July 20, 2012

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Peg McEvoy

Speaking the truth with love

A neighbor unexpectedly shares that she has started attending the evangelical non-denominational church a few minutes away. You are stunned because you used to go out for breakfast after Mass regularly a few years ago. She tells you about the incredible faith experience she is having, and how this is the first time she has a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She encourages you to go with her sometime.

What do you say?

Your longtime friend can’t stop complaining about his parish. He goes every Sunday, but just doesn’t seem to get much from anything at Mass. He is also bothered that there are more and more people from other ethnic backgrounds coming to Mass there. He finds himself distracted and irritated at Mass, and wishes things would just go back to “the way they used to be.”

What do you say?

The situations above are common these days. Each represents one of the three groups of the “new evangelization.” The first friend fits the “faded” Catholic group.

In the second situation, our friend has lost sight of the reality that an important part of the Eucharist is that it’s a community ­thanksgiving feast for all that God has given us, especially the gift of his son, Jesus. He fits the “Catholics in the pew” group.

In my next column, I’ll talk about the third group—those without a spiritual home.

In the first situation, our friend has become estranged from the real, intimate presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Something went wrong with the deep, personal relationship with Jesus that should characterize all our Catholic Masses, devotions and celebrations.

Although there is great joy in knowing that someone is building their relationship with Jesus, regardless of their place of worship, we must also feel some sadness that they are no longer celebrating with us.

So how do we respond? We know that Jesus is calling each of them to something greater than where they are currently. We need to respond out of love, not exasperation or defensiveness.

Other Christian groups can have beautiful expressions of faith and opportunities for fellowship, and we don’t want to minimize or berate a person’s experience of faith.

However, as Catholics, we know that the fullest expression of Christ’s teaching and desire for his disciples is found in the Catholic Church.

A person who has been a practicing Catholic in the past needs to be invited back. To lovingly remind them that the Eucharist, and our understanding of it, is supported scripturally and by very early tradition may help. But probably the most powerful invitation is our willingness to share how the Eucharist is an integral part of coming to know Christ in our own lives.

For Catholics who seem to have lost their enthusiasm and might even be a little “cranky,” we again need to respond in love. We may feel the need to defend some aspect of our parish or leadership, but that rarely convinces a frustrated person.

To lovingly encourage such a person to focus on the words of the Mass, especially the readings and words of the eucharistic prayer, could help. However, offering to pray with—not only for—him for openness to the Lord’s spirit may be especially powerful. Also, encouraging him to find an opportunity to prayerfully serve others might help soften his heart.

The reality is that the best response can be as different as the people involved. However, we are given the command to love, and when we speak the truth with love, we will Jesus in the middle of it blessing it all for the glory of our Father.

(Peg McEvoy is the archdiocesan associate director of evangelization and family catechesis. For questions and/or help starting a parish evangelization team, contact her at pmcevoy@archindy.org.)

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