"Big Four" Highlights


No Better Model

New book shows how to share the faith by sharing Jesus

Most of us would not consider ourselves an evangelist. After all, there are only four in the Church with that official title and they wrote the Gospels. Yet before he ascended, Jesus told his disciples to go out and convert the whole world, which lays some of the responsibility for spreading the faith on our shoulders.

A new book by Allan F. Wright, Jesus the Evangelist, will help us meet that obligation, or at least understand it a little better. Wright is academic dean of evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson (N.J.), where he works out of the faith formation center called St. Paul Outside the Walls. He answered a few questions for Fathers for Good.

Fathers for Good: The book’s title is a bit of a twist. We think of Jesus as God and Savior, but how is he “evangelist”?

Wright: The Gospels provide many “titles” for Jesus and it’s true that we normally don’t think of Jesus as evangelist. Yet in addition to his sacrificial death on the cross, the reason why Jesus was sent to earth was to announce and proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom. This is the heart of evangelization, sharing God’s personal love and forgiveness which is available to all. In this sense Jesus is our model for evangelization.

FFG: You say of evangelization, “there is no perfect program but there is a perfect person.” How can we move from “program” to “person”?

Wright: Very often in the Church we can get “hooked” on a program that we believe will answer all of our questions and “evangelize” for us. We fail to realize that while there are many good programs available that can have set questions and scriptural citations, our best model for how to share the Good News comes from Jesus, who was the most effective evangelist ever. Through studying the techniques of the Master evangelist we can develop the “mind of Christ” and begin to engage people where they are at.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel we find two disciples on the road to Emmaus who were going the wrong way and proclaiming a dead Jesus. Jesus draws near to these two, listens to them, asks them questions to draw them out, and allows them to share their experiences. Only then, after understanding where they were coming from, humanly speaking, he opened up the Scriptures to them. However, it was in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, that their eyes were opened. In evangelization, we too, can draw near to people who are “going the wrong way” or are making poor life choices. In asking questions and listening to their responses we can gain trust and credibility.

FFG: You also write about the Church getting from “maintenance” to “mission.” What would a “mission” Church look like?

A “mission” Church or “evangelizing” Church would first pray to be attentive to the Holy Spirit and then begin a dialogue with everyone on the parish council, parish staff and the head of every parish committee, in order to properly define evangelization. In doing this, everyone gets on the same page and there is no confusion about what we mean by evangelization. What brings a community together is a shared vision, not holding hands or donuts after Mass.

The parish should examine every outreach and every program to see if they are including prayer, Scripture and faith sharing at these gatherings. Next the parish should grab their bulletin and ask the question: How many of our programs or offerings are reaching out to those who have drifted from the Church or to those who no longer believe in God? Do we have any program which help Catholics to articulate the faith? How much of the parishes finances are earmarked for those who don’t attend Mass? What are some events that would be attractive to those who are suspect of the Church? Can we have a non-threatening gathering at a venue other than the parish which would attract people? What events would we feel comfortable inviting a fallen away family member too? What avenues of communication do we use in order to reach out and invite people to a conversation about God? How are we training parishioners to be evangelists, that is, to share their own story of how God is active in their lives?

FFG: How do we live the Year of Faith in these last few months?

Wright: This is an opportunity to go deeper in our faith and educate Catholics that evangelization is the “essential mission of the Church.” While the Catholic Church is involved in many charitable efforts, Jesus calls us to go and proclaim the Good News. In the remaining months we can capitalize on moving from a Year of Faith to Life of Faith and focus on initiatives which train Catholics to identify their own faith stories and how to share them. We can use the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II as a moment to celebrate the life of this man who called for a renewed “ardor, methods and expression” in evangelization. Finally, we can renew our own personal commitment to prayer, Scripture and the sacramental life. Through these we can discern what God is calling us to do to bring about a deeper love for God as individuals and as a parish community.

Jesus the Evangelist is published by Franciscan Media.

Photo: Rembrandt’s famous etching “Christ Preaching” shows Jesus as the model for reaching people with the Gospel message. CNS photo/courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.