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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Unlocking Many Doors

Yesterday I talked about what motivates Catholics to evangelize, and how the different backgrounds of converts and cradle Catholics sometimes lead to differing approaches to the whole subject of evangelization. In that post, I spoke primarily of apologetics. Today, I want to draw attention to other forms of evangelization that are too easy, sometimes, to forget. The Church has many doors... why should we keep all but one of them locked?

Don't get me wrong; apologetics can be a valuable evangelization tool. Many people have entered the Church because the list of arguments swayed them. Although nobody ever practiced apologetics on me when I was struggling, my own internal struggle with apologetics was what ultimately led me to stay Catholic when my renewed walk with Jesus was still fresh. For me, it was the Gospel of Matthew. As I read it, originally with an eye toward proving Catholicism wrong, I found instead that everything Matthew said supported the very Catholic teachings I wanted to contradict.

Yet it would be wrong to say that apologetics and "right answers" were the entirety of what kept me Catholic. For me, there was a sense of "home" in the liturgy, and I simply could not see myself in a non-liturgical Church. The few times I attended any, I felt like I was at a prayer group meeting rather than a church service.

There was also an instinctive need for the sacraments. Even as I considered leaving, I was already beginning to feel homesick for sacraments. A part of me felt... I don't know what other word to call it... lonely at the thought of not having confession available. Like it would mean having part of the experience of faith, but not the whole shabang.

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make: apologetics are good, useful, helpful, and necessary; but there are many doors into the Church, and we should not limit our efforts at intruducing the Catholic faith to efforts that only focus on arguments.

I know a woman who became Catholic solely because of the Eucharist. She believed that Jesus meant what He said, and couldn't see herself in a Church that reinterpreted it. It had nothing to do with whether or not the Church was right about abortion, tradition, confession, or sexual morality. Once she was in, she somtimes had to struggle to conform herself to Church teachings, but because she was so certain of the Eucharist she felt it was a struggle worth making.

I know a man who became Catholic because he felt that most Christian denominations either disobeyed commands of Jesus, or did them with embarrassment. He also longed to give to God something less casual, more formal and ritual.

I have known people who needed the reassurance that authority and doctrines came from above rather than being voted in from below. I have known people who recognized the historical claims of the Church as the one founded by Christ, and people who found in Catholicim a genuine mysticism lacking in many other Christian walks. Some come because they've known people of faith who were Catholic, and wanted a share of what they saw.

And I've even known people who came to the Catholic Church simply because they were searching for a relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church was where they found it.

Each of these "doors" into the Church is a valid entryway. And there are many more, too. Jesus calls our hearts, and He calls us in different ways because each of us has different issues, different strengths and weaknesses, different longings. But we all have the same need for Jesus, and salvation. When we bear witness to the world, we must remember that we are witnessing to human beings, individuals, and we must listen to the Holy Spirit in determining how to minister to the needs of an individual.

Yes, we should be ready with answers to why we believe what we believe. Often those answers will be apologetic in nature. Often, though, they will not. Perhaps the first step to evangelizing is not talking, but listening. When we love another person enough to hear what they are saying, rather than just spending their "talk time" figuring out what we're going to say next, the Holy Spirit has the opening to guide us. We cannot very well minister to a person if we have no love for them, and love sees the human being, and not just a gold star to be won.

Let us pray for an increase in love; for it is when we love that we truly bear witness to Christ, opening many hidden doors into His sancturary.