In this post I want to take a closer look at evangelization, the initial steps in helping someone become an intentional disciple.
ISN’T IT ALL EVANGELIZATION?
Yes, in one sense everything that we do to promote and increase the faith is part of the Church’s mission to evangelize. We evangelize through religious education, the liturgy, blogs, prayer groups, music, bible studies, youth ministry, Catholic schools, etc. The word evangelize is roughly equivalent to Gospel-ize – it means increasing the influence of the Gospel in any context.
But the vocabulary of the Church sometimes uses the word evangelize in another specialized way to indicate the process of making new believers, of bringing others to a personal acceptance of Christ’s saving action and to a commitment to follow the path of discipleship.
DO CRADLE CATHOLICS NEED TO BE EVANGELIZED?
In the context of youth ministry, we need to be careful not to make the assumption too quickly that the teens we encounter have been properly evangelized. They may have a rudimentary faith and possess a basic disposition of trust towards God and the Church and yet still be in need of evangelizing. Pope John Paul II elaborates on this point:
A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and opposition is quickly created by the prejudices of their non-Christian family background or of the positivist spirit of their education. (Catechesi Tradendae, 19)
The words I have emphasized above are key – evangelization aims to bring about an explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ. It is quite possible even (and I know this because I was there!) to strongly self-identify as Catholic without having this personal attachment to Christ.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
This is something that I hope will become more clear as I continue walking through the Three E’s, but it would be helpful to give some initial indicators. Obviously none of us can read the heart of another and know with certainty, but the following are some indicators of someone who has experienced initial conversion:
Comfortable with the name of Jesus: Jesus is absolutely the most controversial name in all of history. Many students are quite comfortable talking about “God,” but a familiarity with the name and person of Jesus often indicates a closer relationship with him.
Aware of dependence on grace: A shift from self-sufficiency to dependence on God takes place in conversion. We give up striving for fulfillment through our own effort and accomplishments and place our trust in God for our present and future needs.
Takes responsibility for sin: Our natural (fallen) inclination is to depend on ourselves for our fulfillment and to excuse our sinfulness. Conversion flops this around! We cannot have Jesus for a savior if we do not acknowledge our sinfulness and need for a savior!
Hungry for prayer: Jesus is the food of our souls, but unlike normal food, we become more hungry the more we take in!