In 1975, Pope Paul VI said “the Church exists in order to evangelize”. Since then we have heard much more about evangelization than before. St. Isidore recognizes the importance of being a welcoming parish as part of the call to evangelize. That’s a great starting point, but evangelization goes beyond welcoming. After all, even a group of atheists could be welcoming. Let’s fast forward from 1975 to Pope Francis. He said, “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in our parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel . . . It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door and meet the people!”
Although we may feel unqualified to evangelize, the following Scripture provides great insight and guidance: “Always be ready to give anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3:15-16)
This passage can be divided into the following parts:
1. “Always be ready” – we will evangelize more effectively if we’re ready to do so. That doesn’t mean having every answer, but having the willingness and desire. Some of us may begin our day asking God to help us live that day in a way that’s pleasing to Him. We can also add a specific prayer asking to be open to whatever way that God might work through us.
2. “to give anyone . . . a reason for your hope” – there are two aspects here: First, there are very rock-solid reasons for what we believe so we should continually try to grow in the understanding of our Faith. This benefits both ourselves and others. Second and quite importantly, others need to recognize our sense of hope. Father Richard Simon defines evangelization as simply telling others what God has done for you. John Paul II said that our Faith is based on “the certainty that God is alive, working in the present, changing lives”. Many parishioners have experienced God alive and present in their lives. It should be both nonthreatening and personal to simply relate that to others.
3. “. . . with gentleness and reverence” – just as we don’t need to be wise, clever, or more educated to be God’s instrument, we don’t need to be loud or emphatic either. The Holy Spirit can work powerfully through us despite our imperfections. Evangelizing with gentleness and reverence keeps the focus on God rather than on ourselves.