By Marc Zarlengo
Evangelization is not something that was pounded into me as a nominal, half-hearted (uncatechized) Catholic growing up in the 80s and 90s. In fact, I never thought about it. But as someone who has since reconverted to the faith and now attends both the Novus Ordo and traditional Latin Mass (TLM), I am confident that faithful Catholics of all stripes are facing one major common difficulty: How do we evangelize in this current environment of discord and bleeding? It’s a real problem, and we need to deal with it.
Our job according the Great Commission is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In the face of clerical financial scandals, sex scandals, a bizarre push to support climate-change regulations with open borders from our Church leaders, open rejection of Catholic dogma in parish homilies week after week and liturgical disasters, how is “Joe Catholic” supposed to reach out to his neighbors and fallen away Catholic family members in order to bring them back into the Church founded by Jesus Christ?
I have struggled with this, and I must admit it’s a really hard sell. As a 14-year litigation trial attorney, I am in the business of making a case to the fact finder (jury or judge) so they can make a good judgment, hopefully in my client’s favor. As the attorney, I must deal with the bad facts, while focusing on the good facts. In the process, a good attorney will acknowledge the bad facts and deal with them head on. In other words, you need to explain in all honesty that while the bad stuff may exist and should not be ignored, justice requires the adjudicator to base the ultimate decision on the good facts in favor of joining the Church.
I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to go out into the streets, knock on doors, and proclaim the Gospel and the Truth of the Catholic Church in order to save souls, and only stopped at the last minute to ask myself: “How in the world can I in good conscience encourage others to join this Church right now?” I don’t have a problem with engaging potential converts on questions of faith and morals—that’s totally expected. The issue now is: How do you have these discussions when so many Church leaders disagree on the basics of liturgy and dogma?
It would seem the traditional defender of the Catholic faith is stuck between a rock and hard place when it comes to evangelization. On one hand, we are commanded by Our Lord to evangelize and make disciples of all nations in order to save souls, while on the other hand, we are charged with bringing them into the Church with leaders that appear to be destroying souls in so many ways.
Putting myself into the shoes of a lawyer who is stuck with defending a problematic client before a skeptical jury, but nevertheless must find a way to win, it seems to me there are four main points that need to be remembered and followed. Here is my suggested four-point strategy when evangelizing in this current environment:
1. Come right out of the gate and admit the obvious regarding the Church sex and financial scandals, which is unavoidable because it is all over the news. Don’t try to paper it over. Inoculate the person you are trying to evangelize by fully admitting the evil that is scourging the Church right now. Don’t allow for any opportunity to discredit your argument in support of joining the Church by being put on the defensive about Church scandals. Even more importantly, by doing this up front, it will help your own credibility with the person you are trying to evangelize. Honesty is always the best policy and people appreciate that in my experience. Reasonable adults can make distinctions between evil clerics and the beauty of the Church and her teachings if given the proper information.
2. Study up and be prepared to answer questions on the Magisterium and how Tradition works. In years past, it was common for Catholics to have to respond to questions about papal infallibility and what scriptural basis there is for a pontificate. Now, it’s going to be much more complicated. We will need to be prepared go into much more detail and nuance about why new Catholics don’t have to become card-carrying social justice warriors dedicated to socialist politics. For starters, you could read Fr. Chad Ripperger’s short book on Magisterial Authority or review this article by Dr. John Joy. You don’t need to be an expert; just be prepared to explain in very simple terms how faithful Catholics understand authority and Church teaching, despite some of the shocking and disturbing ideas coming from the top.
3. In the beginning, try to avoid bringing up most of those ugly internal disputes going on within Catholic circles concerning issues such as the identity of the Pope, Holy Communion in the hand, which group of bishops are heretics, disputes among traditionalists, etc. It’s not that these issues are unimportant (already consuming a good portion of your social media time!) but rather that for purposes of evangelization, it seems counter-productive to confuse the person you are trying to convince to join the Church with topics that will almost certainly cause you to get sidetracked from your real mission. These are unnecessary distractions that undermine your effort to evangelize and can wait to be addressed at another time—not at the beginning. If they bring up such topics, address it quickly and move on. Get back on course to convincing them why to join the Church. After all, where they fall on diocesan politics is not going to matter if they refuse to come into the Church in the first place.
4. Finally, hammer home, repeatedly if necessary, your best arguments. And that’s usually going to be that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself and outside the Church there is no salvation. Because you love him or her and want to save their soul while growing closer to God through the sacraments and 2000 years of tradition, you are inviting them into the Church, despite everything else. Here we can receive the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of our merciful God, it does not matter if the priest confecting the Eucharist is a morally corrupt person or not. At the end of the day, it is all about saving souls and obedience to Christ and that’s what all of us should be focused on. God chose to work through sinful human beings, and he wants more holy souls to populate His Church to ultimately bring about its purification. In other words, we desire them, and the person you’re evangelizing needs the Church.
We shouldn’t have to be in this position. It’s not right that a good number of Church leaders have made evangelizing this much more difficult for the laity. We didn’t deserve this. But Christ didn’t deserve to die on the Cross either, so it’s time we suck it up and grow the Church because that’s what Christ commanded, and we will all be better for it once this scourge plaguing the Church has passed.
I rest my case.