MADISON Many Catholics think that they need to be at the ready with all the answers when evangelizing — about the nature of God, Christ’s promise of everlasting life or the teachings of the Church. Still others avoid opportunities to spread the “Good News” because they fear that they don’t understand the faith well enough to do so.
Either way, Allan Wright, academic dean of St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Catholic Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard here, suggested that Catholics can learn something from the inquisitive nature of many found in the Gospel of Mark, including Jesus, his disciples, casual bystanders and even his critics. They start by asking simple, yet insightful questions that inspire them and the people around them and lead them to deepen their own faith, said Wright, who recently conducted a faith-formation series that examined each of the Synoptic Gospels for insights into evangelization.
“When we spread the Gospel, we should be reaching out to people, who have been sacramentalized, but not evangelized. We need to invite them to encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament,” said Wright. “Catholics don’t need to have all the answers, when they evangelize. Like Jesus and many of the other people in Mark, we just need to ask good questions that spark the imagination,” he said.
The story in Mark 8:27-33 finds Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” Some of them said that people think of him as John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. In a leading way, Christ asks “But who do you say that I am?” Peter re-affirms his own faith while also evangelizing the other disciples, by answering, “You are the Christ,” said Wright.
Often, Mark places in the crowds during Jesus’ many miracles a person who shouts, “Who is this person [who performed the miracle]?” — a way to help other bystanders and readers of the Gospel to come to their own conclusion in identifying Christ as that person. This book of the Bible — the shortest and possibly first Gospel written — also shows some of Jesus’ critics unknowingly in the act of evangelization as they pose their pointed questions. The Pharisees ask in Mark 2:13-17 why Christ and his disciples are sharing a table with many tax collectors and sinners. Jesus re-affirms his role as Messiah in his response: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” Wright said.
“Mark also surprises us. Although evangelization in this Gospel is outwardly oriented, its subtler message is that the disciples themselves should be better listeners. Catholics need to listen to others before speaking about the faith,” Wright said.
In Mark 4:35-41, the disciples wake a sleeping Jesus on a journey across the sea, terrified over a raging storm that kicks up waves that beat the boat and fill it with water. He calms the winds and sea, before rebuking his doubting disciples and telling them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Wright said.
In Mark, Jesus shines a light on the frequent lack of faith of his disciples by juxtaposing them with outsiders, who show themselves to be examples of faith — a reminder to Catholics today that we need to be open to outsiders in our efforts to evangelize. A man possessed with demons approaches Christ in Mark 5:1-12 and immediately starts worshipping him. Jesus cast out the demons and commands the cured man to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you,” which he does, Wright said.
For Catholics, all of the questions that characters in Mark pose and the doubts that they harbor point to the “paradox of faith — that faith often falls short of the ideal. Our faith always needs more encouragement, coaxing, reassurance and discernment,” Wright said.
“Mark shows people in continuous conversion, so they can bring the Good News to others. Evangelization is scary. Many people won’t listen to us. It takes humility and openness to failure. Yet we have the perfect role model for evangelization: Jesus,” Wright said.
We need to embody evangelization by interacting with people, where they live and work — over a meal or as part of parish ministry, such as a moms’ group, social-justice meeting, Bible study or young-adult group — and then inviting them to get to know Jesus. These welcoming encounters — similar to when Jesus shared a meal with sinners and tax collectors — can change people’s lives, Wright said.
“Remember that evangelization calls for patience. The kingdom of God is quietly growing. We are assured of a great harvest, despite all the challenges. It’s our job to grow in faith,” Wright said.