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Making Evangelizers  
Jim M. Schellman  
   

In the United States, research shows that the average Catholic parish has about 5,000 "unchurched" people within its boundaries. Some of this group have never been part of a religious tradition, while others have been but no longer are. Of these, 5,000 people, about 3,000 indicate that they would be open to considering the possibility of a religious affiliation.

This information is never far from my mind when doing formation work on the Church's vision of evangelization and how this seeds the terrain that leads people into the precatechumenate in our parishes. Against the backdrop of this reportedly fertile terrain, I am struck by the negative images people often associate with the word "evangelization." It seems that many of us, when trying to grapple with the vision of evangelization, know better what we don't want to be than what we would like to be as evangelizers. Clearly, when it comes to our faith we don't want to be part of anything that smacks of the "hard sell" experiences we have all had.

In light of the reported openness to dialogue about faith among many in our neighborhoods and communities, how might we move toward what we are called to become? A first step in helping others to have a more conscious part in the vision of evangelization is to help them to rediscover the love relationship they have with God in Christ. This is less a question of loving and being loved than it is of simply being "in love" with the Lord. The fact is that the scriptures show that this is precisely how the Lord is with us. Why else would God be so faithful to the covenant for so long with a people such as we are? There are ways to help people come to know God in this way: retreats, adult formation, and preaching that exude this kind of relationship in the life of the teacher and preacher, small Christian communities that invite intimacy with God through the close sharing of one's life with others, and so on.

The dynamic by which we rediscover our "in-lovedness" with God will teach us about how we share that experience with others. The process of such discovery requires listening, receiving, and reverencing the stories of lives caught up in the journey with others to God. If we as a Catholic people are to learn the ways of evangelization, we will have to begin with the understanding that at least half of the task is listening for what God is already doing in people's lives. Our job is to learn how to listen with Gospel hearts that hear that movement of the Spirit and second it in whatever way we are called.

However flickering the flame of love, we know that deep in the human heart is planted that very same longing that we ourselves have experienced for God. Out of this personal experience, it may not be so hard, after coming to know an "unchurched" neighbor, to offer our parish as a place to find a faith community if they ever would like to give it a try. Or with a work colleague who is unchurched and to whom we have listened and offered support through a family struggle, we might tell them how our faith community has supported us through similar struggles and suggest a parish that is not far from their home, in case they ever want to make the connection. In this case, it would be good to have a contact name ready.

Here, relationship is everything - real relationships with people in all their variety and complexity whom we help introduce to Christ as he is incarnated in our faith communities. This variety is named in the initiation process that may follow: "The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults that varies according to the many forms of God's grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the actions of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place" (RCIA, #5).

Clearly, nothing can be predicted. We are simply helping to make the introduction and leaving persons free to find their way more deeply into our company in a manner and in a time that God and they will determine together.

Learning to listen in this way, to respond appropriately, and to help people make the connection is not easy. It requires love, perceptiveness, and personal authenticity. There is a new practical resource available to help parishes more consciously and concretely embrace their indispensable role in the Church's mission of evangelization. Entitled Invite, it can be obtained from the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA). Visit www.pncea.org or write to PNCEA, 3031 Fourth Street, NE, Washington D.C. 20017.

© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609

James M. Schellman
is executive director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, www.naforum.org. He and his family live in Arlington, Virginia.
 
         
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