”, the “Good News” can’t be changed. For, in doing so, we’d be hurting people rather than helping them. Although it’s a challenge, we need to educate people about Church teachings. As many of us cynics have discovered, the teachings of the Church really do make sense once they are prayerfully explored with an open mind. That’s the great thing about truth…it’s TRUE!

Isn’t This The Clergy’s Job?
As lay Catholics, what can we do to combat declining Mass attendance? Isn’t this the job of the priests and deacons? In actuality, we should all be concerned about this matter. If you think about it for a minute, it’s not easy for the clergy to reach out to those who no longer attend Mass. Furthermore, the Church teaches that evangelization is the responsibility of ALL baptized Catholics. In his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict XVI observed:

The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.

In order to share the truth with others, the first thing we should do is learn, understand AND LIVE the teachings of the Catholic Church. Then, as charitably as possible, we should share these teachings with others. Our Church is blessed to have the fullness of truth and it would be wrong to keep this treasure to ourselves. With whom should we share? Everyone around us – our family, friends, coworkers and any others who we encounter in our daily lives.

Using The Internet
Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet? Why not use it for sharing the faith? One of the great things about the Internet and social media is the ability to reach those who no longer go to Church. Here are some simple and concrete steps that we can all take to share the truth with others:

Share good Catholic articles with others via email.

Post inspirational quotes on Facebook or Twitter.

“Like” solid Catholic fan pages, groups or posts on Facebook.

Create your own Catholic website, podcast, Facebook group or Twitter account.

Whether we do it on the Internet or face to face, we must never stop proclaiming the true teaching of the Catholic Church. In the end, that truth is what is going to save souls. Sometimes people will get offended and “walk away”, but that shouldn’t deter us from delivering the “Good News” IN FULL. It happened to the prophets, it happened to the Saints and it happened to Jesus…and that’s some good company!

“No one is truly poor but except the one who lacks the truth.” (St. Ephraem the Syrian)

Why Mass Is Boring

“Mass is Boring!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that familiar phrase.  Sadly, I have to admit that I’ve even used it myself.  As a Catholic apologist, I obviously need to have a response for this complaint – and I do.  The answer is actually very simple.  My answer to anyone who claims that Mass is boring is this…

You don’t understand it!

Make no mistake about it, this is a very common and serious problem among Catholics.  At the very least, it could cause us to miss out on the many graces that are available for the taking.  At worst, it can cause Catholics to leave the Church, putting their salvation in jeopardy, because they found another church service that had better music, preaching or entertainment. 

I recently was given an old missal that belonged to my wife’s grandmother.  At the beginning of the section on Holy Mass is the following simple, but powerful, explanation:

Holy Mass is the highest act of Divine Worship.  It is the renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary which merited the infinite grace of Redemption.  In measure as you unite with the Victim Jesus in offering this Sacrifice to God and nourish your soul with His Sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion, to that extent you apply to yourself the graces of the Redemption. (Mary My Hope Missal, Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1961)

None of us reading this were present at Calvary when Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins.  Every time we attend Holy Mass, however, we are mystically transported to that event, not as a spectators, but as participants.  We are invited to offer ourselves to the Father, along with Jesus.  The more sincere our offering, the more grace we will receive.  Why is grace important, you might ask?  Very simple – it’s what we need to get to Heaven!

So, the next time you hear someone complain that Mass is boring (or you’re tempted to say it yourself), I recommend that you think about this simple explanation buried in an old Missal.  I also encourage you to read as much as you can about the Mass, in order to increase your appreciation of this great event.  My Recommended Resources page lists some books that will also point you in the right direction.

“To me, nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass.  It is not a mere form of words – it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)

The Cost Of Discipleship (And Knowing When To Shut Your Mouth!)

Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’   “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  (Matthew 10: 32-40)

As many of you know, being a follower of Christ has a price.  If we are to fully live and teach our Catholic Faith, we’re bound to ruffle some feathers.  Our Lord makes this fact very clear in the above “pep talk” to the Apostles.  What sometimes gets missed is the fact that the Lord is most likely using hyperbole in order to make His point.  Rather than telling us to “go out and make enemies of your family and friends”, He is reminding us that the Gospel message can be challenging and will often cause division.  We can’t be afraid to proclaim the “Good News”, but we also have to know when to “shut up”.

Father John Corapi’s recent decision to leave the priesthood has been discussed “to death” on many blogs, including mine.  I’ve made my point (and I won’t rehash it here) and there’s not a lot left to say except “please pray for all concerned”.  While some people agreed with me, others vehemently (and I do mean vehemently!) disagreed with my comments.  I tried my best to respond charitably and I apologize if I failed.  In an attempt to  “stop the bleeding” and get people focused on the bigger picture, I made some folks angry.  While there’s a time for boldly proclaiming the truth, there’s also a time to shut my mouth and for me…

the time is now!

Until something significant arises, I’m going to reiterate that we should pray for Fr. Corapi and all concerned and I really mean it!  Don’t think for a minute that God can’t fix this whole ugly mess.  I’ve recently been getting the feeling that this situation could still have a happy ending.  Will it?  Not knowing all the details and the mindset of the players, I really have no idea.

I’ve learned a lot over the past few days.  Many of your comments really caused me to think.  Was I being charitable?  Was I causing division?  Was my pride getting in the way?  Should I have spoken out?  When should I stop speaking out? 

Now I’d like to ask you a question.  Has there ever been a time when you needed to defend the Catholic Church or caution someone about sinful behavior, even though you expected to be met with resistance?  What was your approach and how did it work out?

I’d really like to hear your comments.  I think it would help many of us as we try to spread the “Good News” of Jesus Christ in a bold, but compassionate way.

Listening To The Voice Of Jesus

The Gospel from today’s Mass (Jn 10:1-10) reminds us of the importance of listening to the voice of Jesus, but what if we can’t hear His voice?  Unfortunately, there are many competing voices speaking to us on a daily basis.  The voices of comfort, fear, greed, and the media are often heard loudest in our ears and drown out the voice of the Lord.  If we can’t even hear Jesus speaking to us, how can we obey Him?  As my friend Matt Swaim states in his book, Prayer In The Digital Age (Ligouri Publications, 2011), “Silence is the great fear of the modern age.”

Obviously, we first need to focus on hearing the voice of the Lord.  According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “It is true that the voice of God, having once penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder.  But before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath that scarcely agitates the air.  It shrinks from noise and is silent amid agitation.”  To put it simply, if we don’t make an effort to listen, we’re not going to hear the Lord’s voice.

Daily prayer and meditating on the Bible are critical to being able to hear the Lord’s voice.  Unfortunately, and I know that it’s difficult, but sometimes you have to turn off the tv!  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with watching tv, listening to the radio or surfing the Internet, we need to make some quiet time for the Lord each day.  Otherwise, we’ll never hear Him speak.

Once we begin to hear His voice, the next thing we have to do is obey His instructions.  Although it sounds simple, this is often difficult especially when He  tells us to stop doing things that we enjoy.  Unfortunately, many of our sinful habits are also a lot of fun!  However, as Catholics, we are blessed to have a body of clear Church teaching that guides us and keeps us on the right path.  In an attempt to determine God’s will for their lives, many people erroneously ignore the teaching of the Church.  That, my friends, is a mistake that could lead to disaster!

Although it may be difficult at first, making some “quiet time” for the Lord will gradually get easier.  You’ll even find yourself looking forward to the time you get to spend each day with your good friend, Jesus.  You’ll also begin to feel a sense of peace that comes from following God’s will. 

Give it a try and see what happens…

I spoke about this topic on today’s edition of Following The Truth.  You can listen to the podcast here:

Listen to internet radio with Gary Zimak on Blog Talk Radio

Who Is Your Neighbor?

On today’s episode of Following The Truth, I discussed the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37).  The lawyer questioning Jesus was well aware of the law, but still asked Him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered by referring back to the law, which contained the instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  The lawyer responded, “And who is my neighbor?”

The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we must love everyone.  This includes the “annoying” person at the office, your “short tempered” husband, the “incompetent” cashier, and even Osama Bin Laden!  Before you fall off of your chair at hearing that last name, he is still a child of God and desperately stands in need of prayers for his soul.   Everyone is “our neighbor” and the Lord reminds us that loving them is a condition of achieving eternal life.

Listen to the podcast:

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