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Woe to Those Who Offend

Matt speaking here: Marcel from Mary's Aggies is guest posting here once a week for a month. We're happy to have him here. Here's Marcel's post:

“And seeing the multitudes, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:36-37)

There are many reasons why faithful Catholics don’t evangelize, but there is no reason more prominent than fear. Giving in to any fear is an impediment to our holiness. I challenge you to think of a parish where there is no fear. How much would we love? How much would we serve? How often would the truth be proclaimed? How many lives would be changed?

Fear is not consonant with the Gospel. The Bible repeatedly says, “be not afraid,” “have no fear,” and “fear not.” With God there should be no fear, but because we are human we must all battle with fears. Being afraid or anxious is natural, but allowing fear or anxiety keep us from loving another person is sinful.

We Catholics have lots of fear when it comes to evangelization (sharing our faith through witness of life and by word).

-Fear of rejection and hostility - what if they don’t accept me or my message?

-Fear of inadequacy – I am not good enough. I don’t know enough

-Fear of failure – what if I look like a fool?

In addition, many Catholics fear offending others.

In our society today offending another person is commonly seen as the vice of vices. We are supposed to let everyone do as they please as long as they are not hurting others – at least that is what is considered to be tolerance. This is actually an unchristian way of looking at the world. Every sin hurts every other Christian. As the Body of Christ, we are all joined together, with Christ as our head. (1 Cor 12: 26)

Furthermore, in many parts of the public square, religion has been pushed into the ghettos. It is uncivilized to speak of religion in public, because you may offend some people. But, not offending others is not a virtue. Certainly we shouldn’t seek to annoy or offend if there is not a serious reason to do so. But, sometimes there is a need to speak the truth whether it will be well received or not. When Christ commissioned the 72 to preach the gospel he told them they would be received in some places and rejected in others. (Luke 10: 1-12) Paul was lashed five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and went through many other hardships for Jesus. (2 Cor 11: 23-27)

What we must see from these hardships of preaching the Gospel is Christ pouring out abundant blessings upon us. We are blessed because when we are persecuted and thus we are sharing in the persecution of Christ who died for us. In this way we participate in our sanctification and the sanctification of others. “Blessed are they who are persecuted, for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matt 5:10-12)

If we give in to the fear of offending other people, we will never speak of Jesus, the Catholic Church or truth. These absolutes are seen as offensive to the ears of many segments of our modern relativistic society. The only absolute the relativist believes in is there are no absolutes. As the parable of the sower in Matt 13 tells us, we are to sow the gospel and let the seeds fall where they may regardless of how it is received – even if another person is offended by it.

Do we see evangelization as something done only at church or on Sundays? Many Christians compartmentalize their lives into neat ways of seeing the world – church for these times and “real life” for others. For some, we cannot even hint at religiosity at work because we are being overbearing. For others, we are not to speak of God in public so we won’t “impose” our views on others. This attitude is erroneous in a Christian world-view. We are to proclaim and witness to Christ in all places and times.

Jesus sought to be accepted as well, but not at the cost of forgetting the good news. Jesus had the human desire to be accepted by others and sought this from those closest to him. But, he was rejected by many, including his hometown. The difference between us and Jesus is he never let his fear lead him into sin or a failure to evangelize.

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Devin Rose said...

Very true. On the practical side, we as Catholics must evangelize/catechize our brothers and sisters within the Church to equip them with the knowledge they need to understand and then defend their faith. This formation will help eliminate one of the causes of the fear.

PattyinCT said...

I don't know if it's a fear of "giving offense" as it's more an underlying fear of "hurting someone". We as Catholics have become divine physicians "Do No Harm". But if we are parts of the body of Christ, I wonder if that pain might be just what is called for. The existence of pain in the body is a signal that something is not right, not functioning correctly. But are we going to allow more and more of the body to become diseased because we are afraid to call out on that pain that we see? At the end of the day, we can only live and love in the truth. If that message hurts others then the pain might even be seen medicinal. Afterall, when I've been the most offended by someone's words, its been at times in my life when I was more offended that someone went past my defenses to deliver a much needed message. And it was my pride that was trying to keep the truth out...

Marie said...

I wish I could say I've been confident in every confrontation that I've had, or that every confrontation that I've had has resulted in the opposite of what I expected. In fact, these consequences are what's made me stronger. Plus, you know what they say about a person who's lost everything... what else do they have to fear?

The only thing we can be confident in is that we will never lose God.

Carole said...

I'd like to hazard another possibility: Catholics don't evangelize because they haven't been evangelized. Pope Paul VI said that was the touchstone of evangelization: the test of truth--those who have been evangelized go on to evangelize others.

Because they can't keep their mouth shut.

I'm not saying fear doesn't also come into play, but I think that has more to do with evangelizing strangers or people who are really blatantly anti religious. When you are in a living relationship with God on a daily basis, things come out your mouth (and in your lifestyle) that you don't even think about when you are relaxed--and these things prompt questions in those who see how you live. I remember being in a carpool once when a woman asked me if I'd been busy lately. Without even thinking about it, I made a remark about how the Lord had really been helping me with getting everything done. It opened up several days of conversation about faith on our drives. Or another situation when I was dating a guy and I suggested that we pray about something together. After a lifetime of regular Mass, Catholic school and university, he said "I've never done this before."

I add to that the number of Catholics I know, some of whom work for the Church, who do not have a personal relationship with God (one who told me that was a Protestant notion) or don't really believe that God loves them. (I can include some priests in that group!)

If you ask me why Catholics don't evangelize, my money is on that: they haven't come into a living relationship with the living God. Once that happens, it's impossible to compartmentalize your faith into one part of your life or one day of your week. And darn hard to keep your mouth shut about it.

Rick said...

No one gives what one does not have. So, if the life of Christ is just culture - at set of mores, beliefs and rituals then it is not as compelling just as immigrants would have the culture of the old country. One is not really fired up to share his Chinese heritage to an Italian for instance. But if Christ were truly alive, then there'll be more umphh, more gusto. And sharing Him wouldn't be offensive because, He's more than just an imposition of rules and judgments.

And while it's hard to start sharing with non Catholics and non-Christians, one can start with an easy crowd - our kids, our siblings, our spouse, our friends. Then we can kick it up a notch and go for the uncircumcised heathen. ;D

Kim Luisi said...

I've come to the conclusion that the only way evangelization can happen is through speaking about beauty.

The typical evangelical style of robust conversion efforts have never really worked for many people in the long term:many protestants go from denomination to denomination because the efforts used included conversion based on emotion.

But real conversion often happens incrementally, and if we are the conduits, we do not necessarily have to know much about the nuts and bolts of our faith. A faith authentically lived through beauty will show, through no efforts of our own.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing two internationally known artists: Etsuro Sotoo, sculptor of Gaudi's la Sagrada Familia, and Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, and Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting style)Master.

Both of these men converted to Christianity through art: Sotoo converted because he needed to see what Gaudi saw; he needed to follow not Gaudi, but what Gaudi followed: Christianity, and in particular, Catholicism.

Fujimura, on the other hand, was wounded by the beauty and extravagance of the materials he used, and because he saw the beauty of the materials (gold, azurite, malachite, etc) he had to ask where that beauty came from. He then converted and became Presbyterian.

When we are struck by beauty, we ask where it comes from. This is human nature. When we live our lives with Beauty, in conjunction with it in the culture, people cannot help but ask where it comes from. It is that moment that allows for such a question that is the evangelization. Going door to door like the JW's or Mormon's doesn't really do it. Neither does most of what the Evangelicals do, either.

But beauty, as put forth by Pope Benedict XVI and the Pontifical Council for Culture, in Via Pulchritudinis (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9075) does.

My interview with Etsuro Sotoo and Makoto Fujimura will appear in the next print edition of Traces, the magazine of Communion and Liberation, www.traces-cl.com.

You can see some of their wisdom at my blog:

Interview with Etsuro Sotoo:


Interview with Makoto Fujimura:

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