Evangelization 101: Witness -- Invite -- Welcome
So much talk about evangelization. We are asked -- more than asked, we are commissioned by Baptism -- to evangelize. This isn't new. Jesus gave us this work before He ascended: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations..." (Mt 28:19). Note the use of the imperative, go. Not, "Please go;" not "Some of you are asked to go;" not, "If you feel inspired, go... ." "Go!" The commission is over 2,000 years old, but perhaps we haven't paid as much attention to it as we should have. For many, this call to evangelize is new, and might be uncomfortable. A parishioner at a collaborative leadership training session said, "I don't want to be the person at the party that everyone runs away from because I'm 'evangelizing.'" Good point.
Someone recently posed this question: "What can the ordinary Catholic do, in everyday life, to evangelize?" The answer does not involve a soap box, street corner, or knocking on doors -- although some of our parishes are knocking on doors, just like the Legion of Mary used to do, and it's going really well (more about this later!), and it won't result in people avoiding you for fear of getting a "Church speech." Evangelization isn't complicated or intimidating. Basically, it comes down to three things: Witness, Invite, Welcome. Advent and the Christmas season are the perfect time to try it out. It's not hard.
Location: coffee shop, water cooler, gym, checkout line (even 12 items or fewer), dog park ....
Time: Monday morning
A: "How was your weekend? Do anything special?"
B: "The usual, went for pizza Friday night, ran some errands on Saturday, went to Mass Sunday morning."
Simple. Try it; see how it goes. Feeling brave? Take it one step further, add another sentence: "I love this week's Gospel -- always gives me hope;" or, "I saw a guy from the PTA Dad's basketball team -- haven't seen him in ages. We're usually at different Masses. It was great to see him again." A simple response opens the door for a question, comment, discussion.
Your neighbor/ friend tells you that he/she is getting laid off, is really worried, and feels like a failure. You express your sympathy, and you invite: "Come to church with me this week. Trust me, it will be a good thing. I'll pick you up." It's important to remember that our job is not to change lives or solve problems, our job is to introduce our friend to Jesus, in this case through participation at Mass, then, get out of the way. Jesus will do the rest.
Every Sunday, every person in the church is a greeter, whether you're standing at the door, giving out bulletins, or sitting in the pew. Each person is called to acknowledge the person beside, behind, in front. A nod and smile. We are the Body of Christ -- each of us. In this Year of Mercy, we are called to "Welcome the stranger" (Mt. 25:35), not just the new neighbor or the immigrant, but the person in church we haven't seen before, or haven't seen in a long time. A smile and a greeting convey that this is a community of faith who cares about its members.
Statistically, almost two-thirds of those attending Christmas Mass are not at Mass each week. Churches will be crowded. Our attitude can influence people to return, or confirm why they don't come often. Facial expression and body language speak volumes without speaking a word. A stranger (a stranger to you) may sit in YOUR seat, the space where you, Faithful Worshipper, sit every week. Gasp! Oh the temptation to glare! Resist the harrumph welling up, ready to burst forth. Instead, follow Jesus' words: "Rejoice and be glad!" (Mt 5:12) Be ready to share your hymnal with the stranger next to you. That young family with small children is both distracted and distracting. The children really want to be home waiting for Santa or playing with new toys -- they're antsy -- age-appropriately. The parents are distracted, sensitive that their children are fidgeting, nervous that they might be disturbing the people around them -- you. They wonder if coming to Mass this evening/morning was a bad idea. They're reminded of why they aren't here every week. Your attitude, understanding, and smile can mean the world. (Note how often we say smile!)
We're not shy about insisting that a friend read this great book, see this terrific movie, or eat at this fabulous restaurant. Mass is the greatest banquet and contains the greatest story ever told. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the courage to Witness, Invite and Welcome. Go!
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
- SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.