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‘Evangelization is not a spectator sport’

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Father Keith M. O’Hare, pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria, understands firsthand the importance of one-on-one evangelization. “I was a lost sheep in college,” he said. “There was a guy who spent time with me (and) through friendship brought me back to the faith. I celebrated his wedding years later.”

That experience is one of the reasons Father O’Hare and St. Louis have partnered with Evangelical Catholic, a Wisconsin-based organization that aims to turn disciples into disciple-makers. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge also is working with the organization. In addition to coaching the parish staff, Evangelical Catholic staffer Peter Andrastek spoke to more than 150 parishioners about evangelization Feb. 10.

The evening gave parishioners strategies for sharing their faith. Many Catholics feel intimidated to evangelize because they believe they don’t understand enough about their faith, said Andrastek. “That’s indicative of an overly intellectual understanding of evangelization,” he said. “(Don’t) leave it to the specialists. Evangelization is less about what you know and more about who you know. It’s about introducing someone to your best friend.”

Sharing the good news with others isn’t just important, it’s imperative, said Andrastek. “Evangelization is a litmus test of our connection to Christ. Proof of our discipleship is a heart that is burning for souls,” he said. “I want to offer this to you tonight as a little bit of an examination of conscience. Is my heart burning for souls? If not, we have some introspection and some praying to do. Evangelization is not a spectator sport.”

The first step is getting to know people, he said. He went over a worksheet providing tips for how to engage people in conversations, which stressed truly listening to what others were saying. “Getting person to person is about getting out of your circle of comfort and into the zone of the unknown,” said Andrastek. “When we do that, we will begin to hit what Pope Francis referred to as the existential peripheries. The peripheries of loneliness, of suffering, of meaninglessness.

“They are not necessarily in the inner city or in the poorest areas. They’re right next to us. (People with) marriage problems, drinking problems, pornography, you name it,” he said. “Those peripheries look very nice and suburban oftentimes.”

Then Andrastek asked the attendees to pair up with people they didn’t know. First, the pairs got to know one another. Then they each shared their faith journey with the other. Father O’Hare was pleased to see how eagerly the parishioners talked with one another. When Father O’Hare was serving in the diocesan mission in Bánica, Dominican Republic, he became accustomed to the deeply communal way the people practice their faith. But it’s not like that here.

“Spiritual life is not an individualist enterprise and it’s so satisfying to break out of that,” he said. “People have faith but need encouragement to realize that growing in their faith doesn’t happen without sharing it.”

Tips on evangelization

—     Reflect on your own conversion — how did you find God, why did you return to him or why have you always stayed close to him?

—     With that in mind, think of one or two examples of how God has changed your life. Craft a minute-long pitch explaining how the good news has impacted you personally.

—     Conversations about faith most likely happen with people you have a relationship with. Share the faith with people you already know. Befriend people you don’t know and as you get to know them, gradually and naturally share your faith journey with them.

-Evangelical Catholic 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020