In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” As Christians, it is our duty to bring the Gospel message to all peoples. So that we might carry out this task more effectively, something that we need to have is at least a basic understanding of how a person thinks, their history, their culture, their language or manner of communication, their personal beliefs, their religion (or lack thereof), their ideology, and so on. If we simply tell people that Jesus is Lord and that they’re going to Hell if they don’t repent without communicating to them the love of God or showing even the slightest interest in the person to whom we are communicating, then we’re not really evangelizing. The evangelizers of the past did not simply go into non-Christian areas, drop truth bombs, and then complain when the people did not listen to them. If I were a non-Christian and a Christian treated me that way, I would reject them too. True evangelizers take the time and the effort to get to know the people, to understand them, to appreciate their culture, and to see whatever good that is already present among that people. Evangelizers perform works of charity and mercy, showing that they truly care for the people because they wish to communicate God’s love for them. It is during this process living amongst the people that evangelizers begin to tell them about Jesus and the Gospel and allow the faith to grow naturally, not force it upon them. It is when people have this experience of the genuine love of God through Christians that the faith becomes more convincing to them. The Gospel seeds that we sow can only take root and grow in an atmosphere of Christian love and mercy, not judgment and condemnation.
As Christians, it is our duty to bring the Gospel message to all peoples. So that we might carry out this task more effectively, something that we need to have is at least a basic understanding of how a person thinks, their history, their culture, their language or manner of communication, their personal beliefs, their religion (or lack thereof), their ideology, and so on.
This goes for any group of people whom we wish to evangelize. If we wish to evangelize communists, leftists, fascists, anarchists, atheists, or people who belong to other religions, then we need to try to understand their ideas and beliefs as they understand them and not according to our own ideas of them. We don’t go to conservative resources alone to learn about leftism or communism, we must go to the sources themselves. We don’t learn about fascism from communists but from the sources themselves. If we want to learn about Islam, we don’t go to a Catholic priest alone but to a Muslim scholar or an imam. If we misrepresent their beliefs in any way, they will be less inclined to listen to us because they can see that we don’t take them seriously. It shows a lack of respect for them. One of the abilities we have as human beings is that we can learn about different ideas and entertain those ideas without agreeing with them ourselves. This helps us to learn and grow. Evangelization is more work than people realize, but it’s worth it if we take it seriously enough. We can’t expect to convert people in a day or expect them to simply accept the Gospel without sustained personal effort on our part. As Pope Francis has made clear, we’re called to evangelize not proselytize.
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA