Thursday, September 03, 2009

We Preach Christ Crucified

I have a lot of free time on my hands during the winter months. This past winter I thought I'd attempt something productive, so I registered for a class at the Archdiocese's John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization.

I drove down to Denver every Wednesday night for eight weeks to learn how articulate the fullness of the Gospel (and thus be more deeply converted by it myself). Had I only been a little more patient, I could have signed up for the new distance course and saved putting the miles on my car.

The course instructor, Aimee Cooper, developed the material for her master's thesis at the Augustine Institute. She is a convert of ten years who was inspired by her time in an Protestant evangelism program coupled with a challenge by Abp. Chaput to develop a similar way to explain the fullness of the Gospel as found in the Catholic tradition.

During our last class, Aimee offered to work with any of us students who might be interested in training in door-to-door evangelization.

Now, if you knew me ten years ago, you know that I had a weak, nebulous faith; and if you knew me five yesrs ago, you know that while I believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I was content to be among the "Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words" crowd (a phrase, it might surprise you to learn, St. Francis never said), which usually translates to "Be a good person with your actions; hardly if ever preach the Gospel with words."

For whatever reason, though, I wasn't shocked at myself when I decided to approach Aimee after class about direct evangelization.

We worked from St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, a block from the CU Boulder campus, knocking on doors in the surrounding student neighborhoods.  In the beginning, Aimee led the whole presentation while I observed and prayed.  But by the end of July, I was the one presenting the Gospel.

When we knocked on the door and someone answered, we asked if they were willing to help in a survey of student perceptions of Catholicism.  If they weren't interested, we wished them a good day and left; there was absolutely no hounding or persuasion.

If they agreed to talk with us, we started a dialogue by asking about their religious background and their perceptions of the Church, the priesthood and Catholic people.  Doing this was meant to draw them into conversation and make them comfortable talking with us.  And we assured them that nothing they said would offend us.  We wanted honest answers.

Then we shared a "presentation of the core Catholic beliefs," that is, the fullness of the Gospel:  God as the Trinity of Love, the reason for Creation and Man, the Fall, Jesus' death and Resurrection, His gift of the Church and the Sacraments--especially the Eucharist--and our eternal destiny in the New Creation.  There's a lot to cover in five to seven minutes, but we tried to make it as succinct yet beautiful as possible.

Then we ended with questions about how the things we talked about in the presentation related to their existing perceptions of Catholicism, asked what we could do to make them more comfortable and answered any questions they might have.  Then we left.

We had several great encounters.  One afternoon we sat on a porch and talked with two guys for almost two hours; another day, my second time leading, we had a good discussion with two girls with Catholic backgrounds.

Doing direct evangelization has made me keenly aware of two important aspects of being a Christian disciple: spiritual warfare and humility.

Spiritual warfare may a little out of vogue, but it is very real.  It never failed that when every Aimee and I would sit on the church steps and pray or when we would begin the Gospel presentation, a loud truck or car with music blaring would roar by us, and we'd have to wait for the distraction to pass.

And then there was the day when we met with a non-practicing Catholic girl who stopped Aimee in the middle of the presentation to say that she wasn't interested in being proselytized (which is the furthest thing from what we were doing).  The next guy we talked to had been smoking pot before we knocked on his door, and then a few houses down we talked to two more non-practicing Catholics, one of whom had been heavily influenced by New Age and was utterly confused about reality.

We were so tired by the time we returned to the church that we forgot to pray, something we did to end all our evangelization work.  Then when I got into my car, I felt so exhausted, weighed down and oppressed that I wasn't sure if I could make the drive back to Estes.  And I found out later that Aimee had been feeling the same weight and discouragement.

When we directly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the sources of temptation to sin--the flesh, the world, and the devil--fight us in an attempt to discourage and deter us.  This can be dealt with by prayer and, as it happens, Christian humility.

The Gospel is not mine.  They are not my words; they are the Word of God, spoken by the Holy Spirit.  We ourselves don't make any converts or have any success; it is God who does that.  I am only His poor, broken instrument blessed to have heard the Word and believed.  And I am being remade in His image through the grace of His Sacraments.