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Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Is Evangelization Uncharitable?

Is Evangelization Uncharitable?

          I recently read an article by a blogger who complained that Catholics are judgmental fundamentalists because they think their Church is something special.  It implied that Catholics think they are better than other people, that their Church is the true Church, and that we want everyone to be just like us.
          It was impossible to understand what the writer was really getting at because the article was extremely vague.  I’m not sure what specifically upsets her, or if there was a particular incident that triggered the article.  From what I gathered, however, she does not like Catholic evangelization, and especially not apologetics.
          So I decided to consider the question.  Is evangelization uncharitable?  Well, I didn’t consider it too seriously as though I were second-guessing this clear mandate Jesus left the Church, but I did want to contemplate why it can be perceived that way, and if perhaps I have contributed to that perception.
          Let’s examine her four main complaints:

1)    We think the Church is something special.  As Chick-Fil-A might answer, “Guilty as charged.”  But why is it something special?  It is the Body of Christ.  He gave it to us as a gift.  God loves us more than we can possibly imagine, and we should love Him in return.  Should we not then love His Church?  After all, I think my wife is something special, and no one faults me for that.  I do not, however, think the Church (or my wife) is perfect.  They have human elements, which come with imperfections.  But I love them both.  It does not follow, of course, that I think other Christian communities (or other women) are bad.

2)    We think we are better than other people.  This, of course, is not true.  Certainly there are Catholics who are filled with pride.  This comes from the fact that they are human, however, not Catholic.  Perhaps this blogger had a bad experience with someone, or perhaps she is projecting attitudes on Catholics, but this charge is false.

3)    We believe the Catholic Church is the true Church.  Again, guilty.  It is our belief that Jesus established the Catholic Church, and that we have the fullness of the Truth.  Again, though, this does not mean we think others are bad.  The Catechism clearly states that we recognize and honor the truth that is found in other religions, and we do not look down on people of different faiths.  However, we believe that our Church is true, and given to us by Christ.  If we didn’t, why would we belong to it?  Mormons believe the same thing.  So do Protestants.  That is what makes dialog possible, and provides the hope for eventual unity.  If we believe in Truth, then we can seek it together.  We can share what we believe, and why.  If I did not believe the Catholic Church is true, I’d be a fool to be a Catholic.  And I would assume anyone I met of another faith believes their church is true.  That shouldn’t offend me.

4)    We want everyone to be like us.  Well, I think one of me is quite enough, and I suspect most people who know me would agree.  However, God gave us great gifts in His Church.  It would be rather selfish of me not to share them.  I can honor another person’s faith and still want him to enjoy the gifts God gave us in the Catholic Church.  An example: I used to teach at a charter school that rented space from a Pentecostal Church.  Most of the kids were Pentecostal and they consistently invited me to their evening family night at the church.  I finally agreed to go, and was very edified by the people’s enthusiasm and obvious love for Jesus.  It was beautiful.  When I left that night, the first thing I thought was, “Man, these people would love the Eucharist.”

Why do we evangelize?  Because we are better than everyone and want them to become like us or they will go to hell?  Obviously not.  But it is true that Jesus established a Church, one Church, and that is the Catholic Church.  We don’t need to apologize for saying that; we need to be prepared to prove it.  And all salvation comes through His Church.  However, that salvation is not only open to professing Catholics.  All other Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  By virtue of their baptism, they are part of the Body of Christ.  They love Jesus (often better than we do) and He loves them, and acknowledges them as His own.  That does not mean that the Catholic Church is not the true Church, but it does mean we can not look down on people of other faiths. 
Even non-Christians, through baptism by desire, can receive the salvation that Christ gives the world through His Church.  It’s right in the Catechism, paragraph 1260.  So why do we evangelize?  Because Christ has left His Church all the gifts that can lead us to salvation and the most intimate relationship possible with Him.  We love people and want to share those gifts with them.  I heard an atheist once say that he was not offended when Christians witnessed to him.  “They believe they have something wonderful.  I would be insulted if they didn’t want to share it with me.”
I decided to write this article because I suspect that the blogger whose article I read isn’t alone in her feelings.  We don’t have to apologize for saying that what we believe is true.  And we need apologetics to be able to demonstrate that.  And it is still okay to correct fellow Catholics, even if that makes us the “bad guy.”
But we do need to be careful about how we do these things.  We should pray for wisdom and prudence, and be sure that our efforts at evangelization are truly about sharing the Good News, and not just winning arguments.
We need the humility to recognize that even if the Church is holy, her members, including ourselves, are not always holy.  If we honor and respect the people with whom we share our faith, and recognize that they may have spiritual gifts and insights from which we can benefit, we can be sure that we are fulfilling the demands of charity.