Monday, June 9, 2014

Catholic Evangelization

I recently read Dr Scott Hahn's new book Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization and was again swept away with his clear and accessible prose, and again by the scope of his vision.

This book describes how the Kerygmatic movement of the 1950's began a change in the Church that gained momentum in Vatican II and began to sprout through Pope St John Paul II.  The heart of this movement (as indicated by the word kerygma) is evangelization, or the proclamation of the Gospel.

Dr Hahn goes on to describe just how evangelization is carried out, both in word and in deed, emphasizing that, while a silent witness can be effective, this in no way frees Catholics from the obligation of using speech.

We are reminded that evangelization is often associated with the work of Protestant Christians, but that all Christians are expected to take part in bringing others to Christ.

This is where he brings out how Catholic evangelization differs from Protestant evangelization.  Catholic evangelization is Eucharistic.  He unpacks statements by Pope St John Paul II and Francis Cardinal George that Catholic evangelizers proclaim a "Eucharistic Christ."  In short, the simplest street corner or coffee table evangelism to bring a person to Christ is in four parts:

  1. God loves us
  2. We have sinned
  3. Christ has died and risen to save us
  4. We have to respond with faith

That may be where evangelism in practice ends.  In Protestant thought, that person is "saved" and cannot be un-saved.

Catholic evangelism, in order to be Eucharistic, must go further.  How?  This kind of evangelism is more of an ongoing and deepening relationship with Jesus.  Dr Hahn likens this process to the three-part movement towards marriage.

  1. Courtship.  In this movement, a person is introduced to the other and begins to get to know the other.  Interests are piqued and time is spent together enjoying each other's company. This is analogous to the initial evangelization where a person learns about Jesus and how Jesus wants to be part of his or her life.  The person is evangelized.
  2. Engagement.  In this movement, the person takes a step forward and declares a certain conditional exclusivity to the other.  He or she is thinking about making a commitment and really focuses on whether the other is the person with whom he or she will spend the rest of their life.  This is analogous to an RCIA program where tough questions are asked and a full understanding of the obligations and perhaps quirks of the relationship are revealed.  The person is catechized.
  3. Marriage.  In this movement, the person makes a commitment to non-conditional exclusivity with the other.  For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.  This commitment until death is one where each person lives self-sacrificially for the other.  Every day an effort must be made to deepen the understanding, trust, and mutual availability for the other.  A natural consequence of this mutual love and intimacy is the production of new life though children.  This is analogous to being sacramentally brought into the Church and sustained via the sacraments.  A natural consequence of this deepening relationship of trust of and intimacy with Jesus is evangelization.  The person is sacramentalized.

Note that the final movement is not a once-and-done event.  It is ongoing. This is how evangelization is Eucharistic, it is sacramental in that it culminates (but does not end) with the creation of a new family and new life.  This is what sacraments DO!

In a related way, the concept of this book that grabbed me by the lapels and got in my face was something that I am sure I knew, but heard so differently here. It is what it means to be "saved." The question "have you been saved?" is one many of us have been asked and is an entrée to street evangelization. This phrase is where it hit: "Salvation is more than about being forgiven."

If we are fallen people, guilty of sin and going to hell because of it, we need forgiveness. Forgiveness is the washing away of our guilt, giving us entrance into heaven, right?  Not quite. How would being forgiven give us entrance to heaven?

Dr Hahn uses an analogy. Suppose my car breaks down and my mechanic finds two problems and agrees to fix them.  Now when I go to pick up the car, I find that only one problem had been fixed. If I then go back and complain, the mechanic will apologize for the mistake and I will forgive him. However, I will NOT take him home and write him into my will and make him a part of my family!!

Salvation is nothing less than sacramental adoption into God's family.  This means that not ONLY am I forgiven, I am made an heir. (Rom 8:17)  All that God has is mine and I am unconditionally loved.  Heaven is a state where I am living as a child of God.  Where can this happen?  After I am dead?  Nope! God has ordained that this happens here on earth in his Church.  At Mass, in the Eucharist, we are taken to heaven, joined in worship and at a meal with the rest of our family, the saints living and dead. The marriage supper of the Lamb is OUR wedding feast, because it is sacramental, it is Eucharistic! 

Let the feast begin!  And bring your friends!


  1. Excellent post.
    It's a great book - and I think if it is read in conjunction with his, 'Consuming the Word', there is even more 'wow' factor.

    1. Thanks! I believe Consuming the Word is the sequel to The Lamb's Supper, but I have read and enjoyed it as well. Our faith is so interconnected and the Eucharist is so central, it makes his books all resonate.

  2. This reminds me of the master of the house in Luke 13:25 who may have no specific grudge against you, but just does not know you and does not want you in his house. "After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.'"

  3. You know who else is evangelizing? protestants. While we are trying to figure out what evangelizing is they are on mission trips spreading their false gospel and leading people away from the One True Church. I'm sure the book is great and I will read it as I have read all of Scott Hahn's material. There are many opinions on how Catholics should the Faith, explain the Faith, a combination of the two but the one constant seems to be a fear of offending. We have the fullness of Truth and Faith and sometimes it seems we are apologizing for it. The Truth of Jesus Christ and the Church that He founded, the Catholic Church, is polarizing to non Catholics but that shouldn't mean we avoid proclaiming it. I wonder if we would do well to go back to our roots so to speak and stress that outside the Church there is no salvation. Because isn't that a key part of the Church's mission? The salvation of souls?

    1. I don't believe that Protestants are proclaiming a false Gospel, it's just an incomplete Gospel! Unfortunately, we are guilty of that also! I grew up Catholic and never heard about the Real Presence until I moved to a different diocese and heard a homily on Corpus Christi from a beloved, young, and gung-ho priest. By the way, he also taught us to evangelize through the Legion of Mary and we did go to prisons, catechism, door-to-door, and various other places like local fairs to share about our Faith and hand out sacramentals and other materials. I am especially grateful to the Hebrew-Christian Church I once belonged to who taught me that Jesus is my/the Messiah, and what that meant, and who also inspired me to love Sacred Scripture! Now I know who gave us Sacred Scripture, and Tradition and the Magisterium that I may be continually evangelized and evangelizing, so help me God!
      So let us never be haughty that we have a corner on Salvation: we have the fullness of the Faith available to us, and that should humble us! Let's also appreciate the good that our Protestant brothers and sisters do, and if we inspire each other, all the better!

  4. Just one note: not all Protestants believe that you accept Jesus as your Savior and then can't be "un-saved." I was raised Protestant, now, thankfully, a Catholic, and we definitely did not believe in "once saved, always saved." There are lots of Calvinists and Baptists out there & to hear them tell it, they comprise all of Protestantism. Only in their own minds.

    1. Thank you Judith, Trying to distill core doctrines of Protestant thought is probably impossible, but I was implying mainstream Protestant thought. Correction noted!

    2. Yes, I know and you're right about trying to identify core doctrines that all Protestants hold. The thing is, I hear that "once saved, always saved" from a lot of Protestant-turned-Catholic apologists - always those who journeyed from some Baptist/Presbyterian background - and if I had heard that as a Wesleyan Protestant (my background), I would have thought, well, they don't know what they're talking about.

      I'm sure, though, that there are more Baptists/Presbyterians than Wesleyans so that's why "once saved, always saved" is widely perceived as "mainstream" Protestant belief. But, I would point out that Pentecostals are now one of the fastest growing branches of Protestantism. Their theology can get *very* varied, but I doubt many of them take a once saved, always saved stance.