Spread the Word of Your Faith This Holiday

Dear Parishioners,

As you might have read in recent months, the Vatican has been proposing a “New Evangelization” for the Catholic Church at large. This effort is especially focused on “re-proposing” the Gospel message to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. The Pope attributes this crisis to the effects of secularization, but I wonder if we should also list scandal, perceived irrelevancy, and a sometimes disappointing leadership to the list of culprits. Whatever the causes for crises, the need for evangelization is clear.

Evangelization, although a new word to some Catholic ears, has long been a highly valued activity among our brothers and sisters in many Protestant denominations. It refers to promoting and spreading the Gospel message through the sharing of our personal experience of it. It’s witnessing to the presence of the Lord in our lives and telling other people about it. If that starts you thinking about pitching a tent, handling dangerous snakes and sitting in on Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, you’re on the right track. We Connecticut Catholics, however, mostly pre- fer things on the subtle side and effective evangelization is always keyed into the culture of a place. How, then, do we here in this parish “re-propose” a sense of the Gospel in our own community?

Last weekend brought two wonderful examples. First, the Advent music/meditation service. The eight musicians who made up the orchestra were not only fine artists, but were also looking for a home, a place to play the mu- sic they love on a regular basis. A couple of discussions later, we opened the door to and set up the Advent evening. (Keeping an open door is basic principle in evangelizing.) On Sunday evening the church was filled with beautiful music, prayer………and people—many of whom were visiting our church for the first time, many of whom were not Catholic. What did they leave with? Certainly the experience of a passionately and skillfully performed concert, and hopefully an impression of a Catholic church as a warm and inviting place, a place where God might drop in. That’s evangelization!

Liz, the woman who played the violin at all the Masses on Sunday, gives us another example. She and her family live in Westchester and are members of the Presbyterian Church. When she heard about our Advent wreath making workshop on Sunday morning, she got excited because her church was doing the same thing and hated to miss it. In between Masses, she went over to the parish hall and later told Frank how welcoming everyone was to her. She said that she was unfamiliar with working with floral oasis (the green stuff you stick the branches into…. apparently Westchester Presbyterians weave their greenery onto a metal form!…). One of the people leading the workshop, Denise, came to her rescue and together they made a wreath worthy of the season. Liz also commented on the pink candle (her church uses all purple…) which led to even more conversation and sharing. All of this, in addition to the compliments she received for playing the violin, caused her to comment to me as she was leaving for the day, “I have to say what a friendly and welcoming community this is! A church like this helps me understand better why my oldest son’s godfather became a Catholic!”

That’s evangelization! It doesn’t come from a book or a catechist, it comes from a personal sense of the Lord in your heart. It disregards differences and emphasizes similarities. It’s enjoying a “church” experience together and sometimes never even using the word “God.” It’s inviting a neighbor to come with you next Sunday to listen to Gregory Norbet’s reflections on Advent for an hour and then grabbing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine afterward. It’s talking about your parish involvement at some holiday party and someone picks up on your enthusiasm. It’s being proud of what your faith community is doing in and for the community at large, in small and quiet ways. It’s about a God who usually does not hit people over the heads, but rather peeks through the eyes. In these parts, evangelization doesn’t really need a tent. It only needs a little imagination and some thoughtfulness.

Father John