By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2012
Evangelizing by Catholics in the new millennium will require actively seeking out people hungering for the Gospel and also living and sharing faith in ways that are compassionate, not confrontational, speakers said at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress.
“You are a vital part of the church’s ministry in the new millennium. The church needs you. Christ needs you. The world needs you. Our apostolate is out there—where we live, where we work, this is where the church wants us to shine,” said Deacon Alex Jones.
“This is what the evangelicals and my brother Pentecostals have come to understand. Go where the people are. You are the bridge for them to come to Jesus Christ. You are the one that is the key to the culture today: you—one on one with your friend; you—one on one with your neighbor; you—one on one with your co-worker,” he said.
“Witnessing Christ through the first witness—your lifestyle—and then proclaiming Christ, you are the one to lead them from darkness to light,” he said.
The African-American permanent deacon from Detroit became a Catholic when he was 59 years old after serving as pastor for decades of two evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Over 50 members of his family and congregation also became Catholic at the same time.
Since then, he has led Catholic evangelization efforts in Detroit.
He said when he was invited to work in the evangelization office he understood why God called him to become a Catholic even though it was late in his life.
Although he knows that some Catholics have a negative opinion of what the Second Vatican Council ushered in, Deacon Jones said he is very much of a supporter of the council’s wisdom.
“I believe Blessed John XXIII heard accurately what the Holy Spirit wanted the church to do,” he said.
First of all, he said, “the call to dialogue with the world around us—with modernity. Let’s not just condemn it (the modern world). Let’s dialogue with it. We have the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it is a transformative message, a Gospel of life, a Gospel of love, a Gospel of justice, a Gospel of peace.”
In the last 60 years, he said, “We are beginning to engage our culture.”
“We have more to do in confronting the present crisis,” he acknowledged.
The second point he made was the “renewed call to holiness” for everyone that came from the Second Vatican Council and also the call to the laity to actively proclaim the Gospel and not to think that work belongs to clergy or religious only.
“The reason we exist is to evangelize, to preach,” Deacon Jones said.
And in order to do that, followers of Christ have to step outside their comfort zones, he said.
The rapid growth of evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal churches is not because of their style of worship or unique programs, he believes. He said it was because they were going out into the community, evangelizing people they meet and bringing those who respond to the Gospel message to the church.
Evangelicals and Pentecostals—“they’ve learned that secret. That is why they are growing so fast,” he said.
“We meet them on the street,” he said. “I did it. I met them on the street, knocked on their doors, asked them if they knew Jesus loved them.”
He told one story of a friend who felt the Lord asking him to approach a burly, brooding, cantankerous-looking man sitting alone at the very back of a bus and tell him the Lord loved him. The Christian argued with the Lord for a while in his mind, saying the man would probably punch him, but eventually he gave in and approached the man.
“I just want to tell you one thing—God loves you,” he said.
The man “broke down and began to cry” after hearing this “very simple message,” Deacon Jones said.
“You’d be surprised how many people you see every day who need a word from the Lord,” he said.
In a similar way, speaker Father Leo Patalinghug said he has been surprised at how his priestly ministry has been extended via television, even the unlikely means of a Food Network episode where he defeated chef Bobby Flay in a steak fajita cooking competition.
Known for his love of cooking, which began when he was in seminary in Rome, Italy, he authored “Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life,” a book that blends recipes with ideas on bringing meaningful spiritual discussion to the dinner table.
Like Deacon Jones, he said that Catholics must bring the Gospel more courageously to the world around them.
“Hollywood—it is a frightening place,” he said. “Are we afraid of Hollywood? We shouldn’t be. We should be sending missionaries there. We have beauty.”
“Woe to us Catholics if we don’t evangelize the airwaves,” the Baltimore priest, a native of the Philippines, said.
“We have yet to see ourselves as people who will face judgment if we do not preach Christ,” he added.
However, he also said that whether you share faith with co-workers or in your own family, there must be love motivating and guiding the words and the actions.
“We have a responsibility to be a missionary not just of dogmatic teachings,” he said. “Missionaries help each other to carry their crosses.”
In sharing the faith, Father Patalinghug said, “sometimes … we tend to put a mean face on the church.”
Instead, he said, “You are sent forth from the Mass like a missile to explode with God’s love. … Direct man’s gaze toward the mystery of Christ.”
Especially, he said, embody two pervading qualities of Jesus’ ministry: “healing and forgiveness.”
Being a missionary does not mean traveling to a foreign land, he said. “How about being a missionary in your own home when you have to forgive your husband or your wife or your children?”
He suggested a recipe of a BLT, “which will help you to be a good missionary: beautifully balanced, listening lovingly, talking truthfully.”
In sharing faith, he said, be balanced. “Like standing on a seesaw, be rooted, make sure you have a central weight. Never go too far to the left or to the right.”
“Listen lovingly” to those who have difficulty with belief or who challenge your faith, he added. “This is huge: more listening, less talking. Listen for their questions.”
Lastly, he said, when sharing faith “talk truthfully.”
“Talk about what you know because that will be sincere,” he said.