During the gentle rhythms of this Ordinary Time, I’m prompted to ask what should be an extraordinary, even unthinkable question.
Why don’t Catholics evangelize?
I know that I immediately must hang some caveats off of that incendiary query. Some Catholics do evangelize. Catholics apologetics groups have grown at impressive rates over the past decade or so. Every single diocese has an Evangelization Office in the chancery, and once last year, a Catholic invited a non-Catholic to Mass.
But is that all there is?
It seems so. It seems as if when you think of the whole concept of evangelization, of spreading the Good News outside your own faith community, “Catholic” is not exactly the first group you’d associate with that activity.
Why is that the only place most parishes advertise the RCIA is in the parish bulletin? What sense does that make? Sure, the Presbyterian who’s been dutifully and lovingly attending Mass with his Catholic wife for twenty years is going to see it and welcome the invitation to take the plunge, but who else? Isn’t that a little like distributing invitations to a birthday party to the people who are already there?
It seems as if evangelization is the name of the game, reaching out, rather than only in, would be a priority. Bulletin notices are dandy, but what about the newspaper? Radio? Even television?
I’ve often wondered, for example, why I don’t see newspaper ads, sponsored by dioceses or, if a diocese is quite large, by the local deanery. That ad would present readers with the Good News of salvation in Christ and the perhaps startling news that the fullest expression of that Good News is to be found in your local Catholic Church. Interested? The ad would finish with a listing of open Inquiry Nights at the local parishes, along with appropriate telephone numbers and website addresses.
Would that really be so hard?
Of course there are lots more means of evangelization, and perhaps your diocese or parish is using them. But I think most of us would have to admit that we Catholics, either individually or as a group, aren’t exactly filled with the urgency to spread the Good News that Paul speaks of in Corinthians, impelled by the “love of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Taking a close, honest look at our Church, the reasons for our insularity should be pretty clear.
First, one of the unfortunate effects of the Second Vatican Council was not the unity Blessed Pope John XXIII undoubtedly envisioned, but its exact opposite: polarity, division and a tragic politicization of almost every aspect of church life. Clerics and laity both have spent so much time at war with each other from everything from female altar servers to liturgical music to Catholic education, we’re simply too exhausted to reach out.
Secondly, our sense of the need to reach out has been dramatically diminished. Face it. Most Catholics swim deep in the waters of tolerance, and have basically become universalists. That is, they frankly don’t believe that what you believe has anything to do with your salvation. Why invite anyone to share in the life of Christ in the Catholic Church when deep down, you believe that their Baptist or Buddhist way, “sincerely” followed, will get them to the same place anyway?
Third, we have the uncomfortable truth that a startling number of Catholics don’t believe large chunks of what the Church teaches. This, of course, includes the some elements of leadership of the Church, the folks who would be signing the checks to put those nifty ads in the paper.
How can you invite others to seriously considering believing what you don’t believe yourself? How can you present this Church as the embodiment of the Truth, when you believe it’s wrong on a host of issues, from the ordination of women, to artificial contraception, to divorce and remarriage, to abortion, to the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and even to, sad to say, its antique insistence on the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God and the whole Christian sense of what saves us?
Answer? You can’t. Rather, what you end up doing, because you know you should be doing something, is emphasizing all kinds of other things, mostly community, a community that has little to do with authentic Catholic Christian community and everything to do with attempting to evoking emotions that the Protestants down the street do much better, if you want to know the truth.
In the end, of course, the question goes much deeper than, “Why don’t we evangelize?”
It goes all the way down to the most basic question of all:
“Why don’t we believe?”