10 Evangelizing Lessons THIS Catholic Learned from Billy Graham

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.”

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Chocolates or Ashes? Is this My Only Choice!

No. Therese’s Aunt Lillie gives up chocolate for the whole forty days of Lent! And then she has some two-fisted fun with sweets on Easter Day.

But this February Fourteenth offers all the rest of us believers a unique challenge. It is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Which will be most important? Will we choose chocolate or ashes? How might we reconcile the two?

Self-indulgence or fasting?

Self-absorption or self-denial?

And is this challenge even an issue for most people?

The Archdiocese of Chicago has stated that Lent is more important than candy hearts, and suggested that Catholics pick some other day for paper hearts and Cupid’s arrows.

A statement released by the Archdiocese explained that Catholics will not be dispensed from the laws of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, and suggested that we could celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 13th, which is also Mardi Gras. Apparently, rescheduling gratification wins the day in Chicago.

But there is more to this challenge than what we eat. February 14th is an opportunity to look at how we each relate to ourselves. Is it with a sense of entitlement and over indulgence, or is it with patience, sacrifice and forgiveness? Our starting point as Christians is that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. This is the deepest reality of every human person, as stated in Genesis 1:27. But as we continue reading the Book of Genesis, we also learn about the fall of the whole human race and about our individual and communal tendency towards doing evil, including various forms of self-abuse. In other words, we are made of precious metal, but we are tarnished.

The point is that we often lack the gifts of self-respect and moderation, as characterized by children of God. But when this happens we can ask Jesus for a new sensitivity to the Father’s handiwork within our hearts. We can seek the Holy Spirit for a willingness to be converted over and over. We can make new decisions to truly love ourselves as God’s temples. We can also ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to know when to enjoy ourselves and when to fast along with our sisters and brothers in Christ. And finally, we can consider asking this evangelizing question of others, “Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday?” Then listen for clues of God’s presence in the other.

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Jesus… the Measure of Truth and Reality

 Jesus breathes, speaks, and embodies the great truth of God’s love, redemption, and sanctification for all people. Jesus is the foundation and the context for everything we say and do as Christians. This means that we are often called to go beyond our own version of the truth and choose him as our yardstick or measure of what is important and what is ‘real’ or ‘fake.’ For example:

Early in Therese’s third pregnancy, she was sick and exhausted, and her mother was seriously ill. John knew he had to do something. He tried helping around the house, but that didn’t seem to matter; neither did talking things out. He thought of suggesting a call to the doctor, but she had just seen him.

What to do? Then John realized that Therese would experience peace only by talking to Jesus. So each day when he got home from work, he asked her, “Did you have a chance to pray yet?” The usual answer was, “No, and I don’t want to!” But he was convinced that God could help her, so every day he would ask again. About ten days into his campaign, when he began to ask, she cut him off and ran into the bathroom. It would be easier to face God than to face John!

Therese sat on the edge of the tub and cried. She told God about all the diapers, the disturbing visits to Mom, the children’s short naps, the nausea. “Right now, I don’t need one more obligation. I don’t need to pray. I don’t want to! I just need to relax. I need to have some fun in my life! Sorry, God, but you’re not much fun to talk to.”

Then she took a deep breath and closed her eyes so that she could listen to God’s voice. “Well, Therese, right now you are not much fun either!” That was the breakthrough she needed. God’s challenge and sense of humor would keep her going for the next seven months, during which her mother would pass away.

Here are guidelines for sharing the truth in love, as John tried to do.

  1. Speak with gentleness and confidence in God’s love for the person whom you address. This does not mean that difficult feelings won’t emerge. It does means that your goal is another’s wholeness. You are not adversaries but brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  2. Try presenting the truth through a question. “Have you ever thought of . . . ?” “What would happen if . . . ?” “What have you tried so far?” “What are you options when . . . ?” Then listen carefully for the other’s point of view and needs.
  3. Report just your own observations about another’s behavior using “I” statements: “I noticed that you . . . ” or “I felt . . . when you . . . ” And do so in private. Remember the way Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. It takes humility to approach another this way, especially if you have been trained to assign blame for hurt.
  4. Admit that you may not be the right person to share what needs to be said in a serious situation. If that is the case, then turn to someone who may be able to help you sort out your options in the relationship. This is especially true when the behavior of a public person is causing a stressful and angry response in you.
  5. Consider the quality of your relationship and the importance of the matter at hand. Is this person a parent? A spouse? A friend? An employee? Ask if the matter is serious enough for a challenge. We are called to honesty in all things unless the role we have in a relationship, makes it inappropriate to speak.
  6. Try making an agreement about challenging behavior. For example, Mark and Barbara were in the habit of criticizing the Sunday sermon after Mass on the way to the coffee shop. Mark realized how inappropriate and unkind this was. So he asked Barbara, “Next time I start complaining, would you please say, ‘Mark, you told me you didn’t want to do this anymore.’”
  7. Be aware of the prevalence of relativism in our culture. It can erode our ability to share objective truth. Some believe that any position or “truth” is as good as any another “truth.” Some believe that ‘my truth’ is real and yours is fake.”Excerpted from Mending Broken Relationships. by the Bouchers
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