On Friday I discussed the New Evangelization and how we need to pray for an evangelizing spirit so that we are unafraid to proclaim the faith with charitable boldness in the way that Pope Francis seems to be calling on us to do. Are there any Catholic groups, especially organizations which are primarily lay ecclesial movements, that are actively witnessing for the faith in a way that is both outward and clear, as well as charitable and loving?
One such group is called St. Paul Street Evangelization, and yes, they do exactly that-share the Catholic faith on the streets of many cities.
Take note that St. Paul Street Evangelization teams aren’t going out and presenting an idea that those who will not hear the message are doomed, as some so-called street preachers tend to do (to the detriment of the faith and the Name of Christ) because no one but God can make a judgment on the state of a person’s soul. What groups like St. Paul Street Evangelization do bring to people is the Gospel, that’s the Good News.
In researching a bit about the St. Paul group, I discovered that they won’t go about their work without permission from the local parish pastor, which indicates a spirit of obedience to spiritual authority that is both holy and appropriate. The pastor is responsible for the welfare of all souls in his parish, and his discretion is most important. Many of the St. Paul street teams sit at common high traffic locations and hand out rosaries and free Catholic literature. They even have a training website to help people be more effective evangelizers and not to be combative.
None of this is to say that the method employed by the St. Paul Street Evangelizers and other similar groups will be effective for everyone, we know that isn’t true. Some people will be repulsed by it for various reasons, not all of them bad. It is vital to remember, however, that the Gospel is going to be repulsive to a culture that has literally become the antithesis of it. As a former pastor of mine who has since entered eternal life once rightfully opined, “the Gospel is counter-cultural.”
As Catholics we also understand that a one-time prayer of forgiveness and acceptance is not what truly causes one to enter into that deeper relationship with Jesus Christ to which we are all called, but that conversion is an ongoing process of formation that never really ends, and requires someone willing to accept the Good News to understand the faith that they are expressing a willingness to accept, and that is where the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) comes into play.
If you’ve watched the video above, then you know that the teams of evangelizers with the St. Paul teams find themselves doing so much more than saying a few words to passers-by and handing out rosaries and holy cards, although those things are spiritually invaluable. Indeed, some of them report discovering people in real need while witnessing to others and finding ways to help them see to their physical needs of hunger and thirst. The story of these street teachers causes one to reflect on what makes our faith so special.
Many Catholics are afraid to share their faith openly, or are repulsed in some fashion by the idea of doing so, and I’ve met a few of these. Without judging those who hold that attitude, and we are compelled to say that they hold it for various reasons, it has to be asked: Why?
The Holy Catholic Church has within it the fullness of faith, it has the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ given by Our Lord to the People of God on the night he was betrayed. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, why would we not want them to have such a priceless gift as Christ’s Real Presence, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? He did not give it to us for us to hoard it to ourselves.
Jesus wants his Church to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Each person may be called to evangelize in different and varying ways but the Great Commission applies to all of the People of God, not just to clergy or catechists. The light of Christ should not be concealed under a bushel (cf. Luke 11:33).