"We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs … I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection … The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more." St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
photo of crowd going up escalator by Johannes Wünsch at Pixabay.com
These simple but profound words of St. Thérèse the Little Flower illustrate something revolutionary I’ve come to understand about how to be effective and fruitful in our evangelical efforts in today's highly secularized culture. There is an easier and more efficient way to invite this generation to open their hearts to Jesus Christ and, by grace, lead them to a profound life changing conversion.
To embrace this simple approach to evangelization we will first have to come to terms with the fact that we are no longer in Christendom—cultural Catholicism is dead. Therefore, the conditions for a path to conversion are very different than in the past: “In our days... in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame, which no longer has fuel... God is disappearing from the human horizon and, with the dimming of the light, which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.
I have seen, in my commitment to evangelizing students on campuses across Canada for the last thirty years, that there is a growing resistance and opposition to the Church and what she proposes. What is apparent is the lack of interest in the Church’s devotions that at one time led our people to greater ongoing conversion. Many of our own people don't see the relevance of our sacraments, they oppose our doctrines, they dislike our leaders, and they think we spend too much money on our beautiful churches.
What is evident is the growing polarization between Catholics living the faith and the great multitudes that have wandered far away from the Church. As a result, we must no longer expect that the common pathway to a Catholic life will continue to be the same. As the gap between believers and non-believers grows, evangelizers must be ready to navigate conversions that are significantly more decisive and dramatic.
While the tried and tested path to deeper and ongoing conversion is still relevant for those established within the Church, for the great multitudes who are not in the Church, who do not know Christ or do not know him well enough, let us consider a quicker path. St. Thérèse, who was inspired by the heroism and strength of character of the great saints, thought herself unable to follow them: “I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.” She discovered a new way to perfection by simply presenting herself to the Father as a little child, asking to be taken up in his arms to experience his love: “The elevator which must raise me to heaven is your arms, O Jesus!”
Recognizing how far many in this generation have wandered away from the faith, let us invite them to enter by way of an elevator, opening their lives to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship of love will open their eyes to the beauty of the Catholic Church and a greater desire for deeper and ongoing conversion. More clearly stated, we must lead with evangelization and follow up with catechesis.
The Synod on the New Evangelization in 2012 attempted to bring clarity to the place of evangelization within the Church. What became evident to those participating was the confusion surrounding the message we are to proclaim. To help bring about greater clarity, the Synod proposed to Pope Benedict XVI the need to develop a “systematic teaching on the kerygma” that could be used to form the faithful in their work of evangelization.
In my experience, evangelization is fruitful and effective when the evangelizer speaks clearly and simply and has confidence in the supernatural power of the Gospel message to change lives. Let’s examine five principles of an effective and fruitful process of evangelization that begins with an encounter with Jesus.