Arts and Culture

The Need for Pre-Evangelization

By Father Robert Lauder

Nobody knows who is close to God, and who is distant from God. However, surveys suggest that a large number of Catholics seem to have severed to some extent their relationship with the Church.

At this time the Church is stressing, through its leadership and through various diocesan and parish programs, what is called the “New Evangelization.” Of course through baptism, all Catholics are called to be evangelizers, called to live in such a way that others will find what the Church teaches attractive.

I agree completely with Pope Francis that the best way to evangelize is to live out in our daily experience the profound joy we have because of our belief in God’s love for us and indeed, for everyone. However, lately I have been thinking about what else might be done.

I have come to believe that there is a great need for what might be called pre-evangelization. My impression is that a great many people who have been baptized Catholics are not reflecting seriously or even accurately about what the Church teaches. A simple way of saying this would be that the Church is offering beautiful, attractive and exciting answers, but many people are not asking the questions for which these answers are profound responses. If this is an accurate reading of where many people are, somehow we have to help people see the importance of those questions.

Almost 2,500 years ago the great philosopher Socrates proclaimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. He went around Athens trying to disturb people so that they would reflect on their lives and try to explore how they should live. Socrates tried to broaden and deepen people’s consciences. I believe that today we have to try to do that in any way we can. Probably those who have distanced themselves from the Church do not attend Sunday Eucharist or celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation so we have to try to come up with other ways to reach them.

The film festivals and adult education courses that I have been involved in for more than 25 years are a small step in the right direction. I try to select beautiful films that dramatize important human problems. Some of the films are explicitly religious and some are not. My hope is that the films will raise important questions for reflection and also shed light on important truths about the mystery of the human person.

My goal with the Catholic novels is similar except that all the novels in one way or another dramatize truths of faith. One obvious problem with the festivals and the courses is that the number of people attending is small. Still I believe that making the festivals and the courses available is a good idea.

Those involved in a formal way with evangelization, who agree with me that some pre-evangelization is necessary for many people, will have to find ways for that pre-evangelization to happen. I do have one suggestion for a program that I have observed, that has often seemed to be successful and has reached many who might be distanced from the Church. I observed it 50 years ago in St. Finbar’s parish in Bensonhurst/Bath Beach.

The program is a parish discussion group program that takes place in the home. The program is relatively easy to organize. One of the parish priests or the religious education director selects 10 people who seem to have leadership ability. A paperback book is chosen and the 10 people meet once a week for eight to 10 weeks in someone’s home during the fall months. The sites rotate each week. People in the home, who are not members of the discussion group, are often influenced by observing the discussions. The discussion is limited to an hour and a half. Coffee and cake are shared afterward. The meeting is about two hours.

The members of the original group of 10 are told at the beginning that the hope is that each will lead a group in the spring using the same book. The pattern continues, involving a new a book for those who have already worked through the first book. At one time in St. Finbar’s parish there were 21 groups. It was one of the most exciting experiences I had as a parish priest.

I admit that when I hear about large numbers distancing themselves from the Church, I am saddened and tempted to be discouraged. Perhaps others also are tempted to be discouraged. We may need to remind ourselves that we do not redeem or save people. Jesus does that. I think we should do our best and then confidently leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

Lasse Halstrom’s “Chocolat,” is the next film to be shown in Father Robert Lauder’s Friday Film Festival at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation: $6 at the door.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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