I wrote this letter in response to last week's issue of the Irish Catholic, which contained lots of articles about evangelisation and the missions. My point was that evangelisation itself-- the actual business of proclaiming the Gospel to those who don't accept it, and exactly how this is to be done-- never seems to be directly discussed.
My own shyness makes evangelisation difficult for me. I do try to argue for the Faith when the opportunity arises. And I keep hoping this blog might possibly draw some readers who are not committed Catholics-- perhaps people who came here through a search for something entirely unrelated-- but who, just possibly, might come away a little more well-disposed to Catholicism. (Of course, I welcome all readers!) That is also why I include posts about all sorts of things; well, it is partly because I simply enjoy writing them, but also in the hope that non-Catholic readers might see that Faith can pervade a whole, unified view of the world. (Not that I consider myself an expert or even an especially well-informed layman.)
I also hope that simply to be seen in public reading Catholic books, not eating meat on Friday (no longer obligatory but still a good idea, I think) and taking my faith seriously in other simple, everyday ways might be a subtle form of evangelisation.
But, one way or the other, I do think that Catholicism in Ireland needs to come off the ropes and start taking the initiative, or there might not be anything left of it in twenty or thirty years. Hopefully more extroverted and qualified people than me can do it in a more vocal and outgoing way.
Well, here's my letter:
Your October 18th issue contained several pages devoted to the theme of evangelisation and mission, since it covered both the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation in Rome and Missions Sunday. But I felt a certain frustration reading them. In the reports from the synod, we read Cardinal Peter Erdo tracing our current "tsunami" of secularisation back to the 1970's and 80's, Father Robert Prevost complaining of the media's role in the erosion of Western Christianity, Archbishop Rowan Williams reminding us of the need for contemplation, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reminding us of the importance of the Sacrament of Penance, and Bishop Enrico dal Covolo complaining of the state education system's hostility to Christianity. In the articles about the missions-- with the notable exception of the interview with Father Hugh McMahon of the International Missionary Union-- the emphasis was almost entirely upon social and humanitarian work.
Doesn't it seem that, when Catholics set out to talk about evangelisation, we end up talking about everything except evangelisation itself? I am not trying to dismiss the importance of the considerations raised by the worthy and erudite prelates at the synod in Rome, and I feel nothing but awe and utter unworthiness before the heroic efforts of missionaries who feed the hungry, heal the sick and educate the world's poor. It is absolutely true that evangelisation must be rooted in prayer and self-renewal, and that the gospel of Christ is given priceless credibility by the corporal acts of mercy Catholics perform.
But, as St. Paul reminds us, "How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). We will never evangelise the culture simply by talking to each other at yet more conferences and seminars and retreats. St. Francis is famously supposed to have said: "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words". I suggest that, in our situation, it is now absolutely necessary to use words-- specifically, words addresed to unbelievers. The Catholic Church in Ireland today faces the challenge: "Evangelise or die". But if you walk through Dublin city centre on a Saturday morning, you will almost certainly come across Muslim street preachers, Protestant street preachers, Hare Krishna street preachers, and possibly Jehovah's Witness and Mormon street preachers. Why no Catholic street preachers? Can't we run to our own stall outside the GPO? I do not think I would make a good street preacher myself, but surely we have Catholics whose talents lie in that direction? And of course, this is only one example-- we all must evangelise in whatever way we can.
Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh