Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
I spoke to six prominent members of the Catholic clergy in the U.S. and asked them to share their thoughts on evangelism. Here are their responses:
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City
Our big focus [in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City] is looking at the call for us to be missionary disciples. It’s been part of a planning process for us over the past few years; an attempt to respond to the Lord’s call to go and make disciples [Matthew 28:19].
When I became a bishop, I took as my motto Duc In Altum (”Put Out into the Deep”) which was a comment made by Pope John Paul II about evangelization. We want to embrace that transformation which makes us into missionary disciples.
We’re exploring what that means for the Archdiocese — our priorities, structure, ways of collaborating — and how we might be better focused on the mission to share the Gospel with others. We want to help people to come to an intimate relationship with Jesus, putting on the person of Jesus Christ, which shouldn’t be foreign to us as Catholics.
[It’s a challenge, as Catholics make up only 5% of the Oklahoma City area population] but people are receptive. Many of our priests are converts to the Catholic faith. For being a small minority, we have a big footprint in our community.
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, evangelist and permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Portland
[specifically addressing the need to get men active in the Church] Catholic male spirituality is a man’s response to God’s invitation to life-giving communion through an ever-deepening revelation and discovery of Him through a life of sacrifice and service that imitates Christ crucified, meditates on God’s Word and responds to that Word in faith, and, in the sacraments, makes him truly a son of God and part of the Mystical Body of Christ. An authentic male spirituality is first and foremost an encounter with the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect example of what it means to be a man.
If we are to be true men of God, we must willingly and lovingly lay down our lives in service to our brides — our wives, the Church, and the culture — bearing witness to the awesome power and testimony of the crucified Christ. We must have the courage to say with Saint Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). When men pick up their Crosses and follow Christ, they unite their sufferings to His Passion, receive everlasting life from His death, and draw their strength from his weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” the Lord said to Saint Paul, prompting Saint Paul to say, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Every parish should have a vibrant, active men’s group that is encouraged and supported by the pastor, the spiritual head of the parish family. Men who are involved in the group should personally invite other men who are simply “going through the motions” to attend these gatherings in order to provide an opportunity to experience — on an on-going and sustained basis — the power of God in their lives.
Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan
… To evangelize means helping people encounter Jesus by sharing the Gospel message so that they make a personal decision to follow Jesus in faith. Its focus is to open us all up to the Holy Spirit, as evangelization is not a program, but a work of the Holy Spirit …
[Evangelism] begins with our own encounter with Jesus, involving such elements as daily prayer, weekly Mass and regular confession. Second, I encourage people to “…‘make a friend’ and form a community of love and welcoming parishes.” And third, we must learn how to share Jesus with others.
The need to evangelize was an important component of the Second Vatican Council, but it needs to be developed and implemented further. Every follower of Jesus has a role to play in evangelization and spreading the faith. People need to be formed in missionary consciousness; the lay faithful can reach out to so many different people in different walks of life, giving witness of how important the Lord is in their own lives.
… Evangelization is the greatest pastoral need we have. Like in many places in the U.S., we’ve seen declining numbers of people going to Mass, and few active Catholics. We’ve been taking Mass counts since 2000, and we’ve seen a drop in attendance of more than 40%. That’s pretty stunning.
I think it’s related to the secularization of society, as well as our economic problems. People are moving away from the Upper Peninsula to where the jobs are. But regardless, there are many people here who are practicing no faith at all, so the harvest is ripe and there to be gathered in.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona
Our catechesis has been weak over the last 40 years. Many of the parents of our young people have had inadequate catechesis, so it is difficult for them to be first teachers of their children in the ways of the faith. Our schools must offer parents the help they need to fulfill their teaching role. We must meet the hunger for truth in the hearts of our young people.
When our young people receive the truth, their reaction is often positive. I’ve been pleased with the feedback I’ve been getting from the priests at our Catholic high schools. We’re seeing a greater number of young people coming to them to talk to them about vocations, whether married vocations or vocations to the priesthood or religious life. We’re seeing a stronger desire among our young people to be engaged in addressing issues in the life of society, such as pro-life concerns or missions to serve the poor in our cities.
When I participate in retreats with young people, I see a real hunger for the word of God. They want to know what love is, what it means to be a man or woman, and what the true meaning of freedom is. Fighting a secular culture is difficult, because there’s so much confusion out there. The false answers our young people receive don’t ring true, so there’s a real hunger and openness which offers great possibilities for the Church.
Father George Rutler of the Archdiocese of New York
[Addressing both holiness and Catholic education] I like to use the Latin phrase age quod agis: do what you’re doing. Holiness is serving God in your station in life using your talents, whatever they may be. I was blessed to work with Mother Teresa and her community, the Missionaries of Charity. She liked to say, “Do what you’re doing, but do it with love.” That is the essence of holiness.
And, we have to remember to be Christians, not politicians; this especially true for those of us who are priests and bishops. St. Paul warns Timothy about pleasing men. When we ask “How will this make me look?” we’re betraying Christ. Christ will judge us on the Last Day, not a Gallup Poll.
… Our Catholic education system is a disaster, from kindergarten to the university level. I am continually appalled by the ignorance of Catholic college graduates I meet. They know nothing at all about the Faith or Western culture. We’ve returned to the period of 800-1200, with the Church the repository of learning in the midst of the total dearth of the life of the mind.
We have a generation of parents who did not receive the Faith from the previous generation. Fifty years ago, parents had some sense of their obligations to God and tried to pass them on to their children. But today, many parents are a blank slate when it comes to religion. They have nothing to pass on to their children. Some have turned to homeschooling, but that’s a small percentage of the total. There are also some splendid new academies and colleges faithful to the Magisterium which are opening, which I hope will serve as models for renewal for some existing institutions.
In our recent discussions of the Church and family, much attention has been paid to those in irregular situations, such as the divorced. These are important considerations, but let’s keep our focus on the traditional family unit and on how we can support it. The family is our future.
The people I find most heroic in our society are young couples bringing up children. I’ve had parents bring their babies to Mass and get embarrassed when they cry. They come to me afterward and apologize for the disruption. I say, “Don’t apologize, that’s the sound of the future.”
Deacon Steve Greco of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry and the Diocese of Orange, California
You are called through your baptism and confirmation to share in the power of the Holy Spirit and, like Peter and the Apostles at Pentecost, you can experience amazing things in your life. Say “yes” to Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to empower you. Mary experienced the Spirit’s empowerment during the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel told her, “… ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…’” (Luke 1:35)
I have found when we say “yes” to the Holy Spirit, everything changes. We are compelled to share the Good News of Jesus with others. We are called to be evangelists for Jesus Christ and, as Christ described Christians during His Sermon on the Mount, be “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) In our times, the popes have called us to participate in a New Evangelization. Pope St. John Paul II said, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
What many people do not realize is the entire purpose of the Catholic Church is to bring the Good News of Jesus to the entire world. In other words, to evangelize is the purpose of the Church and our purpose.