Typically, this isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when a Catholic thinks about evangelization. But in ancient Greek, that’s literally what the word means: Good news.
More commonly, the word “evangelization” evokes images of a person on a street corner holding a sign about the need to follow Jesus – or else face the dire consequences of the world ending.
Or the word brings up images of such famous (and infamous) televangelists as Oral Roberts, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Binny Hinn and Billy Graham.
But as Pope Paul VI declared in 1975, the Catholic Church exists to evangelize. And Pope Francis has echoed the words of Pope John Paul II from two decades ago, when he summoned the church to undertake a “new evangelization” of the world.
So what does all of this mean for today’s Catholic?
This week, OC Catholic kicks off a series of articles that will discuss evangelization in its many forms. To get started, we sat down with Father Jerry Horan, OSM, vicar for faith formation, Diocese of Orange, and Katie Dawson, diocesan director of parish faith formation.
“Part of what Pope Francis is telling us is not to bring out a big rule book and say, ‘Here are the rules, now follow them,’” Horan says. “Rather, Pope Francis is challenging us to determine how best to bring the message home and help people access the message of Jesus. He wants us to understand it and apply it, and then live it. And really, that’s what evangelization is.”
Evangelization can take many forms, from running a Bible study group to simply talking to someone about your faith in the hope of getting them to embrace it, Horan and Dawson say.
One key concept, they say, is that evangelization isn’t simply an isolated act but rather a lifelong process.
The “National Directory for Catechesis” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies several distinct moments in the process of evangelization.
There is the pre-evangelization phase of first hearing the initial announcement of the Gospel, followed by initial catechesis, post-baptismal catechesis and, finally, continuing catechesis.
“It’s a process,” Horan says. “There’s the first moment of hearing the word of God and being attracted by it. Then it’s about understanding the message and carrying it deeper. Then you apply it by entering the Sacramental life of the church, and then you live it and go deeper.”
Several books have been written about the Catholic Church being adrift, with aging Baby Boomers making up the bulk of most regular churchgoers and millennials staying away in droves, begging the question: Who will be filling the pews in, say, 20 years?
Some well-cited statistics are depressing.
According to Peter Steinfels, author of “A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America,” one out of every three adult Americans who were raised Catholic has left the Catholic Church. Put another way, if ex-Catholics were to form a single church, they would constitute the single largest church in the nation, Steinfels writes.
Of those Catholics who regularly attend church, only about 6 percent of the average parish community is fully engaged – people who are “all in” and willing do whatever God is asking of them, Dawson notes.
These numbers underscore the urgency in Orange County and elsewhere of stressing the importance of spreading the “good news” – or evangelizing, Horan and Dawson say.
“The real key to getting more Catholics involved in evangelizing is to encourage them to find in the Gospel a message that is so meaningful that it becomes more powerful than other forces in their lives, such as the media or materialism and other ruling dynamics,” Horan says.
“When you talk to the average churchgoer, one of our biggest challenges is he or she usually is disengaged,” Horan adds. “He or she has been taught that the way to be a good Catholic is to keep the 10 Commandments, go to church every week, and put the envelope in the basket.”
Dawson notes an initiative has been launched in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to get more Catholics to embrace the “New Evangelization,” a push by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for Catholics to deepen their faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel.
Part of that effort includes three workshops currently under way that expand on the messages delivered by noted author Sherry Weddell (“Forming Intentional Disciples”) when she visited Orange County in January 2015.
Says Dawson: “We are very seriously going about equipping the parishioners in the pews to embrace the new evangelization.”