Arts and Culture

Attraction, Not Proselytizing

by Father Robert Lauder

Third in a series

 

There has been a great deal of talk in recent years about the new evangelization. Everything that I have read or heard about it makes a great deal of sense to me, but I find that some people don’t have a clear idea about what it means to be an evangelizer.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis makes some clear statements concerning evangelization. One of his statements about sharing joy should be emblazoned on the memories of those who try to get involved in the new evangelization.

A Summons to All

Pope Francis points out that the new evangelization is a summons to all. He states that it is carried out in three principal settings. The first one he calls “ordinary pastoral ministry.” The Holy Father includes within this activity those who, animated by the Holy Spirit, regularly take part in worship. He also includes in this setting those who sincerely believe and express their faith in various ways but do not take part in the Eucharist.

A second area that Pope Francis mentions includes those who are baptized but do not show in their lives the demands of baptism. This would include people who do not have a meaningful relationship with the Church. My impression, and this may be due to my limited experience, is that the number in this group is increasing.

Concerning the third setting, Pope Francis writes the following:

“Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’”

Joyful People

Pope Francis is calling attention to something very important when he says that evangelizers should not seem to impose new obligations but rather should appear as joyful people who want to share their joy. I think the idea that evangelizers should be people who point to a “horizon of beauty” is marvelous.

Perhaps when people are encouraged to give good example, they might think, “What a trite idea. Is that all we have to do? Isn’t there something more important that we can do?”

I once thought that way, but I have changed my mind. I wonder if there is anything more important than giving good example. Every person I know who has experienced a religious conversion has been moved toward that conversion through some believer who made a deep impression or whose life and faith were so attractive that they challenged someone to self-reflection that eventually led to a religious conversion. I am not sure I ever met anyone who was converted because of an idea. It seems to be true that most people are most influenced by other people.

That the lives of evangelizers can point to a “horizon of beauty” is a wonderful image. The beauty of God and the beauty of God’s involvement with people ought to shine forth in the lives of evangelizers. No one is inviting someone to embrace an interesting set of ideas. Evangelizers are bearing witness to a relationship they have with God and are inviting others to encounter Christ. That invitation comes more through the lives of evangelizers than through their words. The pope’s insistence that the Church grows through attraction challenges all of us.

I received a compliment from a student at St. John’s University last semester, though I am sure the student, who is not a Catholic, did not realize he was complimenting me. I am also not sure I deserved the compliment.

The student has a relative who is Christian but perhaps finds being Christian more of a burden than a joy. The student must have described me to his relative, and she told him to ask me a question: “How come you are always so happy?”

I was stunned. I am a happy person, but I was surprised that the student was struck by this. I eventually said something like, “If you believed what I believe, you would be happy too. We are unconditionally loved by God. Why shouldn’t I be happy?”

I wonder if I have ever received a more wonderful compliment from a student.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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