A Family Thing

My sister-in-law Lisa, theologian/writer/homeschooling mother of six, shared this entry from her journal with me. I thought I’d share it with you. (Note that it was written before the death of John Paul II.)


The pope has said that the gospel of our times is the gospel of suffering. I don’t think that there is much room anymore for evangelization. In the West, at least, everyone, or most everyone is too broken. There is no need for apologetics because no one is embracing a creed that needs to be argued against. I’m not talking about the evangelicals. I’m referring to most of the rest of the country. Divorce, abortion, contraception–the net result is not moral confusion, but ontological confusion. People don’t know what they believe, they are not sure that they believe in anything.

What is left is suffering–offering one’s life for others. Has this not been the message of all the saints of our time? Mother Teresa–”It is not ours to do great things, but small things with great love.” St. Therese of Lisieux offering herself for the salvation of the world.

The pope stands as a figure with one foot in the old era, one in the new. In the eighties he was a triumphant figure: ushering in the end of communism, the end of the Cold War. He was doing great things. But now, in a new era, his “greatness” seems to be waning. He has decried the war, but noone is listening. He can do nothing, apparently, to stop the spread of Western materialism into the East, the terrorism of the Middle East, the war in Iraq. Apparently.

That’s where the suffering comes in. Only through salvific suffering can the world be saved.


  1. AnotherCoward says

    Should we not suffer evangelism all the same though? Even in the darkness of ontological confusion, should we abandon hope that some will hear the Shepherd’s call and answer?

    …I just can’t fathom that we should give up on evangelism…

    Evangelism is a stewing pet project of mine. I come from traditions that were actively and successfully evangelizing their communities… but the Catholic Church seems, for the most part, to have abandoned and/or forgotten evangelization. Converts come because of marriage by and large.

    I kind of feel like a minority among the converted crowd – coming to Catholicism because of a continuity I see in belief and practice that goes all the way back to the first century A.D. Something that I came about largely on my own though certainly not without the encouragement and motivation of some dear Catholic friends.

    The Catholic Church can and should do better than that. People should know why they are Catholic. They should be able to say what being a Christian and Catholic means. And they should be able and want to share that – certainly foremost in deed but also in word.

    …but there is such a timidity among Catholics to do all that. First because of an uncertainty that comes from not being continually trained in their beliefs and the reasons for their practice; second, a perception of a lack of support from the Church; and third, a fear of being offensive or persecuted for their belief.

    The Church can (and should) provide the support for the first two problems, and in that, the third problem becomes lessened because the support of the Church quietens fear of outside persecution – there is a home to return to, after all.

    bleh… I hate to see this post. I don’t disagree that we should suffer to save the world. But I think that we can and should just as well suffer through evangelization among other things.

  2. Anonymous says

    Here’s that love-over-truth (or rather, love-containing-truth) thing again. Evangelization might hurt in some cases, but I’ll tell what hurts more: Keeping silent–“holding yourself in”–because the hour has not yet come. And why not? Because that person is not ready to hear the truth. (They say you can’t answer questions that haven’t been asked–and just because a person preaches a falsehood does not mean he or she is ready to listen to the truth.) Maybe that person will never be ready to hear it–at least not from you. In such a case, all you can do is wait–and pray–and offer up your suffering as you “hold yourself in” for that person’s sake. But that takes patience. It takes preferring the good of the other, which is that he or she actually hears the truth, over your need to “get it off your chest,” “combat error,” etc. It takes preferring the other to yourself. It takes love.

  3. AnotherCoward says

    Wisdom in evangelization is a far different thing though from advocating an end to evangelism.

    Like I said, I see many people being brought to Christ in many different Christian traditions because their churches prepare them to evangelize. And I’m not even talking apologetics – just simple evangelization, sharing the Gospel.

    I can’t imagine why the Catholic Church does not more actively offer and support such instruction and ministry as well…

    …and I certainly cannot fathom abandoning it anymore than what it already has been abandoned. That’s a bad idea… it’s going in the exact opposite direction than what we should be going.

  4. Lisa didn’t advocate abandoning evangelism. She said that she didn’t think there was “much room” in the world for it anymore. If you consider your experience, it shouldn’t take long to appreciate how few people there are who are really open to the truth, who are “seeking,” who are intellectually honest, who hear the truth in what you’re saying right off and assent (and then change their lives accordingly). More often it’s obfuscation, defensiveness, rationalization, etc.

    To put it bluntly: If you’re f*cking, or committing any other sin against chastity (which were the sins Lisa listed as making evangelization so rarely effective), it clouds your intellect. (This is St. Thomas.) In other words, you’re not perceiving reality very well–including the reality of how miserable you are. What’s true for alcoholics is true for almost everyone: You have to really “hit bottom” before you’re going to listen to what the people who have been trying to save you were saying all along. In the meantime, “love bears all things,” even as it only “rejoices in the truth,” which truth is that only the love of God, of being loved by Him and by loving Him in return, can fulfill our deepest desires.

    So what do you preach from the pulpit? You preach what the Church teaches, of course. But you make clear that: a) what you’re preaching is love (and show how); b) you know what you’re preaching is hard to hear (and say why), i.e., show com-passion; c) you preach what you preach out of obedience to Christ, Whom you love than life itself. Love, love and love.

  5. AnotherCoward says

    Again, I’m not disagreeing with you on why and how and when to communicate the Gospel – I don’t see why you seem to think so. But I’m saying there needs to be an increased awareness among Catholics in general about when and how and why to share and to encourage and support them in doing so – give people a communal foundation of love and support from which they have confidence to evangelize. That’s all.

    Perhaps we live in two different cultures of our own. I do not find it such an uncommon thing to find someone looking for truth, who is trying to be honest. I’m not saying it’s the run of the mill, but I’m saying they are there and are waiting on us – all we have to do is be aware and know how to talk to people “of the culture”. I know many people who have changed their lives as a result of the Gospel of Christ brought to them through evangelization, which emphasizes to me that this remains a critical part of the Church’s mission – that there is plenty of room. It just seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church in particular is leaving that job to the other Christian churches in America.

    We can do better.

  6. Anonymous says

    What I’m “disagreeing” with is your characterization of Lisa; your reaction to her, it seems, was based on a misapprehension of what she was saying. You wrote as if she had recommended abandoning evangelization. What she said was that there was “not much room” for it anymore.

    Maybe we do live in two different cultures–e.g., maybe more people are steeped in un-chastity in my culture than in yours. So maybe people are less defensive, clearer-eyed, more docile, etc., in your land than in mine. I myself couldn’t say I know “many” people who have converted upon hearing the Gospel (and by that I mean the truth of the Catholic faith–“get saved and that’s it” seems to me a much easier “gospel” to accept). If that’s the case, I’m happy for you.


  7. Anonymous says

    What I should say is, I don’t know “many” people for whom “evangelization” was a factor in their conversion. (In almost every case I know of, the main reason for eventual conversion was a long-term friendship with a faithful Catholic. In other words, love–patient, faithful love.)


  8. AnotherCoward says

    Well evangelization is very much in part having a successful relationship with people – knowing how to establish relationships, sustain them, make them deep as well as casual, and how to get people to think and challenge them in love.

    I probably did come on too strong with my reaction to Lisa’s thoughts – but I don’t think that my reaction is too unwarranted from my context.

    Let me explain. Do you know someone you’d characterize as a Catholic evangelist? Down here in the south, I know probably no more than 5 – people who are very personable, social, and are very in touch with their faith: can speak of it, speak for it, and defend it.

    My reaction is probably that I see any LESS emphasis on evangelism as no evangelism at all. Perhaps you guys are more evangelical where you’re at and so need less of it. I think in a lot of ways, it’s only getting started here.

  9. I would only suggest in conclusion that the most effective “evangelization” takes place when friendship–love–is valued for its own sake, and not as “a part of” evangelization. In other words, just be a friend. A friend tells his/her friend the truth, in charity, when it’s time–when there’s openness.

    Yes, we all need to be more literate, all need to be able to speak well about the faith.

Speak Your Mind