Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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Some years ago I attended an Evangelization Training Program sponsored by the Franciscan University of Stubenville which was conducted in the St. Louis Catholic Church in Miami. It was a week long program attended by both priests and laity. We lived in the homes of the parishioners. Each day started at 8:00 in the morning and lasted till 9:30-10 at night. In the mornings and afternoons we had Mass, listened to lectures, shared in small groups, prayed and practiced our skills in evangelization.

Then in the evenings after dinner we visited homes in the parish. The Pastor had already alerted the families in the parish that we were coming. We went in groups of three. After getting acquainted we would give a personal testimony, ask a few questions to see where they were, present the Good News in a brief clear way, pray with them, leave a copy of the New Testament and make arrangement for a follow up visit if they were interested.

While we were visiting these homes, another large group of parishioners were praying together in the parish center for us. At the end of the evening we all had to return to the parish center and give a report of all that had happened.

What was my reaction? Well first of all I was amazed and edified at the zeal, love and joy of these evangelizers. I got the impression that this was the great adventure in their lives.

Secondly, I recognized this as a new role for the Catholic Church. For some 400 years now, after the Reformation, the Church had been on the defensive. The study of the Church was called apologetics, the defense of the Church. Now, no longer feeling obliged to defend itself, the Church is out actively evangelizing, proclaiming the Good News.

But most of all it brought home to me in a very concrete way that this is the Age of the Laity. With all my knowledge of philosophy and theology these lay people were much more effective than I. In language and illustrations that the people well understood their faith flowed out from their hearts with joy, enthusiasm and love.

The problem is not, believing in God it is believing that God believes in me. That God loves me. God has chosen me. All that I am, all that I will ever be is a spin-off from the reality that God loves me. The quality of my life is a spin-off from my realization of this reality.

Evangelization is proclaiming the love of God. You learn by doing. Conversion to the Church is essential but the bottom line is conversion to the person of Jesus.

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