This workshop was led by Shane Dwyer, the new director for the National Centre for Evangelisation.
Shane has lots of theological, teaching and public speaking credentials, but he is difficult to locate on social media.
He provided a booklet containing the source material for the content of this workshop to participants, but it didn't make it onto the resource list at the Proclaim Conference website.
NB. These notes are rough, they do not contain everything said, and will lack his particular emphases and probably mismatch some of his thoughts.
Shane started with a quotation from Archbishop Christopher Prowse, 'We are all called to go out to all people with all of the Gospel message all of the time.' That is our mission!
The degree to which our parishes are beacons of light, peace, joy, mutual support and integrity is the degree to which they are places to which those responding to the invitation to walk with Christ can find the formation and support they need.
The call to evangelise is not meant to be a problem. It is meant to be an invitation.
We are not called to wait for a parish priest to tap us on the shoulder, and think that we can ignore serving the body of Christ until that happens. We are not living in an easy time, but there have been terribly tough times for the Church before during her 2000 year history. Those truly rough patches testify that is it the Holy Spirit who has kept the Church going – and that it is not a human work. Miraculously God keeps bringing something to be, and that is the cause of our hope.
Our families may be a bit shabby at times, especially when we have a black sheep, but we still love each member in their imperfectness. In ministry we often get to hear about people's disappointments. But if we think about how wonderful and beautiful the gift of faith is, and focus on that, then those difficulties get put into perspective and it becomes easier to cope with family members not on the full path.
Before having time with members of our extended family it is worth doing some preparation. What would be the best approach to speaking about Jesus with each relative? If there was a positive response, where would I recommend they go? Would their local parish be wonderfully welcoming and well equipped to help someone come back to the faith or into a deeper relationship with Jesus? What could you invite them to that would be beneficial to where they are at right now?
Our parishes and homes are called to be oases of mercy.
Our vocation can only find meaning in the context of the real world in which we live. A high school student once asked, 'How is the Catholic Church not a cult?' The answer is that we look to our leaders and teaching for truth, but we each decide how to live it. We are free sons and daughters of God, each with our own vocation, each called to take responsibility for how the truth we have received is incarnated in our daily lives.
For this reason we can say that our vocation as baptised Catholics breathes with two lungs: personal holiness (relationship with God) and mission. We need both. If either is missing we are ineffective. Mission without holiness makes us become a real nuisance. Holiness without mission, means that we are not sharing the gift we have received for others.
Sometimes it is easier to be told what to do. But each of us will be called to account to God for how we have lived our life. We each have to respond to His call. There are no back seat passengers in our faith. None.
'Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.' 1 Peter 3:15
It doesn't have to be rocket science. We get overwhelmed and give up. Don't start with the end point, start with this advice from St Peter, and the rest will follow.
The Church exists for one reason only – to reveal Jesus Christ to the world. That we may participate in this mission, the teachings of the Church are directed towards the transformation of every aspect of our lives so we may become more like the One into whose life we have been baptised.
For example one of the teachings of the Church is the rule about attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. Many complain that this is their only day off, and can't be bothered doing something someone else wants them to do. That rule is a nuisance until I am called to proclaim Jesus wholly in my heart, and realise that I need Him fully, that I have a hunger for Him, and that I need to receive Him in my heart in order to be able to live out this mission and to accept all that He is offering me. It is only then that I realise that if I don't receive Him that my spiritual life will wither up and die. Now I understand why the rule is there, and I experience sadness for those who are no longer in the pews and did not persevere until this rule became alive for them.
We are called to become 'as Christ Jesus' Phil 2:5, that we may proclaim Him to the world. He who emptied Himself to became one of us. We are all called to this mission of the Church. Resting safe and secure as we focus inwardly on the trappings of our faith may help us to feel good and holy – but it is not the mission to which we are called.
Holiness is for us the laity, not just for the clergy and religious. We the laity are the vulnerable front line of the Church's mission to the world. We are to be in the world, witnessing to our faith and our personal relationship with Jesus Christ in everything we say and do. That front line is experienced at every water cooler moment when I have to decide whether to speak up or not.
At times we will come across leaders who have taken on false teaching, eg 'Don’t worry if you don’t get to Mass. Nobody believes that the Eucharist is the body of Christ any more'. Remember that they are good people who are confused, good people who have been misinformed. In these cases it is better to say, 'Let's talk about that' than to shout out, 'That's a heresy!!!'
When we want to start discussions, having a good quotation to kick things off with is very helpful. Pope Francis has been providing lots of good quotations. We can share a quotation and say, 'If this is true, then it means we need to do something about it. What could we do?' And we need to allow everyone to contribute to the discussion, not just those with the best English and the best egos.
Evangelii Gaudium 27. 'I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.'
Evangelii Gaudium 49.' Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).'
Evangelii Gaudium 120b: 'Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in Him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?'
Evangelii Gaudium 127. 'Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.'
Beginning in an encounter with the living Jesus Christ, Who fosters in us an attitude of conversion and the decision to follow Him, by our living in communion with Christ and being called by Him within the communion of the Church, a sense of ecclesial belonging is strengthened and generates life.
Conferences like these help us learn that we are not alone. We get enriched by different perspectives. Sometimes we will get it wrong, but if we are not alone, then we can work on solutions together. With God we can find unity in diversity. It is easy to love in theory, it is more tricky in practice.
Let us understand that the mission has a Church: not the Church has a mission.
God is already active in people's lives, even in the absence of the kerygma proclamation. If we can get people to reflect on their own life experience, and affirm them while seeking the right moment to say, 'This is how I make sense of …….. – with Jesus'. How to pick that moment, and not too soon, is the big question. Calling on the Holy Spirit will help. We remember that Jesus is always looking for His lost sheep. With that help we can see how to look upon each situation in a positive way, and to promise that you can have all this and more with Jesus in your life.
When speaking with those who have different belief systems from our own we can ask, 'Do you believe in a supreme being? It is the same One we acknowledge. Let's talk.' Points of contact and similarities are what we need to find, and it is an art to find and express them.
Talking to lapsed Catholics is more difficult. By comparison atheists and agnostics are much easier. It is tough talking with lapsed Catholics because they think they know all they need to know, they will be defensive, and will want to tell you what's wrong with everything and won't want to listen to anything that causes them to re-evaluate their position. The integrity of how you live the faith, your prayer for them, and your willingness to answer their questions, is all we can do.
As the saying goes: 'If you can find the perfect church, go and join it – but be aware that as soon as you join it, it will no longer be perfect.'
It takes prayerfulness, confidence and boldness to bring Jesus into a conversation, but it's worth it.
This workshop was additional reinforcement to the previous talks and workshops at the Conference. The consistency of the message, 'Evangelisation isn't as hard as you think, yes you can do it, no it isn't optional, it is essential, and here's some more ways you can do it' was rather amazing.
The real test, of course, is whether we are alert for the opportunities to talk about the impact Jesus has had in our lives, whether we use those opportunities, and whether we are actively on the lookout for more opportunities.
I am reminded of a holy parishioner from decades past. He was a retired journalist, and poet, with a deep love for the mother of Jesus and at daily Mass until his health began to fail. He had been hospitalised and I had gone to visit him. Thinking that this was just one more of his short hospital stays, I launched into local news. But he was wiser than that, and he stopped me and said that he needed to be still and to put all his attention on Jesus. As it turned out, he only had hours left to live. However, his lesson has stayed with me. The older we get, and the wiser we get, the only thing that matters is Jesus, the rest is distraction. So increasingly any homily that brings Jesus alive for me is a good one, and anything less is a wasted opportunity.
We have a mission, to bring Jesus to others, and we won't be pleasing to Him unless we do.
May He help us fulfill that mission and purpose. Amen.
The next issue will be the last in the series, with notes from the panel discussion session that closed off the conference.