EVANGELIZE OR DOWNSIZE
Why Catholics Must Get Off Their Duffs

November 1999By Steve Dundas

The Rev. Canon Steve Dundas is a priest in the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps with the Second Marine Division in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

A sidewalk preacher is bound to encounter a hostile response now and then. It comes with the territory. The shock is when the hostility comes from a fellow believer. Catholic Bishop William Houck recalls the day when he was doing street evangelism as a seminarian, and a woman accosted him to tell him how offended she was. Informing him that she was a Catholic, she exclaimed, “I don’t believe it. We Catholics don’t do this kind of thing! Street preaching is for Protestants.”

Is she right? A Catholic priest I know seems to agree with her. He told me, “Catholics don’t need to evangelize, since we already have the truth.” He meant, I take it, that people seeking truth can come to the Church; the Church need not go to them. The shocked laywoman and the complacent priest express in different ways an attitude that seems to be shared by many American Catholics. In my experience this attitude is particularly strong among liberal Catholics, for whom evangelism has no appeal because they no longer believe in absolute truth, especially the truths conveyed by the Creeds and the Magisterium. But it seems to be common, too, among the ordinary “good Catholics” in the pews of the average parish.

It’s important to realize that there would be no parishes and no pews if the original followers of Jesus had shared this reluctance to evangelize. A New Testament unearthed by archaeologists containing The Inaction of the Apostles and The Unsent Letters of Paul would be but a historical curiosity. If the disciples had been loath to evangelize, they might have been not only the first generation of the Church but also the last.

It’s equally important to recognize that Pope John Paul II seems to think that evangelism is the business of all Catholics. He has invited the Church to prepare for a new evangelization in the new millennium. But if neither the laity nor the clergy are convinced that evangelization is fitting and proper for Catholics to engage in, how will the Pope’s call be answered? I imagine the following colloquy taking place one Sunday after Mass.


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