July 22, 2024

Bible Group Reading Together

Q. I appreciated your recent columns about what it means for laity to be missionaries, but I’m wondering if you can elaborate a bit on your answer in the second column to the question of “How do we, as laity, do that?” Can you say more about what evangelization looks like for the ordinary Catholic lay person?

Great question! One of the challenges with talking about evangelization is that there is so much to say that sometimes it can be difficult to offer something that is both concise and meaningful. So I welcome this question as an opportunity to say a bit more about that all-important question: “How?”

By way of an answer, let’s look to the evangelist, Jesus himself. And while there are multiple passages in the Gospels that would be helpful for our question, my favorite one is from Luke 24, verses 13-35, in which we read about Jesus joining two disciples as they are leaving Jerusalem for the nearby village of Emmaus.

What we find in this account is Jesus evangelizing these two disciples by employing an array of methods, some of which seem completely ordinary, but all of which have the same goal: to help this couple realize the truth of who Jesus is. As Jesus “walks with” them in a literal sense, he is also “walking with” them in a spiritual or evangelical sense—leading them to an encounter and deeper relationship with him.

This “walking with” is an age-old approach to evangelization that the Church has always used, following this example set by Jesus himself. Today, it often goes by the word “accompaniment,” but whatever the term, the method goes back to Jesus himself: meeting people on their journey through life and “walking with” them, with the goal of leading them to him.

Back to Jesus’ many methods of evangelization by way of accompaniment. A close read of this passage reveals Jesus using all sorts of ways to accompany these two disciples. It’s almost like he has an “accompaniment toolbox,” and he deftly employs the right tool at the right time.

And this is a full toolbox. If you give this passage a close read, you’ll see that Jesus uses these methods (and perhaps even more) as he walks with these disciples:
• He draws near to them
• He simply walks alongside them
• He listens to them
• He asks them questions
• He rebukes them
• He opens the Scriptures to them
• He reveals himself to them in the Eucharist
• He restores their hope
• He converts them
• He leads them to return to the apostolic Church

What fascinates me about what this passage tells us about evangelization is that there are so many ways by which we can lead others closer to Jesus. Far from being a “one size fits all” or “cookie cutter” approach, we find in the Road to Emmaus a much broader approach to evangelization, one in which both words and deeds are essential.

It’s important here to remember another principle from Scripture: we all have a different part to play in the work of evangelization. As St. Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 3: while one person may plant, another may water; while one may lay the foundation, another may build.

Dr. Chris Burgwald holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

In other words, I ought not presume that it is my task to walk with a given person from the very beginning of their spiritual journey all the way to its end. And given that, my task is to use the most appropriate “tool” for where they are on their journey. (For more on the steps we all take on our spiritual journey, I recommend the story on the Pathway of Discipleship from the April 2022 edition of The Bishop’s Bulletin, which can be found online at sfcatholic.org/bishopsbulletin.)

So, with some it may be that we are called to simply walk with and pray for them, with others to ask questions and listen, with others to offer the mercy of fraternal correction, with others to open for them the Scriptures, with others to lead them to encounter the Lord in the sacraments, and so on.

Taking this approach to evangelization into account, the goal for ourselves is threefold: 1. to accompany each person I encounter in my daily life; 2. for as long as the Lord desires; and 3. using the methods most likely to help them take the next step on their spiritual journey.

This is ordinary, everyday evangelization, which all of us are called to and capable of. May we respond to the Lord’s call and trust in his strength as we walk with others closer to him.