Evangelization in the Modern World
Part Two: The Means
In the first part of Evangelization in the Modern World, we looked at how each Catholic is called to evangelize in their own way. This universal call to evangelization can only be taken up after a response to the universal call to holiness, for everyone is called by Christ to become a saint. When we are making an effort to grow in holiness, evangelization will be a natural expression of our love for Christ, and this witness is what the world so desperately needs. Recent popes have spoken extensively on the necessity of a “new evangelization”, one that aims to “re-Christianize” formerly Christian peoples using modern means to bring souls to Christ. This evangelization must also take place in the Church.
“It is painfully clear that many Catholics (and other Christians) have not been effectively incorporated into life in Christ. Baptized as infants, many have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel. As adolescents and adults many drift away from the Church.”
-Bl. John Paul II, Redemptoris Misso
When it comes to evangelization, there are countless methods one can employ. In this second part of Evangelization in the Modern World, we will offer some of the most effective and proven means by which the message of Christ can be transmitted in the modern age.
“Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its expression.”
-Bl. John Paul II
The Need For Christ
Many who reject Christ and His Church (ex-Catholic or not), think they know what Christianity is all about. Most everyone caught up in the lies of secular culture alreadyknow of the story of Jesus Christ. However, they do not fully understand the message of Christ and the truth His Church proclaims. Therefore, as Bl. John Paul II stated in his message for the World Communications Day in 1989;
“The question confronting the Church today is not any longer whether the man in the street can grasp a religious message, but how to employ the communications media so as to let him have the full impact of the Gospel message.”
Non-Catholics and secularists possess the religious impulse, even if they do not know it. Since we are made by God and “our hearts are restless until they rest in him” (St. Augustine), we are wired for religious expression and for a transcendental meaning in our lives. When someone decides to live without God, they inevitably turn to something else in hopes of fulfilling the religious desire they so strongly feel. For some, sports become religion. For others, sex or drugs become the ultimate source of longing. Many turn inwards and worship at the alter of the self. But no matter the substitution, people cannot deny the deep need to search for something that gives meaning to life, no matter how meaningless their methods may be. People recognize that there is a hole that needs to be filled, but they don’t know what to fill it with. Since the mass media and popular culture hold such a prominent position in society, this is where the people turn for advice on how to live and how to fill that emptiness they feel in their souls. “The world has its problems, for which it anxiously seeks a solution” (Pope John XXIII). If they only knew that the Church holds the answers to the their problems, they would be lining up in droves to embrace Catholicism. For the secularist or non-Catholic looking from the outside in, the Church seems oppressive. Living an authentic Catholic life seems not only extremely difficult, but a very negation of the personal freedom they believe to possess and hold in such high regard. They cannot accept that Catholicism actually enhances-not diminishes-the human person, and the fact that, through Christ, we become who we are meant to be. In some cases, their intellects have been so tainted by cultural lies that they have become unable to recognize what will truly ensure happiness. Others are simply ignorant of what the Church actually teaches, or they foster false prejudices against the Church for whatever reason. The job of the evangelist is to present Christ by whatever means appropriate to the specific situation. For example, one should be aware if a potential recipient of the Gospel is afflicted with exceptional ignorance, prejudice, emotional instability, stubbornness, or any other ailment that may be a road-block in evangelization. Rejection of the truth can grow stronger if your evangelization efforts become too forceful or disregard factors in a person’s life that may be holding them back to full reception of the Gospel.
Whether or not the aforementioned points apply to you depend on your mode of evangelization. Some people feel comfortable directly talking to others about the faith. Others take it to the next step and proclaim the truth out in the street like St. John the Baptist. Of course, this is a specific calling, and some are better equipped than others to do this kind of evangelization. It takes a great amount of zeal and courage, but this does not necessarily make it the best or most effective method for all. Evangelization in the modern world takes many forms. With the advent of social media and communications technology, the means necessary to proclaim the Gospel to literally all nations, is at our fingertips.
The Means: Communications and Social Media
“It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital continent”. Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the “Good News” of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people. Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. Our faith can respond to these expectations: may you become its heralds!”
-Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 43rd World Communications Day
The internet is universal, as is the Holy Catholic Church. Therefore, it is not unrealistic to say that the Church’s missionary spirit should be present and visible on the web. With the internet, we have the opportunity to reach even the most staunch atheists and secularists who would never think of walking into a Church. Since Catholicism is present in every corner of the earth, so also should it permeate and influence the “digital continent”. The atheistic mindset reigns supreme on the web. Therefore, merely “being Catholic” on the internet is a tool of evangelization. Every able and holy Catholic reading this should utilize the internet to witness to Christ. Think of what we could accomplish, if only as a testament to Christ, if we changed all of our Facebook profile photos to an image of Jesus or the Blessed Mother. What if every Catholic with a Facebook or Youtube account used it for the glory of God? Catholicism is overflowing with art, music, culture, and intellectual thought that lends itself to expression in the form of blogs, videos, forums, and tweets. The imagery of Catholicism alone is powerful enough to plant the seeds of evangelization through the social media. The culture offers its own selection of images that portray negation of truth, whereas good Catholic symbolism and art are distinct and beautiful. Think of a depiction of Our Lady standing triumphant over the serpent, or an image of Our Lord with hands outstretched upon the cross. Beauty is a component of evangelization, and not a few have been converted to the faith by first being captivated by a stained glass window or the majesty of Gregorian Chant. Many who raise intellectual objections to the faith are caught off guard and even pleasantly surprised by the beauty that Catholicism offers in the artistic realm.
Blogging, tweeting, and supporting other Catholics online can also be a means of Evangelization. Of course, this is always to be done in a spirit of humility and truth. Internet debates are another way to bring the Truth to light. Unfortunately, such exercises can be frustrating and time consuming. Nevertheless, presenting the Truth to the ignorant can at least expose their error to others that may be reading. For this reason, knowledge of subject matter and adequate use of logic is absolutely critical. When you defend the Church on (or off) the internet, you are the voice of the Church for that person. Study the faith by reading the Catechism. Pray to St. Thomas Aquinas or other doctors of the Church for clarity of intellect. Finally, as in all evangelization, be charitable, but not at the expense of the Truth.
Ideas for Evangelization
The internet and other media are powerful tools for the new evangelization. Here are some ways you can utilize them for Christ:
-Start a Catholic blog, YouTube channel, or podcast.
-Sanctify your social media presence by sharing Catholic photos, videos, or messages.
-“Like” Catholic Facebook pages and support orthodox Catholic apostolates (“Like” posts from Catholic pages or people you follow. On the newsfeed sidebar, your friends can see what you “liked”, and may click on it out of curiosity).
-Debate Youtube atheists (You may get only so far. Realize when it’s a waste of time).
-Download good Catholic apps and use them for evangelization. Some include Laudate, iPieta, Divine Office, and Vericast.
Although modern communication methods and social media are a key factor in evangelization in the modern world, other evangelization methods are equally necessary. They include:
-Speaking out when others insult or falsely represent the Church.
-Causally incorporating your Catholicism into conversation.
-Leave small crucifixes and Catholic tracts in conspicuous public places. Slip prayer cards into secular magazines at the store for others to find later, especially tabloids and publications that attack purity.
-Hang a rosary in your car. Set your phone wallpaper to an image of Our Lady or Jesus.
-Wear something that represents your Catholicism such as a scapular, medal, bracelet, earrings etc.
-Participate in pro-life rallies or marches. Pray the rosary with others in front of an abortion clinic.
-At Mass, be reverent out of respect for Christ and as a testament to your faith. When making the sign of the cross, be bold. Part of the re-evangelization of those in the pews is restoring a respect for the Eucharist. Receive kneeling, on the tongue.
You’ll notice that many of these methods do not include preaching on the street corner or going from door-to-door. While those who pursue such forms of evangelization should be encouraged and prayed for, there are many little ways of showing our faith that can make an impact as well. One can never stress the importance of prayer in evangelization enough, and the contemplative orders of religious in the Church show us that the vocation of prayer is a necessary, even critical, work of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux, the French Carmelite, entered a convent and stayed there living a life of contemplative prayer until death. Nonetheless, she is the patron saint of the missions. Prayer is one of the most powerful means we have to bring souls to Christ. Results are not always immediate or evident. Trust in God. He wants the sinner to convert more than you ever could.
“New Evangelization must surrender to the mystery of the grain of the mustard seed and not be so pretentious as to believe to immediately produce a large tree.”
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)
In the third and final part of the series, we will look at the special aid we are given for our task of evangelization from the Church, the Communion of Saints, our fellow Catholics, and Christ himself.