Evangelization is about a person, not a program

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Through personal interviews with individual delegates mirroring the rich geographical and cultural diversity of our archdiocesan family, last week’s Leaven provided readers with a taste of the experience of the Oct. 3-5 “Enflame Our Hearts” convocation of Catholic leaders. 

It was an extraordinary experience for all of us who had the opportunity to participate. I had been praying and hoping that the convocation would inspire and motivate Catholic leaders throughout the archdiocese to join the effort to create a culture of evangelization in our parishes, schools and ministries. “Enflame Our Hearts” exceeded my highest dreams and expectations.

I am grateful to the delegates, many of whom had to take a day off work in order to participate in the convocation. I am convinced a key reason the experience was so powerful for so many was the time invested by the delegates in preparing themselves individually and as teams for the convocation. 

Delegates had reflected already on what it meant personally for them to be a missionary disciple. Many parish delegations already had developed the outline of a unique evangelization plan for their parish, school or ministry.

Each of our keynote speakers shared individually with me how impressed they were by both the program and the delegates. 

They participate in major Catholic events all over the country. They were moved by the enthusiasm of the delegates to embark on an effort to ignite their local communities to radiate and share the beauty and power of our Catholic faith with others.

Our convocation coincided with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis, as a young man fresh off a conversion experience, heard the Lord say to him: “Rebuild my church.” Francis initially thought that Our Lord was asking him to rebuild San Damiano Church, which had fallen into disrepair. 

Eventually, St. Francis came to understand that Our Lord wanted him not to repair buildings, but rather to renew the hearts of his people. Francis discovered the means for this renewal was for him and his companions to live the Gospel of Jesus with intensity and purity.

It is not difficult to find many parallels between the church of Francis’ time with the state of the church today. In the midst of our economically affluent society, many people have been wounded emotionally, experiencing a profound loneliness leading them to discouragement and despair. 

Ordinary people in the United States enjoy material comforts that kings and queens of the past could not even imagine. We have at our fingertips an incredible wealth of entertainment options. 

Despite all this material prosperity, particularly for our young people, depression is at epidemic levels and the number of suicides is alarmingly high.

Throughout the convocation, it was emphasized that evangelization is not a new program. St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter for the third millennium reminded us that evangelization is about a person, not a program. 

Evangelization begins with our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. It is from this encounter with Jesus that all our evangelization efforts must spring. Evangelization is a mindset. It begins with an awareness of those within your immediate sphere of influence who are hurting and distant from God. 

Our first response to those suffering around us is to pray for them. Our prayer should then motivate us to action. 

We cannot solve all the problems of others, but we can make sure that they do not have to carry their burdens alone. 

Evangelization is first and foremost not about converting others to our way of thinking but, rather, authentic friendship. It requires having a genuine empathy and concern for the good of those that God has placed in our lives.

It is in the context of true friendship that the opportunities arise for us to share with others the difference Jesus and his church make in our lives. Our faith is never something that we seek to impose upon others, but, rather, something we propose to others by the witness of our own lives. 

We have a great gift to offer others — namely, the possibility for friendship with Jesus. It is up to each individual to accept or decline this gift. Regardless of their decision, our friendship and concern for them must remain.  

The convocation experience was awesome. I wish each member of the archdiocese could have participated. However, the real measure of its success will be what happens in our parishes, schools and ministries. 

Will the convocation be the catalyst to change the culture in our parishes? For this to happen, we need every parishioner to become involved. Your parish delegates are motivated and enthused about applying what they experienced at the convocation to the unique circumstances of your community. 

If you did not have the opportunity to participate in the convocation, I encourage you to inquire with your pastor and parish delegates asking how you can assist with the implementation of the new evangelization. 

I invite each member of the archdiocese in your prayer to ask Our Lord how he is calling you to be a missionary disciple. Invite the Holy Spirit to enflame your heart with the power of his love and to help you become a better witness of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our world. 

Finally, the day this paper comes out, I will be leaving on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. Just as I will keep each of you in my prayers during this pilgrimage, I ask that you keep us in your prayers as well. 

Leave a Reply