In 1985, Father Bob Bedard founded the priestly order of the Companions of the Cross (CC). The order is dedicated to renewing the Church through Evangelization.
Father John Vandenakker, CC, is one of the original members of the Companions of the Cross. He is currently Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of Graduate Pastoral Formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (SHMS) in Detroit. In addition to teaching other courses he teaches seminarians how to evangelize.
Fr. John Vandenakker is also one of the featured presenters in “Theology of the New Evangelization,” the free, online course recently offered by SHMS. So it’s fair to say that Fr. Vandenakker knows a thing or two about evangelizing.
In the fourth module of the Theology of the New Evangelization course Fr. Vandenakker shares advice and practical tips for one on one evangelizing. He has graciously allowed me to recap the advice and tips he offers for evangelizing for CS readers who were unable to take the course.
- Prepare in prayer
-We never know who God is going to send our way. Ask the Lord to make us ready for when He does send someone our way. Then be on the lookout for that person. And be sure to put the Blessed Mother and Pope St. John Paul II to work, advises Fr. Vandenakker. Ask them for their help.
- Prepare the soil
-Show interest, love, and concern to everyone you meet. Build relationships with people so if the opportunity to evangelize presents itself you can respond. We never know when someone we’ve met will open up to us.
- Be yourself
-While some people have a special charism for evangelization, ALL Catholics are called to evangelize. Even if you are a quiet person by nature, that’s okay! Grace builds on nature, so just be your natural self.
- Trust in the Lord
-The Holy Spirit will give you the words. Fr. Vandenakker says that Fr. Bedard described evangelization as being more or less a 3 step process. In step one we are responsible for sharing the good news. In step two, God is responsible for convicting the hearer of the good news to the truth. In step three, the hearer is responsible for responding to the truth.
- Look for Natural Openings
-Respond when people show needs or reasons for blessings. Empathize with people. Show them you are a person of faith, but don’t hit them over the head with your faith.
- Be Bold, be courageous
-Be a witness for your faith. God uses us in amazing ways so let your light shine. Sharing your joy speaks the loudest. People are more apt to listen to testimony or witness than they are to a theologian. More important than sharing words when evangelizing is to share your joy and be a witness for your faith.
- What to say?
-Fr. Vandenakker believes in the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid! Share your own experience and joy for life in Christ.
-You don’t have to reel off Bible quotes or verses from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Just be ready, as we read in scripture, to give a reason for your hope. You can say, ‘hey I was struggling once,’ or ‘I saw God move in a powerful way in my family through a healing of this,’ or ‘I had what’s called a conversion; up till then I was leading a pretty miserable life.’
-Most people, says Fr. Vandenakker, have an existential sense that something is wrong inside. We’re yearning for something more and nothing earthly will satisfy that, as St. Augustine said. You can zone in on that by saying ‘are you really happy?’ ‘Are you really fulfilled?’
- Don’t be afraid of rejection
-LEAVE THE RESULTS TO GOD. Sometimes we are just planting seeds. Don’t be afraid of a little negative feedback or even a hostile response.
-Some people may argue because they are uncomfortable or sense something in missing from their lives. But don’t come across as ‘judgey’ or holier than thou, just be natural. Remember that you’re sharing good news.
-Life in Christ is not just about the forgiveness of sins; it’s about a whole new life that is to come, too. There’s more to life than just what we are dealing with in the here and now. You might say, for instance, I just wanted to share with you that I found a new found faith in God through the person of Christ.
-What you are doing in the evangelizing process is planting seeds. Who can know what might happen at night when someone goes back to his or her home, or in the middle of the night when the person is restless or upset. The Holy Spirit may remind them about something you said about God or Jesus Christ or praying.
-And don’t be a pest. Knowing when to stop talking will take some wisdom and discernment on your part.
Finally, realize that the hardest people to evangelize are your own family because they know you and all your faults. Pray for them nevertheless. We are all called to Evangelize
As lay Catholics we are called to share in Christ’s three-fold mission of priest, prophet and king. And as Pope Francis tells us in his exhortation Evangeli Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “In virtue of their baptism, all members of the People of God have become missionary disciples.”
William Hemsworth recounted The Great Commission in his recent CS article “We All Have a Responsibility to Evangelize.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, lay people “fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” .