By Meghan Vogel
As modern-day Americans, we live in a very busy and often self-centered culture. This culture lacks the value of pausing and taking silent time to reflect on life and the real gravity and sacredness of what it means to be a human person created in the image and likeness of God.
Our culture maintains some slight sense of Christian values which become more apparent during the Christmas and New Year seasons as we give gifts and share time with family and friends. We also see this as we make resolutions to try to improve ourselves or our lives in a meaningful way.
We feel a sense of longing for something better, for something more, but many people do not seek that in the person of Jesus who will ultimately fulfill them. This may happen because they don’t know about him or because their hearts are closed to him or the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church for some reason.
A sad consequence of our self-centered culture is that Christian faith often gets watered down to a matter of simply being nice to other people. No one wants to take the risk of offending anyone else by standing as a witness to real Christianity.
We see evidence of this in cards that say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than saying “Merry Christmas.” To avoid offending anyone who does not celebrate Christmas or does not believe in Christ, these cards use ambiguous words. And upon the arrival of the New Year, resolutions often consist of going to the gym more, going on a diet, going on expensive vacations, or other self-serving goals.
We can see clearly, then, that our culture values self-improvement and being inoffensive—being nice—to other people. But for us as devout Catholic Christians, is this self-serving way of life really enough?
The short answer is no, it is not enough. Christ doesn’t call us to blend in with the culture like chameleons in order to make sure no one ever feels offended by our beliefs. Rather, He calls us to live courageous lives of being set apart by and for Him. At our Baptism, we received our mission to be a priest, prophet and king for Christ. In our baptismal role as prophets, we are called to preach the Good News of the Gospel—to evangelize.
Now, of course, there is a balance to be found in the mission of evangelization. Before we can really begin to lead another person to Christ, we must make sure we are striving to know, love and serve Him ourselves in a deep and personal way. We must always seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer in our efforts and desire to evangelize others. We cannot rely on our own weak selves, and we should strive not to view the other person as our own personal project to keep chipping away at until that person converts.
Only God can do the work of changing a person’s heart. But He does want to use us as instruments in this process.
So, what is our mission as evangelists meant to look like, then? The simple answer is genuine kindness.
Being kind is radically different than merely being nice. Genuine kindness flows from a full life of the virtue, true joy and self-sacrificing care of Christ. When we are nice, we may reach out to a person and get to know him or her but then we never go any further than that surface level. In kindness, we reach out in care to the other person, we meet him or her, and get to know that individual. We get a sense of where that person is currently at in his or her life, and then we take that individual on a journey from there to the heart of Christ.
For some people, intellectual knowledge may appeal to them to lead them to Christ. Others may want or need logical explanations. Still others may be led to Christ through the sharing of personal experiences with Christ. When we get to know the individual, we will know how to best reach him or her.
The most important point is we must never settle for mere niceties. Being nice to other people is simply not enough. After all, if we truly care about a person, we should look beyond ourselves with a genuine desire for that person to know and love Christ in a deep and personal way and to have eternal life with Him some day in heaven.
So, every person does need to hear the full Gospel message as deep and radical as it is, because whether they realize it or not, their hearts were made for the Gospel—they were made for Christ!
Where is a good place to begin with evangelization? The first place to start is on your knees in prayer. You may know that as devout Catholics we are especially called to pray, fast and give alms, especially during the Advent and Lenten seasons, but the reality is we can always do these things in the ways that we discern God is calling us to do them throughout the whole year.
As this New Year begins, pray for your family members and friends who either do not know Christ, who have learned about Christ but still remain closed to Him, who have left the faith, or who believe in Christ but have not yet come to accept the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church. Pray that God will soften their hearts and that He will use whatever means to best reach them to lead them to Him.
Pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit about what your role in evangelization of your family members and friends is meant to look like. Prayer is extremely powerful and transformative; God can and does work miracles through prayer. You can also fast and offer up your fasting for the intention of the conversion of specific family members or friends. And you could give alms to a charitable organization that spreads the Catholic faith to the poor while simultaneously caring for their physical needs.
You should also know that there are two major ways to lead a person to Christ—through example and through words.
Leading through example is the most important way to lead others to Christ. If others see you actively practicing what you believe, they will view you as legitimate. They will notice the way you treat other people and the positive difference you make in the lives of your family members, friends and people within your community. As they witness this example, they will gradually begin to realize that there is something special going on, and they may just begin to feel drawn to it and want to become part of it.
Leading through words is secondary to leading through example, but still important. When you feel called to speak to another about your faith, pray about what you are called to say to that person and how you are to say it. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak through you and guide your words. If you ask Him, He will do it.
There may be occasions where you may be called to share your personal experiences of God with another person. At other times, you may be called to offer an explanation of your beliefs, or you may be called to invite a person to a Bible study or to attend Mass with you. The important point is to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit with courage, trusting that even if it seems as though nothing comes from what you do or say, God is still at work. The conversion is up to God, not you. You are simply His humble servant.
As you may be given the opportunity to communicate or gather with family and friends during the Christmas and New Year seasons, this time of coming together could be a perfect opportunity for you to share your faith with the people you love. You could reach beyond the surface level, go further than simply being nice, and extend yourself in genuine kindness to those people, as you share with them the Gospel message about Christ who is God and the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. He came to earth in flesh to die for us to save us from our sins, and He offers a newness and freedom far greater than any New Year’s resolution can bring us.
He is the real newness we long for. And He is also the real reason for our entire life, starting here on earth and extending into eternity.
Meghan Vogel is a student at South Dakota State University majoring in Human Development and Family Studies. She is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Madison.