Over 50 years ago, I met Jesus as a Holy Cross College student. Our encounter was personal, powerful, and life-altering. Shortly after this Catholic Antioch Weekend Retreat, I attempted to “evangelize” others, although I didn’t even have the word “evangelization” in my vocabulary. My zeal was all-consuming, but my efforts seemed to fail, more often than not. Who could help me with my frustration and give me practical guidance, I wondered?
While it was true that the Vatican Council II (1959-1965) “Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church” expanded the idea of mission, it was not yet clear that ALL Catholics are called to be evangelizers in daily life. But even “On Evangelization in the Modern World” by (soon-to-be) Pope St. Paul VI’s (1975) was not written yet. So, I felt like I was on my own.
There were no handbooks for everyday Catholics about sharing faith, or about “how-to evangelize.” So, I, and some like-minded friends, studied materials, especially those connected with the ministry of the Rev. Billy Graham. We filtered everything we learned through the lens of Catholic teaching and a sacramental point of view. Some years later, my wife, Therese, and I would be among the first Catholics to provide a diocesan-wide follow-up for Catholics who attended a Billy Graham Crusade on Long Island. It was an unexpected bonus to share a stage with this humble, grace-filled minister of Jesus Christ.
Here is what we learned. Each insight is followed by a quote from Rev. Graham.
1. Intercede in prayer for someone before you try to evangelize them.
“Prayer is crucial in evangelism: Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against Him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way.”
2. Evangelization is every Christian’s call.
“One of the greatest priorities of the church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.”
3. The Holy Spirit is in charge of the results.
“I know God is in charge. Not me, I’m nothing. I wouldn’t be anything except for the power of the Spirit of God.”
4. Everyone is entitled to hear the Gospel of God’s love and call to repent of sin.
“I believe that we should declare the fact that God loves you, God’s willing to forgive you, God can change you, and Christ and his kingdom is open to anybody who repents and by faith receives him as lord and savior.”
5. Persevere in the mission of evangelization together.
“I want people to remember me that I was faithful, faithful to the gospel, faithful to the call that God gave me. And when I get to heaven, I’m going to ask him why he called me, because I was much used to milking cows and working on the farm than I was to preaching.”
6. Failure at evangelizing is normal and yet a stepping stone to learning and success.
“Don’t let failure or disappointment cut you off from God or make you think that the future is hopeless. When God closes one door, He often opens another door – if we seek it.”
7. Suffering is an expected part of working in evangelization.
“Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to Him in trust and confidence.”
8. Live the Gospel AND talk about it.
“We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.”
9. Sharing our faith in Jesus with others deepens our faith.
“Our faith becomes stronger as we express it; a growing faith is a sharing faith.”
10. The cost of being a missionary evangelizing disciple of Christ is everything.
“Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have.”