Monday, February 20, 2012

Confessions of a Lousy Evangelist

Since I’m thinking about evangelization (within and without the Church) and catechesis of the faithful quite a bit these days, I thought I’d write about my efforts in that regard[i].

This is the account of the email evangelization of my friend, Doc. Now, I am probably the world’s worst evangelist, so don’t expect a huge success story. Nevertheless, I think there are some good lessons here.

Doc and me
I met Doc a few years ago at a meeting of our local Right to Life group. (He had earned this nickname as a combat medic in Vietnam.) I heard him mention that he’d been attending Mass at the Catholic church in town; later, I emailed him and asked if he was a Catholic or if he just happened to like going to Mass.

Doc told me he wasn’t Catholic, but he liked going to “the big church”. He sat up in the choir loft, which was (sadly) no longer used for a choir, and he was often alone. A couple of other people would occasionally show up and sit there with him, he said, and he considered them his “church friends”. He liked to say, “We’re the balcony sitters.”

That started what was primarily an email catechesis. He was willing to learn, and I regularly emailed him links on the web, or answered questions he asked. The RCIA classes at the parish had commenced, but he was reluctant to attend. He said he would rather learn from me.

Although I wondered if I should consider that a warning sign, I decided to continue with his catechesis. Here’s why: Doc is a Vietnam vet who’s had a rough life. I observed that people – even one of the very nice people in our Right to Life group – treated him as a second-class citizen, largely because he looked and dressed like a “down-and-outer”.  The people who treated him rudely didn’t know that he owned a house in town, as well as a pick-up truck, and that he paid his bills…and was a pretty nice guy besides. They judged him, pure and simple, and found him wanting. And I was pretty sure that, for a variety of reasons, Doc would not be all that welcome at RCIA classes – though he would certainly not have been turned away.

And Doc liked the internet. He liked researching different topics, and he liked email. It was a way to reach him that was at times more effective than face-to-face interaction. I think he learned more about Catholicism by email and internet than he ever would have learned in an RCIA class.

Occasionally, I also met with Doc at the local library in order to give him other materials and answer some of his questions in person. Doc proved himself to be intelligent as well as interested in “Catholic stuff” as he called it, and he even took to defending the faith (some aspects of it, anyway!) with his friends and acquaintances around town. 

We also went to a few different Masses together (I was attending another parish at the time), and I occasionally met him at the church to teach him to pray some standard Catholic devotions, such as the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Stations of the Cross. It’s more effective to teach those prayers in person and in a church than via email!

Doc attended that year’s Easter vigil with me, and he was seriously considering coming into the Church the next year. We continued our “classes” with only the slightest slow-down through the summer months. In the fall, he decided that he would join the RCIA class at the parish. He didn’t like the classes too much, finding them a little light-weight and trivial compared to what I’d been doling out. He told me that the pastor gave a couple of “quizzes”, and he aced them. I was proud of my student!

Things were moving along nicely, it seemed. But then in our conversations, it became clear that Doc had a couple of real stumbling blocks: he did not – would not­ – accept the perpetual virginity of Mary. “It says, ‘James, the brother of Jesus’,” he said, and he would not accept any of the explanations I gave him. He was equally unwilling to accept papal infallibility on any terms, because, after all, there were a lot of “bad” popes in the history of the Church! He also seemed to have doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Finally, in one of our face-to-face meetings at the library, I told him that he absolutely should not come into the Church at Easter.

No wonder I have so little success at “bringing people into the Church”!

Pray for me!
Doc was surprised. I explained that since he didn’t believe some of the core teachings of the Church, he would not be able to truthfully say that “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God” when it came time to make that statement at the Easter Vigil. He finally agreed, and he withdrew from RCIA. That was prior to Easter 2011; he still goes to Mass, but he still is not Catholic. The evangelization continues, though – we are still friends, and I still send him links to Catholic “stuff”.

I think this story  can be used to make a few good points:

1.       It’s beneficial to have personalized instruction, along with the RCIA class setting. Doc was much more amenable to the internet style than the classroom style. Catering to his needs made the instruction he received much more effective, I think. This duty probably falls to the person’s sponsor, but in my experience, sometimes sponsors don’t know much more than the candidate.

2.      Just because a person has been through RCIA classes for 6 months, does not necessarily mean he should automatically be received into the Church. As a former RCIA instructor, I can attest to the fact that not everyone who completes the classes actually believes what they’ve been taught! If Doc had simply been attending the classes, he’d have been received into the Church, because, at least in the parish in question, no one would have explained to him the gravity of the promise he was making, nor taken the time to find out if he believed.

3.      Bringing someone into the Church who does not believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches is a big mistake. I’ve seen it happen with a couple of previous catechumens. Now they’ve been baptized, confirmed, and received First Holy Communion, but have fallen away. Their condition is worse than it was at the first!

But there is no salvation outside the Church. If we believe that – which we must if we are Catholics – then there is much work to be done.

[i] This story appeared last November on a blog called Anytime Evangelize, which has since gone dormant (but hopefully will be resurrected someday – the blogger, Matt, had a good thing going, but ran out of time).

1 comment:

  1. Doc seems like a cool dude to me. I really believe that anyone who keeps an open mind and studies the faith has a good chance to become Catholic ... eventually. My understanding is that the Church is only infallible when the Holy Spirit speaks through Her (so it is not really the Church that is infallible).


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