EWTN has posted my interview on The Journey Home to YouTube. Contrary to the thumbnail used, I didn’t take a quick nap during the show:
Archive for the ‘Evangelization’ Category
If you just can’t wait, though, below is a talk I recently gave to a Men’s Conference on Catholic Evangelization. In this talk, I use the story of my own conversion to bring out principles for successful evangelization. Interestingly, I gave this talk on February 25, 2012, which was the 20th anniversary of the day I decided to convert!
Check out this commercial our Diocese will be running on prime-time TV this Lent to promote the Sacrament of Confession:
My conversion story is currently featured on Why I’m Catholic. If you look closely enough, you’ll also find some long-lost pictures of me from my high school and college days!
In the December 11th edition of OSV Newsweekly, I wrote an article on welcoming estranged Catholic back to the Church:
As Christmas approaches, there is one thing we can be as sure of seeing as Santa Claus and incessant ads for holiday deals: full Catholic churches. As predictable as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, Catholics of all stripes return to their parish every Christmas, many visiting for the first time since the previous Easter. The Catholics in attendance at a typical Christmas Mass run the gamut from daily Mass communicants to irregularly attending families to those who are estranged from the Church but come out of familial obligation.
As practicing Catholics, what can we and our parishes do to reach out to those who are estranged from or perhaps just uninterested in the Catholic Church? While this question has many possible answers, it will be helpful to review some basic principles that should form the foundation of any outreach to lapsed Catholics.
Also, be sure to read the sidebar for the article titled “The Mercy of God” – it is a great story of God’s great love for us!
The latest issue of OSV Newsweekly includes an article I wrote titled, “How to Handle Awkward Conversations with Family Members.” As the holidays approach, it might be good to prepare ourselves for those inevitable situations in which our way of life conflicts with the way of life of our loved ones:
As my wife and I prepared to leave a family gathering, saying our goodbyes to everyone, one of our young nephews asked, “Well, we’ll see you tomorrow, right?” An awkward pause worthy of the TV show “The Office” followed.
The next day one of our relatives was getting married outside the Church, and we were the only family members not attending. Our extended family had come to an unspoken agreement that there would be no public debates on this topic, deciding that no discussion was better than a heated argument, but, of course, our innocent young relative had no idea of the enactment of this familial policy. We quietly mumbled something to satisfy our nephew and then beat a hasty retreat to our car.
This scene is anything but atypical in Catholic families today. Not uncommon are brothers who proudly announce their vasectomies, cousins who are practicing homosexuals, and adult children who cohabitate before marriage; almost every Catholic has some family member openly defying Church teaching in some area of his life — with no trace of shame or guilt.
A reverent and inspiring flash mob, proclaiming Jesus’ presence throughout the Bible and in the Eucharist:
Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist – one of only three birthdays we celebrate on the liturgical calendar. John is the voice which proclaims the Word. The great Scripture scholar Origen once wrote about the deep unity between John and his cousin Jesus:
[A]s the Saviour is speech, John is voice. John himself invites me to take this view of him, for to those who asked who he was, he answered, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord! make His paths straight!” . . . A voice must be perceived with the ears if the mind is afterwards to receive the speech which the voice indicates. Hence, John is, in point of his birth, a little older than Christ, for our voice comes to us before our speech. But John also points to Christ; for speech is brought forward by the voice. . . . In a word, when John points out Christ, it is man pointing out God, the Saviour incorporeal, the voice pointing out the Word. (Commentary on John 26)
Today we are called to be the “voice” which proclaims the Word and prepares others to receive him. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!
A recurring theme of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI is the need for Catholics – all Catholics – to evangelize. In many ways, BXVI is almost sounding like a broken record with his repeated calls for the Church to evangelize the world (for you young people out there, a “record” is the way we used to listen to music thousands of years ago, and if it was broken, then it would repeat over and over). Most recently, the Holy Father stated,
The Church, each one of us, must bring the world the good news that Jesus is Lord, the One in Whom God’s closeness and love for each man and woman became flesh.
Yesterday on my radio show Catholic Matters we interviewed Fr. James Brent, O.P., and he discussed the stages of conversion, and part of our discussion focused on how we can help others move to conversion. In other words, how we can evangelize. Fr. Brent gave three main activities we can do to help our loved ones come to conversion:
1) Pray for others – and especially have Masses said for the conversion of others
Everything we do must be founded in prayer, and if we don’t pray, all our activities are worthless. But Fr. Brent especially emphasized the importance of having Masses said for our loved one’s conversion. Mass is the “secret weapon” we Catholics have, and when a Mass is said for the conversion of someone, it has a powerful impact in his life. So pray unceasingly for those outside the Church, and especially ask that Mass be offered for their conversion.
2) Tell others about your Faith, and speak the name of Jesus
I’ve mentioned before how many Catholics overemphasize the importance of deeds over words in the process of evangelization, and Fr. Brent also noted that we are all called to tell others – with words – about the saving power of Christ. Anyone can do this – you don’t need a Theology degree or be ordained to do so. There are two primary ways we can evangelize with words: (1) tell others about what Christ has done in our lives, i.e. give our personal testimony; and (2) speak the name of Jesus.
Fr. Brent mentioned that when Catholics gather, we often talk about the Church, but rarely talk about Christ. The Church, however, is the means by which we are to draw closer to the Lord – Christ is the ultimate end to which we are reaching. And his name is powerful: throughout Church history, saints have recognized the incredible power which invoking the name of Jesus has. Do not be afraid to proclaim the name of Jesus in your everyday conversations – you’ll be surprised what happens.
3) Witness to the Gospel with your deeds
Just because many overemphasize the importance of deeds over words doesn’t mean deeds are not important. In fact, our words will have little impact if we don’t back them up with our lives. We must constantly strive for holiness and beg for the graces to become saints. By doing so, we witness to the great joy and peace that comes from following Christ, which will lead others to inquire as to how they too can obtain that joy and peace (which then leads to using words…)
Pope Benedict is practically begging the Church to evangelize, and by virtue of our baptism, we have both the obligation and the grace to follow this call.
News broke this weekend that Episcopal-turned-Catholic priest Al Kimel, who used to run the blog Pontifications, was to be received into the Orthodox Church on Pentecost Sunday. Fr. Kimel gained blogging fame a few years ago when he detailed his journey into the Catholic Church after 25 years as an Episcopal priest. Now he has left the Catholic Church to become Orthodox. In some ways this parallels the path of well-known blogger Rod Dreher, who converted to Catholicism in the 1990′s, then became Orthodox a few years ago.
Whenever someone converts to Catholicism after seriously practicing his previous faith, there is among Catholics a great rejoicing. We are happy that the convert has accepted the fullness of the Christian Faith and become mystically united with us in the Eucharist. We are confirmed in our own beliefs because usually these converts only come into the Church after much soul-searching, intellectual study and deep prayer.
However, how should we react when the same convert – who clearly knows and loves the Christian Faith – later leaves the Catholic Church? How do we handle the “double-convert”? This is a much more awkward time, and often one does not know how to react to it. Here are a few reactions one will encounter, each of which I would consider deficient:
1) Disparage the intellect or the emotional make-up of the double-convert.
This is the most common reaction in the blogosphere. People will call the double-convert’s reasons “worthless” or “intellectually bankrupt” or claim that the person is emotionally unstable. Unfortunately, this works both ways – if the person is emotionally unstable now, who is to say he wasn’t unstable when he converted to Catholicism? If his reasons are worthless for becoming Orthodox, why were they not so when he became Catholic? People convert for a wide variety of reasons, and no one can ever know ALL the factors that go into a conversion. The fact remains that some emotionally stable, intellectually capable people leave the Catholic Church. We may not like that fact, but it is dishonest to deny it.
2) Strongly imply (or explicitly state) that the double-convert is going to hell.
You’ll sometimes see Catholics in this situation quote a Church document that states that one who leaves the Catholic Church is doomed to damnation and leave it at that. Yes, it is true that one who knowingly and with full consent leaves the communion of the Catholic Church cannot be saved (Lumen Gentium 14). However, simply quoting Lumen Gentium or Pope Boniface VIII does nothing to help bring reconciliation. We can (and should) acknowledge the seriousness of leaving the Church, but we cannot make a judgement on the soul of another person. We do not know their understanding of the Faith, nor the state of their heart when they decided to leave the Catholic Church – only God can judge them. Catholic moral teaching as always stated that one must give full consent of the will and have full understanding of one’s actions in order to commit mortal sin – and only God can know when this occurs. We are obliged to acknowledge the grave seriousness of leaving the Catholic Church, but must do so without declaring the certain damnation of those who do leave.
3) Act like leaving is no big deal.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of those who damn the double-convert to hell are those who minimize the importance of leaving the Catholic Church. “Well, he is following his heart”. Or, “I understand why he left and God will surely be with him in his new church”. The problem of minimizing someone leaving the visible bounds of the Catholic Church is that it leads to a false irenicism which considers the Catholic Church just one of many legitimate Christian denominations. But as Catholics we must acknowledge the uniqueness of the Catholic Church: even though the Orthodox Churches and many Protestants are united in some (deficient) way with the Catholic Church, it is only in the Catholic Church that Christ’s Church subsists. We do not want anyone to leave the Catholic Church for any reason, for we know the Catholic Church, although made up of sinful human beings, is the best and fullest way to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
So how should we react whenever someone leaves the Catholic Church? In these situations Catholics should be filled with humility. First, because we must acknowledge that the sins of Catholics – including our own – help drive people away from Catholicism. We must strive every day for holiness so that we are never even a remote cause of another person leaving the Catholic fold. Second, because we realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are Catholics ourselves. Whether we were baptized Catholic as an infant, or converted later in life, it is a gift of God that allows us to be Catholic – it is not in any way a merit of our own doing. And it is with this humility that we approach the double-convert: praying for his soul and encouraging him to join us in drawing closer every day to our Lord.
In today’s first reading, St. Paul makes this bold declaration:
But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God. (Acts 20:25-27 – emphasis added).
What a liberating feeling Paul must have had: knowing that his life was soon to be at an end, he was confident that he had proclaimed the “entire plan of God” to those entrusted to him. He had no regrets, for he knew that the job given to him had been fulfilled.
Recently, the blogosphere was abuzz about the five biggest regrets of the dying. They were poignant, and were cause for reflection. However, I think as followers of Christ our potential regrets will be a bit different from the rest of the world:
Regret #1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Christian Regret #1: I wish I would have asked for the courage to live a life true to God’s calling, not the life others – or I – expected of me.
Regret #2: I wish I didn’t work so hard.
Christian Regret #2: I wish I worked harder to further God’s kingdom – in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of all those around me.
Regret #3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Christian Regret #3: I wish I would have asked for the courage to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to others.
Regret #4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Christian Regret #4: I wish I would have helped my friends draw closer to God.
Regret #5: I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Christian Regret #5: I wish that I had found more joy in living as a child of God.
When we are nearing death, are we going to be as regret-free as St. Paul? We are all called to be saints – will we be able to look back on our life and say that we did all we could to fulfill this calling? We are all entrusted with the task of sharing our faith with those we come into contact with – can we look back and say that we have always done so?
It is never too late to start. St. Paul could live regret-free even though he was once the great persecutor of the Church, because he knew that he could proclaim with all sincerity, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). No matter how poorly we have lived our faith up until now, we can begin again and live regret-free from now on. We just need to ask for the grace to do so and work to participate in that grace to the best of our ability.
Praise God and may many more follow your lead!
Today has been officially declared “Catholic Blogger Complaint Thursday.” As we all know, today used to be known as Ascension Thursday, but that has been moved to Sunday to allow Catholic bloggers a day to complain about the state of the Church. So we can now distinguish today from every other day, which are considered unofficial Catholic Blogger Complaint Days.
In the Catholic blogosphere, no one seems to like the fact that the celebration of the Ascension has been moved from its traditional date 40 days after Easter (when, you know, it actually happened) to the following Sunday. And to be honest, I don’t like it either. I realize that the intentions behind the move are quite sincere and well-meaning: people were afraid that celebrating the Ascension on a business work day would cause too many people to miss Mass on this important day, and so moving it to Sunday would allow more Catholics to actually celebrate it. But I think this was short-sighted and in the end actually causes more people to miss celebrating the Ascension because they are not going to Mass on either Thursday or Sunday. What do I mean by that?
Making a day like Ascension Thursday a holy day of obligation sets apart Catholics from the rest of the culture. While I do believe that Catholics are to be immersed in society in many ways, we also need to have a strong Catholic identity so that we don’t drown in the prevalent culture. There has always been a thin line balancing our need to be part of the culture yet separate from it. The early Christian Diognetus wrote,
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign
Yet he followed this description with the following:
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
In other words, Catholics are to naturally blend into society, but, simply by virtue of following Christ, they will form a Catholic identity which will cause them to sometimes not “fit in” to the greater culture.
And having a specific Catholic identity is a powerful evangelization tool. When a Catholic must rework their schedule on Ascension Thursday to make it to Mass, he sends a message both to those around him and to himself: there is more to this world than work and priming the economical engine. And we see a perfect example of the power of Catholic identity each year on Ash Wednesday: although it is not a holy day of obligation, more Catholics attend Mass that day than some other actual obliged days. I remember my first Ash Wednesday after I began my professional career. I went to Mass early in the morning, so I had my ashes on my forehead for the whole day. Most of the morning, non-Catholics would do double-takes but did not say anything. Catholics in the office, however, would see me and say, “I forgot it was Ash Wednesday! I need to go to Mass at lunchtime!” They were reminded of their Catholic identity and decided to make an effort to stay connected to the Church. Simply going to Mass on a day other than Sunday drew others to do the same.
I think a similar thing would happen on Ascension Thursday. When you tell your co-workers that you have to go to Mass at lunchtime, it sends a signal of your life’s priorities. This opens you up for conversations and inquiries about your Faith, which can lead others to it.
I have an exciting announcement to make: I have taken a job as the Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Venice, Florida! My family will be moving down to Florida in early August to begin the job.
As regular readers of my blog will know, over 17 years ago I began the Master’s in Theology program at Franciscan University of Steubenville. My original plan was to find full-time work in the Church or an apostolate. Of course, life intervened and I had to put my studies on hold. So for the past 15 years I have worked in software development and raised my family. However, I never lost my desire to serve the Church full-time. For the past few years I have been doing much “part-time” apostolate: writing books and articles, hosting this blog, running the evangelization efforts at my parish, etc. I also have been finishing my Master’s degree, which I just received a few weeks ago. So I thought now was a good time to make the move to full-time apostolate.
Why this particular position? Simply put, I was very impressed with the bishop of Venice, Bishop Frank Dewane. He has a deep love for the Church and a passion for spreading the Catholic Faith. In talking to him, I realized that here was a successor to the apostles who has an apostolic zeal. And I hear the weather there isn’t too shabby.
I still plan on writing books and articles even after moving into this position. Most likely, I will also continue blogging, but probably for the Venice Diocese instead of here. But I’ll keep everyone up-to-date as things progress.
Also, if any of my readers live in the Venice/Sarasota area, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at email@example.com.
Please pray for me and my family as we make this big move!
Recently, the Holy Father urged all Christians to embrace our call as evangelizers of the modern world. Evangelization today primarily involves combating the indifference of the world to the Gospel. The message of the Church, according to the Pope, “needs to be renewed today in order to convince modern persons, who are often distracted and insensitive.”
I think that description – “distracted and insensitive” – is very apt for modern man. Too many people are modern-day Esaus, who exchange their birthright as children of God for the mess of porridge that is modern entertainment, news and technology. And I think, as Catholics, we need to look and see if we too fall into that same distraction and insensitivity. A few questions we can ask ourselves:
- Do we go from place to place with our faces buried in our cell phones or other gadgets?
I have always been surprised by how often I’m able to engage people in public settings – airports, subway stations, etc. – but of course that would not be possible if I don’t even look at them! Today we receive a constant stream of information, but in doing so we can become distracted from the more important things of life.
- Do we spend time each day in quiet meditation and prayer?
I know first-hand how quickly modern technology can ensnare you. The gadget that is purchased to make life easier becomes the chain around your neck. We must not allow the allure of technology to keep us from spending quiet time with the Lord – and with other people.
- Are we insensitive to the troubles of others?
We live in a self-centered world, and every message of modern culture cries out, “I gotta look out after me!” But the essence of Trinitarian love is self-gift, in which we pour ourselves out to others. Do we care about the plight of others, even those we don’t know well? My wife has been going to the same hair stylist for a few years, and over that time she has engaged him in many conversations. Recently his son tragically died, and my wife had a Mass offered for the son and sent her stylist a card. He was very touched by the gesture. Would this had happened if my wife had simply ignored her stylist?
Before we can effectively spread the Gospel to others, we must live it in our own lives. Take some time today to ask yourself how you can become less distracted by the things of this world and more focused on the things of God.