Encounter and Evangelization

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

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15 Responses to “Encounter and Evangelization”

  1. Kathleen Gallagher says:

    Great column, Ed. You hit the nail on the head.

  2. DottieDay says:

    Have you in the Archdiocese all lost your minds? Your faith? What is this? This direction you are going can’t be haphazard — this must be part of your plan. New evangelization? Boiled down to what? A “who am I to judge” bumper sticker. I gotta think about this! This is totally stunning.

  3. Ed Mechmann says:

    Consider the Holy Father’s comments today at his Wednesday audience about the need to show mercy: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/09/10/pope_at_audience_mercy,_a_gospel_essential_for_a_better_wor/1106240

  4. Alexis says:

    My apologies in advance – I’m certainly not as charitable as you. Forgive me.

    Now, I commend your good intentions and your keen ability to shed light on problematic issues. But some of what you write is objectionable or at least needs to be further explained.

    You write that, “The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ.” This is obviously true. However, in bringing people into a loving encounter with Christ, the fullness of Christ’s message needs to be proclaimed, even if the full proclamation does not occur right away. But unfortunately, when the fullness of Christ’s message is proclaimed, it will turn some people away; they will perceive it as too difficult to follow. The Church will be at odds with certain people. And this will inevitably result in difficult decisions; there’s a price to be paid for truth. Certain people may be unable to partake in certain activities if they reject Christ’s message or seek to lead others away from the Church’s mission. Yet in the end, the fullness of Christ’s message still needs to be proclaimed. That’s the bottom line.

    But I think you know this already. That’s why you reference the need for both compassion AND conversion in bringing people to Christ (i.e., the story of Christ and the adulterous woman in John 8:2-11). But here is what is objectionable: You write that “our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion.” But does this logically follow? HOW will emphasizing a message of mercy lead people to be more open to hearing the message of conversion? There’s something missing here and that missing element is EDUCATION. Education is necessary in order to link mercy and conversion. For example, my mother tells me that she still loves me, even though she thinks I’ve done something wrong. But if she never educates me on WHY what I’m doing is wrong and WHY I should change, I’m not going to be open to conversion. After all, why should I? I personally think I’ve done nothing wrong and my mother still loves me.

    Mercy without conversion is the normalization of sinful behavior. And eliciting that conversion from mercy is a challenging task. That’s why education is crucial. But let’s apply this to the issue at hand: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in NYC. I guess – for lack of better words – the organizers of the parade can decide to allow openly gay groups to march under their own banner. But must Cardinal Dolan be the Grand Marshall? Does he really want to be the figurehead for this parade? Does he really want to embody all of what the parade is becoming to stand for? What message is the Cardinal sending? Now, I know that the Cardinal thinks that he’s taking a step of compassion and mercy. He wants to send the message that the Church is accepting of gays as human beings worthy of dignity and respect. So yes, the Cardinal is absolutely taking a step of compassion, but where’s the conversion? HOW will his actions elicit conversion? Better yet, where’s the EDUCATION that will serve as the impetus for conversion? As of now, these elements are missing. And that’s a shame.

    I have faith in Cardinal Dolan. Perhaps he does have a plan for how his actions of mercy will elicit conversion. And if he does, in fact, have a plan, he needs to explain it. He needs to resolve the confusion, the incoherencies, the mixed messages, and clearly articulate his intentions – and that is something only the Cardinal himself can do. But if he is only focused on mercy and not on conversion, then he’s doing us all a great disservice. Like you say, “If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus.” In time, the truth shall be revealed.

  5. Dina Siano says:

    I have no words. This is scandalous and wrong. You are twisting many things and leading souls away from Christ no matter what you think you may be doing. Church teaching is clear and you are making it mud

  6. Maureen says:

    He did not condemn, but Jesus did instruct.
    John 8: 11
    Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

    Are we instructing or just accepting?
    Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors — but he didn’t just accept their behavior. He told them to stop committing adultery; to stop sinning.
    Are we telling those who are not doing God’s will that they are at risk of missing out on eternal salvation?
    If we are not doing that then we are failing them and putting our own souls in jeopardy.

  7. DottieDay says:

    Alexis you said: when the fullness of Christ’s message is proclaimed, it will turn some people away; they will perceive it as too difficult to follow…That reminded me of the bread of life discourse and how the disciples found it too hard to accept, left Jesus and returned to their former way of life. And Jesus did not call them back. He only asked if the twelve if they wanted to leave too.

  8. Hi Ed, Thank you for a timely, articlate and a right on target column. You seem to have rankled a few feathers, with your “loving encounter with Christ” or maybe your Mercy and Compassion stuff or even that, Conversion and Evangelization hyperbole. Wow, some really reactionary and revolutionary revelation. You seem to have lost points, by preaching exactly, what Christ preached and/or came here to do. But what do I know. EDUCATION. I believe, that we have a responsibility to educate ourselves without passing the buck completely to our priests and Bishops. Yes, they have that resposibility, but we also have an equal responsibility and the tools to do so. They are called Mass, the Gosple and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Our Church is under daily assault, both internal and external. This is Satan’s work and part of his evil plan to divide and conquer our immortal souls. Some of us are so busy finding fault with every thing the Church leaders do or say, including messengers like you. They fail t6o see and/or understand that our Church is sliding down the slippary precipice of a Satan driven schism and burning. So instead of fighting the fire, some have opted to stoke the embers, and pour the gasoline of selfish spin and empty, noxious rhetoric on the flames. They want, not a desiplined, comassionate, loving and evangelizing Church, but rather a homogenized, robotic, do it my way and don’t bother me with the details of God’s Commandments and laws Church, which at times conflict with my plans and desires. You know, “ME FIRST, ME ONLY” Christ came to save sinners, not the just. “A well person has no need of a physian”. Let Cardinal Dolan and Pope Francis do the job that the Holy Spirit placed them here to do. Pray for them and stop the Monday morning quarterbacking and nit-picking. If they are somehow wrong, then let the Holy Spirit and Jesus be the final arbitrator of that, when the stand before the throne of God. Worry about our own souls and possibly the Church will be all the stronger, if we simply PRAY and love each other. Peace and Vivat Jesus, Bob Fallon, PSD, NYS, K.of C.

  9. Ed Mechmann says:

    @ Alexis

    You and I actually disagree much less than you think. You’re absolutely right that education (catechesis) is an essential component of the call to conversion. In Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father said this:

    160. The Lord’s missionary mandate includes a call to growth in faith: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). Hence it is clear that that the first proclamation also calls for ongoing formation and maturation. Evangelization aims at a process of growth which entails taking seriously each person and God’s plan for his or her life. All of us need to grow in Christ. Evangelization should stimulate a desire for this growth, so that each of us can say wholeheartedly: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

    161. It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation. It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).

    But we always have to remember, if the person isn’t open to the call of grace to conversion, we’ll never get to the stage of catechesis. People can differ as a matter of prudence about the right tactic to bring people to conversion. But we have to get them there, or we’re failing as a church. That’s my point.

  10. DottieDay says:

    “…Some of us are so busy finding fault with every thing the Church leaders do or say, including messengers like you. They fail t6o see and/or understand that our Church is sliding down the slippary precipice of a Satan driven schism and burning. So instead of fighting the fire, some have opted to stoke the embers, and pour the gasoline of selfish spin and empty, noxious rhetoric on the flames…”

    Who are you to judge?

  11. James De Silva says:

    Wondering out loud if a more sensible display of mercy and call to conversion would have been for the Cardinal to march with the Courage apostolate.

  12. Alexis says:

    @ Ed

    Thanks for your insightful response. There’s much room for agreement.

    But honestly, education does not even have to be a formalized catechesis, although it could be. All it needs to be is a simple explanation that gets to the heart of the matter. Yet that’s not even occurring. The message stops at “we love you and accept you.” It does not continue with “your behavior is wrong and this is why…” Even if the person is not open to conversion, they still need to be educated on the truth. Why is that not happening? I really don’t know. I guess there’s just a widespread fear of losing people completely, which is definitely a legitimate fear. But in the end, losing people is far better than not telling them the truth that they need to hear for the sake of their souls.

  13. Hi Dottie, I do not consider my remarks as a JUDGMENT but rather, the proof and fruit of 50 years as a Catholic activist and apologist, battling anti-Catholicism in the trenches of legislative, social, and civil hate, virulence and cowardness, by those who wish to bring down our Church, both internally and externally. Some have called me over-zealous, or passionate and other names, which I can not print. I have had, dog feces, and urine thrown at me along with personal verbal and 2 physical encounters and assaults over the years at various rallies and prayer vigils. I and many like me, have battled Satan’s disciples and minions for years, at many levels. Many have the scars to prove it. Far too often these wounds come from “Catholics” who hide their heads in the sands of apathy, indifference and fear and offer flimsey excuses for their lack of courage, when it was time to stand up and speak up in defense of our Church, it’s teachings and/or in the public square. But they were right there, with their nit-picking and acrimony in JUDGING the words, actions or suggestions of our Popes, Bishops and priests. Judging others, does no good, pays no fruitful dividends and is usually a dividing waste of time and energy. I leave the judging up to God. I can fool you and you can fool me, but neither, we and anyone else can fool God. So some may blame me for judging, but perhaps, they might remove the log from their eye, first. That being said, I still believe the only real answer lies in our ability and willingness to pray, to fast and to receive the Eucharist humbly, fervently and frequently. Therein lies our only chance to let the Holy Spirit work in each of us and from which, our questions and complaints will be answerd and remediated. Just listen. Let Go and Let God do the driving. Sit back, hold on to your hat and enjoy the ride. Peace and Vivat Jesus, Bob Fallon, PSD, NYS K. of C.

  14. Peter Rox says:

    This is a great column. I was in a large social setting for several days this summer, and the subject of religious denominations came up several times. I had to agree with statements made by numerous non-Catholics and Catholics. All of the Catholics have adult sons and daughters, thoroughly educated in Catholic institutions for many years, who do not attend Catholic churches any more. The consensus was that as a denomination, Catholics are ” unwelcoming and very judgmental.” Catholics are famous for seeing the speck in the other person’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own. When I was young, the witch hunts were against the divorced and separated. Today, it is too often against gays. In other words, as a Church, we love to pick on the already marginalized. We have too many litmus tests before we even want people through the front door, let alone inside hearing what we are all about. There used to be lots of shunning and second class status to Catholics marrying non-Catholic spouses. Remember when they were even denied to be married in a Church building, and the ceremonies were in the rectory, with official witnesses permitted, but no guests? I believe that Christ meant the Church to be for spiritual pilgrims, and not a smug club full of the self-satisfied.

  15. James De Silva says:

    @ Peter Rox

    Most Catholics I know pray the De Profundis psalm often and identify with the Publican in St. Luke’s gospel – not the pride filled group you seek to portray.