14 October 2003

Evangelization III

Hmm, "Evangelization III" sounds like an action movie title, doesn't it? I can see it now ~~~~ Christian girls in (modest) catsuits taking on the minions of the devil and the secular world to bring poor heathens the light of Christ! ~~~~ Ahem.

I think that the four messages from the Newman-Stein Fellowship listserv raised some important issues regarding evangelization. As Catholics, we don't go out and knock on doors the way Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do, and we don't say odd things to our non-Catholic friends like, "Have you been saved?" (At least, I don't do that. Actually, none of my non-Catholic friends have ever said that to me, but other people tell me they've had this experience.) Catholics tend to take the approach that our faith is here and we will tell you more if you're interested. We try to live out our faith without apology but also without being obnoxious. If we live it with sincerity and joy, and are obviously content with what living the faith brings us, it will be attractive to other people. People have actually asked me, "Why are you so happy?" I'm not hesitant to tell them.

The trouble with a lot of Catholics, both liberal and conservative, me included, is that we complain a lot. This and that are wrong with the Church, such and such shouldn't happen. Catholic students on the campus of a university which doesn't always support them are in danger of becoming cliquish, especially if they are well-educated in their faith, because they see what is wrong and naturally band together with like-minded people. Emboldened by numbers, we complain about everything we see that is wrong to anyone who will listen. This is, essentially, what the Newman-Stein Fellowship has been accused of: being cliquish and negative. And who wants to join a group with that reputation?

There are certainly god reasons for calling us negative. One of the members used the listserv to try to organize a walk-out from one of the talks on campus last week, and requested that people who did not wish to participate in the walk-out should sit outside the auditorium before the speech and pray the Rosary. In a series called "Catholicism for a New Millenium," this speech was by an openly gay Catholic. I was told by a girl who was there that the speaker did, in fact, acknowledge that his views were not in line with the Church. We were told by the person who organized the walk-out that the speaker would not acknowledge this.

Now, this is a rather extreme example. But it is not the only example of such behavior by our group. People jumped to conclusions about the event primarily because of its title and because of the group which organized it. They proceded to react in an extremely negative fashion. A positive reaction would be to have given it the benefit of the doubt. If the speech turned out to be as awful as anticipated, we could have organized a presentation by a faculty member on a later date as a response, presenting the Church's view accurately. This is very much encouraged under our new speaker policy. Students have the right to be presented with dissenting views, but we also have the right not to be confused about what the Church actually teaches.

Acting negatively has a bad impact on other students, but just as importantly, it affects the faculty members who support us. We sometimes have trouble gaining support because we have made a bad reputation for ourselves. NSF is a good group. A lot of wonderful social and religious events are organized, and University Ministry would fall apart without us. Guess who fills most of the time slots for adoration every Thursday? Who are the readers and EM's for daily Mass? Which students staff the retreats? Mostly us. We do work for charity, we sponsor school-wide events like "Pope Week" this week and the Vocations Fair last year, in addition to our mission of educating ourselves about the faith through weekly meetings. But the actions that the university sees are the bad ones, and we need to make sure that such things don't happen again.

I think this has implications beyond the NSF at Gonzaga. I think that there are a lot of Catholics who are probably guilty of complaining too much, and in the wrong company, even when we really are happy to be Catholic. I don't suggest trying to change your personality. If you're naturally grumpy, fine, but maybe you could find something else to complain about.

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