A blog or two back we found ourselves beginning to discuss evangelisation – and our duties in this regard. The subject is so important that I am suggesting that we return to it and consider the issues.
We all agree that a central part of the Christian mission is to help others towards understanding and acceptance of the “good news” of the redemption which is offered to all of us. In fact the word ‘evangelisation’ comes directly from the Greek for ‘good news’.
The first stage – difficult to do but easy to understand – is that we should be leading our own lives in a thoroughly Christian way. We cannot expect our friends to be attracted to our beliefs if they do not admire our way of life. It’s only when they can say: he’s got something I want, that they may begin to be curious.
Do you have a higher standard of honesty in all that you do than the common mass? Are you readier than most to support the unpopular person? Does your view on political choices include a strong concern for the poor? Are you condemnatory rather than intent on constructive understanding? Do you forgive your enemies – including for example that trying boss who makes your life so hard? You can complete this list without difficulty – but you may, like me, make yourself uncomfortable when you ask such questions of your own behaviour. This is why Pope Francis speaks of “concrete” love. Stop talking about it – roll up your sleeves and do it.
You may have occasionally wondered why I am strict on this Blog about discourtesy and personal criticisms. That is because we are in the market place – getting tens of thousands of hits from around the world. I do not want to sponsor discussions which lead people to see that were are just as bad as everyone else. We must not even be just as good, we must be better. We know only too well that the laspses of those who claim a better way of life are judged harshly by the world.
We must be prudent when we speak about religious matters. Words like Christ, Jesus, salvation, God’s law, grace, and the rest, are appropriate in conversations with people who understand and value such terms. But for others they can simply be a turn-off. The common term ‘God-botherer” says it all.
This may sound negative but it’s a good principle in teaching to start where the other person is. And what we may have in common is a sharing of important values. You will recall that everyone with the use of reason has access to the moral law at some level.
Catholic Voices, the organisation which trains adult lay Catholics to explain our beliefs and moral positions in the media, uses the term ‘re-framing’. What they mean by that is putting an issue into a correct context where others can see that the Catholic position in fact meets the deeper values that they actually hold. Let me give an example.
We live in a society where rather casual sex is taken for granted; it is becoming increasingly common for couples to live together without the commitment of marriage – and the number children born outside marriage is nearly as high as those within. Marriages themselves are now very vulnerable to break down, and we are near to a situation where the term ‘serial polygamy’ begins to apply. So what values might we share?
One such value is that the breakdown of parental relationships is normally a disaster for children. Yet the evidence is clear that our society’s practices very greatly increase the likelihood of that disaster. We also know that for the couples themselves the breakdown of relationships is a tragedy – almost invariably for one, and often for both, the partners. In either case, lives can be destroyed – and the damage can be continued into the next generation. We are rapidly building a very unhappy society.
Many of our friends can see that this is so, and it is reasonable to assume that they would like to mitigate such damage. With such an understanding, they may perhaps be ready to think about the value of committed marriage, and see more clearly that sexual intercourse has an intrinsic link to the married state. They won’t rush off to be baptised – but they may perhaps think rather more deeply about the subject. One day it may click.
And of course we can think of many similar points of difference we have with those outside the Church which provide an opportunity to show what important human values our Catholic understanding protects.
This of course goes well beyond matters of morals. Most people search for some kind of meaning in their lives. Superstition may be only superstition but it bears witness to an instinct that there is more to human existence than chance or causality. The psychologists tell us that a tendency towards supernatural belief and religion is inbred in children. It may get choked and smothered on the way, but it is still a small voice inside waiting for someone to give an answer. (It might be interesting to discuss with others the Richard Dawkins view that teaching religion to the young is brainwashing. The facts tell us that it is the attempts to eradicate, rather than to foster and guide, this natural religious tendency which constitute the brainwashing.)
So just how seriously do our contributors take evangelisation? I am surprised to hear of people asking about opportunities to do so in a concrete way. At the top of this page you will see a heading The Apostolate of the Blog. Remind yourself that I suggested that, in this electronic age, we have ample opportunity to explain our beliefs. With one exception, as I recall, no one here was interested in progressing this. I realise that this is not everyone’s cup of tea – but is it no one’s? So lets discuss evangelisation in terms of what we will actually do – in whatever way is suited to us, rather than what we comfortingly think.