Last week I was blessed to be asked, once again, to teach at the St. John Bosco Conference at Steubenville. It is a conference that helps campus ministers, youth ministers, DREs, catechists, and others learn how to impart the faith more effectively to those we serve. I enjoy myself immensely, because I get to work with my peers who are also in the trenches doing the work of the Church - evangelizing and catechizing.
Among the many wonderful conversations I had, I noticed something interesting. Catholics stop too soon when they evangelize. Here is what I noticed:
- Catholics are getting better at voicing the Kerygma - the initial proclamation of the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. More people are comfortable doing so and are learning more effective ways of doing it. In fact, one of the themes of the conference focused on integrating the kerygmatic preaching of the Gospel into what we do.
- Catholics are good at teaching others about grace. God is the first to act, He is the one that empowers us, His gift of grace is the reason we have the opportunity for salvation in the first place.
- Catholics are comfortable with free will working in union with grace. We understand that it is every person's choice to say "yes" to God's grace and that the choice is now up to us whether we respond to God's invitation.
- Catholics still stop too short when they get to this point. Rarely do Catholics then offer the opportunity to choose God!
It can be as simple as asking, "would you like to make the choice to turn your life over to God today?" or something similar. There are several reasons someone might choose not to do this:
- we are uncomfortable with asking because we don't know what it looks like ourselves.
- we find ourselves not wanting to be "pushy".
- we are afraid they might say "no".
- we believe it sounds "too Protestant", but that simply isn't the case - look at the biblical evidence - God invites, we are to choose to respond:
"Come, follow me," Jesus said -Matt 4:19Notice that not everyone chooses to follow Jesus:
"After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him." -Luke 5:27-28
"Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be [a]complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property." -Matt 19:21-22The apostles and the rich young man have to respond to the call and grace of God for it to work within them. Some choose it, some do not. Just as Jesus did, we have to respect their freedom as much as God does - which allows them the freedom to say "no". This does not mean we give up on them though.
The Eunuch chose to receive God's grace:
"The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him." -Acts 8:34-38Notice that Philip asks the Eunuch if he believes. It is his choice that is voiced publicly! The only place we Catholics have kept this explicit statement of faith is in the Sacraments - you have to choose baptism (or have your parents do it for you), choose reconciliation, choose to receive Communion, choose to marry, etc. The choice is paramount.
The first European convert, Lydia, also chose to follow Jesus:
"The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized" -Acts 16:14-15The jailer and his family as well:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household." -Acts 16:30-33There are many other stories like these - so, the ample Biblical evidence of giving someone the opportunity to choose teaches us we need to do the same. This is part of the evangelistic process of making disciples and the one where Catholics need to become more bold and intentional.
Something else that I should point out. Catholics don't believe that offering this choice to someone (and their acceptance of Jesus) is the end of their journey of justification/salvation. We are not a people who believe in once-saved-always-saved. Rather, this choice is the first step (or another step) in continuing to choose God.
One last point. Offering someone the opportunity to make a decision for Jesus is not taking anything away from the primacy of grace or the sovereignty of God. Rather, it is a participation in the grace and a reminder that God always acts first.
From the Catechism (emphasis added):
"Those who with God's help have welcomed Christ's call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world." -CCC 3Let us end with this quote:
"Faith is man's response to God" -CCC 26
"By his Revelation, "the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company." The adequate response to this invitation is faith." -CCC 142
"By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, "the obedience of faith"." CCC 143
"Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith." -CCC 166Time to go evangelize. Time to offer an opportunity to choose Christ.
FYI - I was able to incorporate this into the way I got to evangelize a man on the plane coming back from the conference and others recently.