In the past two articles, we shared that love (for God, and for His people) is the reason we evangelise, and that evangelisation is joining God’s search party and becoming fishers of men. Now comes the question of “when?” When is the right time to evangelise? When do we know that it is the opportunity for evangelisation?
In a simple way, there is never a right time to evangelise. Neither is there a wrong time. One could say that every time is the time for evangelisation. However, different times call for different ways of evangelisation.
Evangelisation at all times
Evangelisation is the proclamation of the Gospel through (i) living the life of a baptised; and (ii) sharing it. It is the action that responds to God who is Love, and the preaching to tell others about that Love. These two cannot be done independently of each other; however they may be done at different times.
“Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who has no need to be ashamed, but who keeps the message of truth on the straight path.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Evangelisation in this context will be someone living his life in God’s Truth. Someone striving to be holy and to do good. Someone extending love to another, living in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by healing the sick, giving to the poor, dying to oneself.
So when should we do these? All the time. Whether someone is there witnessing in person or not, we are asked to be a Christian, to be the light of Christ, every single moment of our lives.
Some years back, I pondered upon the commandment ‘love thy neighbour’, and I asked my spiritual director how I could love someone that I dislike. In my understanding of love then, I could not fathom how that was possible. Then came a question to me – if I were to see this person I dislike falling, would I extend help to that person? My answer was simple – yes. In that moment, I realised what it meant to love someone beyond my feelings of like or dislike. I came to a deeper understanding of what evangelisation meant; that in every moment of my life, I was to seek to love – God, myself and others. In that way, evangelisation should consciously be happening all the time.
Prudence in evangelisation
When we notice the good someone is doing, we may think to ourselves or tell others about his or her good deeds. “Oh, what a nice guy!” Sometimes when someone else thanks us for something, we humbly respond with a “no worries!” or “my pleasure!” So how do our good acts point toward God who is Love? Evangelisation in action is the living of life in response to God’s Love, but if we don’t tell others that our goodness comes from that Love, we will just be a ‘nice guy’. So proclamation of the Gospel should always include speaking about the Gospel… but with prudence.
The aim of evangelisation is not to chalk up the number of people I manage to convert to Catholicism in my lifetime. (Although our joyful Christian lives should attract people to our faith). As Pope Francis said in an interview, “In evangelisation, the protagonist is God; in proselytism, it is I.”
When we speak about the Love of God to someone else (whether Catholic or not), we have to practice prudence – what is my intention? If it is for love for this person (and for God!), is this the right moment? There may be times when it is not the most prudent to quote a Bible verse, but instead allow the Holy Spirit to speak words of comfort or encouragement through you.
In my years as a parish youth coordinator, there were many times I could sense the anguish, hurt, or anger weighing in the heart of an individual. In that precious vulnerable moment when he or she shares with me, I am challenged to know the right way to honour that sharing. When a young person was faced with a sudden death of a loved one, and the anger and sorrow filled her heart, the prudent path was for me to be silent and to hold that space. In that situation, preaching would not have been the best response, but being with her was.
Evangelisation through preaching must be done, but it should be done with discernment and at opportune times.
The Good News is eternal. It is forever new. Every time we turn back to the source of Love, every time we bring that Joy to someone else, it is new. (Evangelii gaudium 11) So when should we share that Good News? With every breath we take. To live in his light all the time, and to speak about his Love in every opportunity he gives.
Sheila is part of the evangelisation team at the Office for the New Evangelisation (ONE). This is the third article in a series of four on evangelisation by ONE.