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Pope Francis has offered a lot of advice on evangelization. Here is how it works.
Sooner or later it’s going to happen. You chat by the watercooler with a coworker or in the copy room by your boss, who says, “I’m going to the first gay wedding I’ve ever been invited to this weekend. What do you think of gay marriage?”
What can a Catholic say? What can you say that is clear but not career-killing, understanding but not indulgent, true but not harsh?
Pope Francis has spent a lot of time explaining just how we should witness in the world. Here are a few of his principles.
1. Your life will speak for you first.
St. Francis probably never actually said, “Preach always, and when necessary, use words,” but it sums him up, and Pope Francis said practically that, in Ecuador July 7:
“Evangelization does not consist in proselytizing, for proselytizing is a caricature of evangelization, but rather evangelizing entails attracting by our witness those who are far off. It means humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God in the Church, drawing near to those who feel judged and condemned outright by those who consider themselves to be perfect and pure.”
Before you speak truth at the watercooler, you have to live truth in your life. In today’s climate, people won’t listen to you unless they know you are kind, loving and authentic, living what you preach. You need to be the kind of person who serves others without judging them but also the kind of person who has one set of principles that applies to both himself and to others.
There is only one way to be that person: the grace of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources,” the Pope told seminarians in 2013. “What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ.”
2. They will only hear vocabulary they understand.
“Jesus, the Master, teaches the crowds and the small group of his disciples by accommodating himself to their ability to understand,” said Pope Francis in Ecuador. “Jesus does not seek to ‘play the professor.’ Instead, he seeks to reach people’s hearts, their understanding and their lives, so that they may bear fruit.”
When it is time to speak, you can’t say “Marriage must be indissoluble, exclusive and open to life, ordered to the unitive and procreative dimensions of the conjugal act,” because your interlocutor will not understand your words, including the word “marriage.”
The world today thinks of marriage as a public declaration of romance, not an institution to promote procreation, and they can’t see why anybody who feels romantic should be barred from experiencing marriage.
To be heard, said Pope Francis, you have to translate the truth into their language. For instance: “I believe marriage is the ultimate romance—it’s two people totally united; so totally that they devote their whole lives to each other, and so powerfully that they create new life with each other. It’s a promise you can’t take back, a love that won’t close itself to anything life throws at it, including a child.”
3. Show them who is getting hurt.
There is a reason that the public is gradually turning against abortion, but becoming more open to redefining marriage: In general, modernity rejects all moral principles except “don’t hurt someone else.”
To many people, it doesn’t look like homosexual marriage hurts anyone—but it looks like banning it does.
Pope Francis has made an effort to explain how redefining marriage in fact hurts the very basic unit of society: The family. Having an intact family raises lots of other social indicators: Children from intact families are more likely to graduate, get a job and go to church; they are less likely to commit crimes, suffer poverty or have children outside wedlock.
Speaking to diplomats in the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “The family itself is not infrequently considered disposable, thanks to the spread of an individualistic and self-centered culture which severs human bonds and leads to a dramatic fall in birth rates, as well as legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole.”
In the Philippines, he added: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage.”
4. Show them why the Church is relevant.
Gay marriage hurts in another way: It infringes on religious liberty. This doesn’t bother as many people as it should – not because they hate the Church, but because they have decided that the Church is irrelevant. It adds nothing to human happiness. It only hurts.
Pope Francis wants the Church to be relevant again.
He told young people in Ecuador to seek Jesus in the Church, and he told them why:
Jesus knows that happiness, true happiness, the happiness which can fill our hearts, is not found in designer clothing, or expensive brand-name shoes. He knows that real happiness is found in drawing near to others, learning how to weep with those who weep, being close to those who are feeling low or in trouble, giving them a shoulder to cry on, a hug. If we don’t know how to weep, we don’t know how to laugh either, we don’t know how to live.
For Pope Francis, the Church isn’t an added burden for our lives; it’s a freeing pathway through which communion with Jesus Christ opens up communion with each other.
If we can be that kind of Church, we will be worth preserving—and even our coworkers will want to know more.
This article appeared first at Aleteia.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech Digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).