I was at Lifeteen one Sunday night and the man giving the talk was telling us how we shouldn’t necessarily evangelize through “you’re wrong and here’s why”, but instead should simply be a living example of the Catholic lifestyle. And while I agree to some extent, I don’t think it was wise to tell that to this group of teens. Why am I under that impression?
I don’t mean to ascribe ignorance to everyone at that session, but I’d say the number of them are not well-catechized and are probably already being taught to “live and let live”. For me, I’ve been graced with a solid Catholic education and I can use my own judgement to determine whether I should evangelize directly or, as the man was saying, through example. And I know, in addition, the example to use if I’m not going to get involved in any debates. Not saying this to sound conceited–just making an observation. But with these teens, the majority of them don’t seem to know their Faith well and so that only leaves them with the option of example, since they can’t defend the Faith they only know a little about. And because they don’t know much about their Faith, their example, in turn, could very well be a poor one. To make matters even worse, this probably puts these teens under the impression that, if they don’t need to evangelize directly anyway, they don’t need to bother learning about the Faith, since they won’t have to defend it against anyone.
Did Our Lord “live and let live”? No. He always told people to “go forth and sin no more” and He said that unless we love Him more than anything else, we aren’t worthy of Him, and He said that if we deny Him before the world, He will deny us before His heavenly Father, and finally that, if we’re lukewarm we will be vomited out of His mouth. People take the exhortation to “gentleness and respect” of 1 Peter 3:15 and think it’s talking about “have whatever faith you want; I’m okay. You’re okay. Let’s get along as we are”. But since when is that alright? Almost everyone will agree that religious debate should be done charitably. I agree with that. But I don’t think it’s enough to be an example and no more. Christ goes so far in Matthew 10:27 as to tell us to “proclaim on the housetops” (now, obviously, we don’t literally have to get on roofs and spread the Gospel, but it points to the serious necessity of evangelization) and says later to spread the Gospel to all nations. It is not merely enough to live the Gospel for ourselves and hope we rub off on people. We need to spread the good news that the Son of God has given to us by telling it like it is.
Now, to be fair, I’ll grant that there are times when evangelization by example alone is sufficient. I’d say this would be when all other forms of spreading the truth have been exhausted, or when the person who needs it has made it perfectly clear that the Christian message means nothing to him. But this should only be a temporary fix: there’s so many ways to prove that the Church has it correctly. If necessary, start with the general stuff: that God exists, that God is involved in human affairs, that God has a specific truth, etc.
The man who gave the talk at Lifeteen made it seem as though evangelization was a hopeless affair. Telling us that example is better, he shared a story about a time Mormons came to his house and he said, “Hey, guys, look: I’m Catholic. And I’m sure you’re not gonna change my beliefs and you’re sure I’m not gonna change yours, so let’s pray for each other and hope that one day we can all be seated at the same table”.
OK, sure, that’s kind and doesn’t offend anyone. Consider this: the man didn’t know if he could have changed the Mormons’ minds. Fair enough. But he didn’t even give an attempt. Tim Staples was a former Protestant and one of the chief reasons he converted was because of a Catholic who boldly defended his faith. In fact, in his conversion story, Tim Staples even made the point that he had not met a single Catholic before that guy who was either willing or able to defend Catholicism, and for Catholic youth leaders to tell mostly ignorant teens that we should evangelize by 95% example just makes Tim’s point even more true.
Sitting back and hoping we have an effect on others probably won’t do much, even if it is necessary sometimes. Thoughts?