Evangelization as if It Doesn't Matter

February 2004

Four articles about evangelization crossed our desk recently.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, while giving no reason why Catholics should evangelize, simply claimed that a deep personal relationship with Jesus automatically causes people to evangelize (Origins, Nov. 13, 2003). Well, since 99.8 percent of Catholics don’t evangelize, that must mean that 99.8 percent of Catholics do not have a deep personal relationship with Jesus. We don’t believe that. (Oddly, that’s exactly what the Fundamentalists claim, that Catholics don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.) So Dolan’s piece was rather useless.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that Catholics should evangelize because the Lord commanded us to, and so that “others may come to know Christ, may be captivated by the beauty of the person of Jesus” (Origins, Nov. 13, 2003). That’s pretty weak tea. The question is: Why does Jesus want us to evangelize? Is it just some arbitrary, inscrutable command? And yes, we do want others to know Jesus, but not because He’s a beautiful person. There are scads of beautiful people (however you wish to define them) in the world. What’s so special about Jesus?

Avery Cardinal Dulles (Origins, Nov. 13, 2003) gave no reason why Catholics should evangelize. But one of his major points was that ecumenical dialogue among Christians actually enhances evangelization. To support that contention, Dulles quoted Anglican Bishop Charles H. Brent of the early 20th century, who said it’s a “little short of absurd to try to bring into the church of Christ the great nations of the Far East unless we can present an undivided front.” We know Cardinal Dulles to be a highly intelligent man, and were surprised that he would use this quote, for it seriously undermines his case. Surely Cardinal Dulles knows that as the ecumenical movement progressed and grew into the World Council of Churches, it lost its interest in evangelism and became merely a social-welfare and political-advocacy outfit.

Finally, there’s the article by layman Sean Gallagher in the 7.2 Envoy. Envoy’s Mission Statement says in part that “Envoy is a bimonthly journal of Catholic apologetics and evangelization,” and the subtitle of Envoy on its cover is Bringing Christ to the World. O.K., forget the diplomatic archbishops and cardinal. The folks at Envoy will give it to us straight, will tell us good reasons to evangelize.

Nope. Another disappointment.

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New Oxford Notes: February 2004

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