I just received this e-mail this morning from a man with an evangelical background who has been a seriously committed Catholic for over 20 years and just finished reading Forming Intentional Disciples. “Thomas” is so serious about evangelization that he obtained a Master’s Degree in the New Evangelization at the only Catholic university in the world that offers a pontifical degree in the subject: Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit where we met. He writes (the emphasis is mine):
“My experience in several parishes since the early '90s had convinced me that seeking to learn to evangelize within the Catholic Church (the one I can discover at the parish level) might be futile. Papal documents are one thing; parish Catholicism seemed quite another. I came to know that there was something called the "new evangelization" back in the early '90s, and I read Vatican and USCCB documents about it, but could not find or stimulate interest in it in my parishes after several awkward attempts.
Now we're in a parish where the pastor has recently tasked a deacon and his wife with starting an evangelization committee, and they are trying to figure out what that will mean for them. I've provided them, our pastor, and our RCIA director copies of your book, and I hope they read it. But so far they are not demonstrating any interest in assistance or participation that I might offer. I'm probably not able to lead in this, but do hope in time to follow a bit, and maybe assist.
Of course there is nothing (except knowledge, skill and ability) preventing me from engaging in personal evangelism, and I've attempted to do so over the years, bearing the fairly meager fruit of only a couple of souls brought into the Church. Your book, however, helped me to see that my predicament is not unique. Three observations in particular have been especially encouraging.
First, you described the priest's 'regal' role (as part of the prophet / priest / king munera of Christ that we share in varying degrees) as something that few priests cultivate. Clearly a few do keep an eye out to foster the vocations and charisms among their flock, but most concentrate on preaching or pastoral service.
Second, you mentioned that the set of charisms usually associated with evangelism are often not naturally recognized or even welcomed in many parishes. My scores on your gifts inventory indicate a cluster of charisms for me that can relate to evangelism (including knowledge, writing, teaching and evangelism), but I have yet to find openness to any of this at the parish level. In my former career life these gifts were exercised. And at Sacred Heart Seminary, yes there clearly is a place for the study of evangelism. But evangelism shouldn't be, primarily, a recherche scholarly pursuit left to the academy; it should become the daily bread of Christians.
Finally, toward the conclusion of your book you made an observation that brought me out of my seat. Just a few days before reading these comments my wife and I had been discussing how difficult it has been to find a way to learn /practice evangelism in a Catholic parish, as well as how difficult it has been to find a way to enjoy Christian fellowship with other people who approach their faith as deliberate disciples. We noted that our Catholic worship just isn't oriented toward this, which isn't itself a problem.
Then I commented (and she agreed) that in a Catholic parish it's like banging your head against a wall to find these things that nourish discipleship. Though I have a strong appetite for reading (scripture, councils, popes, dicasteries, saints), the practice of Catholic intentional discipleship can at times seem like a personal relationship with a big library of books.
Then I contrasted this Catholic experience with what we'd both experienced in evangelical churches. I speculated that we could easily regain this at any one of the evangelical churches we drive past on our way to Mass every week.”
Thomas has just brilliantly summed up one of our greatest problems.
“The practice of Catholic intentional discipleship can at times seem like a personal relationship with a big library of books”. While the longed-for human spiritual companionship is readily available – but not in a Catholic setting.
And that my friends, is why millions and millions of Americans who were raised Catholic have become Protestant. Because a personal relationship with a library of books or websites or blogs is not Christian community, is not incarnational, is not communio, is not Catholic, is not human. Most human beings cannot live on the Eucharist alone forever - without the support of a real human Christian community.
Not even our most committed, most orthodox, best formed members.
What would you like to say to Thomas?