By Father Robert Lauder
There has been something on my mind in relation to evangelization for at least a year. It has probably been referred to in this column during the last few months. The problem, as I see it, has to do with what I would call pre-evangelization.
Put simply, the problem is how to get people who are unchurched to reflect seriously on their lives, on what their goals are and what they think is important. What I am afraid is often the case in evangelization, we present a beautiful set of answers – and I mean really beautiful – but people are not asking the questions to which those answers are responses.
How can we help those who are unchurched to reflect seriously and deeply about their lives?
I think that is a serious question. I have been trying to come up with some answers. Of course, the first thing I should do is to reflect as seriously and as deeply as I can on my own life before I start thinking about how I can help others to do the same.
Being a teacher of philosophy at a large Catholic university I think about what I can do in a classroom to help people think deeply about the meaning of personal existence. I also try to raise questions and topics in this column that I hope will cause people to reflect on what is important in their lives.
However, I have no illusions. I don’t imagine that people who are unchurched are reading my columns in a Catholic diocesan weekly. Those of us involved in evangelization have to try to think outside of the box.
A month or so ago, there was an essay in the Sunday New York Times about the relationship between religious faith and doubt. My immediate reaction was that there were some errors in it, or at least that there were points that were not expressed as clearly as they might have been. I cut out the essay and thought that I should respond through a letter to the editor.
A week later, I think that the newspaper printed seven letters to the editor pertaining to that essay. None of the letters dealt with the ideas that I was thinking should be mentioned. My letter, if written and sent, might have appeared and perhaps shed light on the problems in what the essayist wrote.
Of course, my letter appearing in print would not have changed the course of history! However, it might have been a baby step in the right direction.
Magnetized by God
When evangelization seems difficult, we should remind ourselves that people are magnetized by God. Our minds and our will are oriented toward God. Our efforts should be to help people recognize and commit to God Who has created us for relationship with Himself.
A Jesuit philosopher whose thought I like very much, Father W. Norris Clarke, has written with great insight about how we are magnetized by God.
In his book, “The One and the Many” (South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001, pp. 324), Father Clarke points out that no finite or limited truth ever satisfies us. As soon as we reach a truth we immediately have more questions that we hope will lead to more truth.
Always Wanting More
No finite good ever satisfies us. As soon as we achieve some good our appetite for good moves on to further goods. This pattern takes place throughout our lives. Father Clarke writes the following:
“Rather than endlessly repeating this process and never reaching satisfaction, I can step back, reflect on its significance, and then totalize the whole process and grasp intellectually its basic law: my intellect and will are such by nature that they can never be completely satisfied or fulfilled by any finite being or good. I must always implicitly refer each one to a wider, richer horizon beyond, to which I then spontaneously tend. It follows that only an unqualified infinity, or unlimited fullness of being and goodness could ever satisfy this innate drive, which defines my nature as spiritual intellect and will.
“Thus my very nature as a human person is to be an ineradicable implicit drive toward the Infinite, which I implicitly affirm and desire in all that I explicitly affirm and desire. As St. Thomas puts it with his usual terseness: ‘In knowing anything, I implicitly affirm God … In loving anything, I implicitly love God.’ Our task as evangelizers is to help change ‘implicitly’ to ‘explicitly.’”
I have to keep reminding myself and perhaps all who are involved in some program of evangelizing, that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is present in every effort we make.
Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).