For some time now, I’ve been trying to put my finger on the “missing piece” in our current efforts at evangelization. I’ve written a post about how evangelization shouldn’t be so hard and shared my experience of watching evangelization happen through people not necessarily because THEY did something extreme. It’s not hard to find writings and inspiration encouraging the Church to evangelize. It’s also not hard to find writings describing how different individuals or groups evangelize. The problem is that just because someone is called to evangelize one way does not necessarily mean that everyone should do the same thing. This is especially true when it comes to the situations we encounter in excellent books like Divine Renovation and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples. We read these books and are inspired by what the Lord is doing in these communities, but too often I come across people who are simply trying to replicate what they did. What are we missing?
Wilfrid Stinissen in his book Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us, has a beautiful explanation (much of what he borrowed from the book Abandonment to Divine Providence) in which he lays out three types of “duties”:
- What we must do because of the commands of God and the Church
- What God’s providence allows to happen and which we must accept
- All that the Holy Spirit inspires us to do
I want to look at these through the lens of discipleship and my experience in the Church.
The Commands of God and the Church
Lay people are used to responding to the call to discipleship by simply “doing what they are asked to do” (the proverbial “pray, pay, and obey”). This “minimalist” mentality is reinforced by the fact that the roles available to them in parishes are usually limited to what can be enumerated on a stewardship form. These typically require only a one-time commitment or a set amount of time on a regular basis.
What God Allows
We as Christians have a duty to discover what God is doing when he allows things like suffering and disappointment in our lives. God allows these things to happen so that we might draw close to Him. Ideally, the opportunities offered in our parishes should help people understand and fulfill this duty more completely. Things like small groups or bible studies can do this, but often do so very minimally.
All That the Holy Spirit Inspires Us To Do
This area is where I believe we are going wrong in regard to evangelization, and this is precisely why I believe authentic discipleship is such a great need in the Church today. The inspiration we receive from reading the books mentioned above is not necessarily because of what these people did, but because we see what happens when someone is aware of God calling them to do something big and they respond generously to it. I am reminded of the witness of the Blessed Mother in the Annunciation as the model of being open and receptive to God’s plan in our lives and saying yes, in faith, when we are called. It will be through that “yes” and God’s presence dwelling in us that effective evangelization will happen.
As I see the efforts to do effective discipleship taking root and multiplying, I am becoming more convinced that the greatest needs in the Church today are teaching and inspiring people to become more aware of all that the Holy Spirit inspires them to do and ensuring they have the freedom to carry those things to completion. These are the ingredients that make evangelization “successful”. Once we as a Church begin to view our role as helping people live this way, we will start to see evangelization happen through them in ways that only God could have inspired. These efforts will be better and more effective than any well-polished, thought-out evangelization plan that any one of us could think up.
The author does say that this third duty is something that should eventually fill our entire life. May God grant us the grace to do so!