What Does Authentic Evangelization Look Like? It May Not Be What You Were Thinking

What Does Authentic Evangelization Look Like? It May Not Be What You Were Thinking

“If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them.” -Archbishop Charles Chaput

I’m praying about creating a book on this topic. This is a truncated version of something I have been working on for quite a while. I will try to outline the major themes in a brief, more readable summation.


The Underlying Premise

In a previous article, I wrote:

Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually devout people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religious people. Secular analysts seem to be doing back flips trying to explain away the simple reality that there is no other authentic and fulfilling way to live other than a supernatural life; the Divine Life.

I went on to outline the four levels of happiness drawn from Greek and later Christian writers, culminating in the fourth level of happiness: Sublime Beatitudo (Sublime Blessedness). This level is not reserved for the saints alone, but is offered to every child of God. In fact, it is referred to as the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary.

Humans are pulled by their desire for the sublime, something beyond their imagination, beyond their complete understanding. To be sure, they desire love, goodness, truth, beauty, and being as they experience them in the world; but they also desire these in their perfected and unlimited form. St. Augustine describes this quest as fides quaerens intellectus: “faith in search of understanding.” Those of faith recognize this as their desire for God.

In the “Three Ages of the Interior Life,” Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange writes about it this way …

As soon as a man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending more or less consciously to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything, and to substitute for egoism love of God and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life. No sincere man will have any difficulty in recognizing it. The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it.

As I wrote in an earlier article, I’ve come to understand that we have, by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:

“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).

As you can see, the gateway is “Fear of the Lord” (or “Awe and Wonder”). If there is an order, and I agree with this saint that there is, then we must break through to the first gift of the Holy Spirit in order to traverse to and through the other gifts. Or, to put it another way, “If we don’t *get this* we won’t *get the rest.*” And, we will languish in a darkened and dreary existence.

So, what is Fear of the Lord? According to Fr. John Hardon, Fear of the Lord …

“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God.”

In speaking of the need for a New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God’, the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity.”

Yes, we have gone a long way, over the past 50 years, to remove the very gateway to the Divine Life. Before the destructive post-Vatican II trend of stripping out of all things sacred, Catholicism led the way in preparing the souls of the faithful to receive this first and most necessary gateway Gift of Awe and Wonder through sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music and special attention to the sacred offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

So, we can see that our aim is to invite souls to become more interior and to tend to union with God. As long as they linger in an egocentric existence, they remain darkened in this impoverished and diminished existence. St. Paul wrote:

“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

With this in mind, we become aware of the true or authentic nature of evangelization. All efforts must be made to assist the faithful in becoming “more open” to the first gift of the Holy Spirit: “Awe and Wonder;” to help them move from “unspiritual man” to “spiritual man.” If we miss this, we miss everything.


Laying the Groundwork for Authentic Evangelization

Okay, if you accept my premise, then let’s look at what authentic evangelization looks like, and how to lay the groundwork.

There are many great teaching aids out there (DVDs, books, websites, etc.) but, if you accept my premise, we still have the problem of what St. Paul calls, “the unspiritual man.” Much is spoken about the lack of catechesis as being the problem today, but little is spoken about a “lack of hunger for catechesis.” All of these books and DVDs are great for those who are already evangelized, but what about those who are not? What about those who have no hunger for these tools, or maybe even see them as foolish?

After many years of “laying the groundwork,” I find myself evangelizing by inviting people to attend Sunday Mass. A great help to evangelization is the realization that people are sick and tired of the mundane. Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they have a great longing for the transcendent.

Knowing this, I have been in fast food stores, supermarkets, restaurants, etc., and I find myself leading the conversation to faith. Most of the time, I am speaking with someone who has left their faith years ago. While showing no signs of disappointment and judgment, I start speaking to them about the “heavenly Mass” at my parish. I tell them the Mass is offered “old school.” I use words like “classic” and “retro” (because I know they are sick of the trends and fads of modernity too), and I reassure them they will not be asked to do anything that makes them uncomfortable … they are left to simply “soak it in and pray.”

I can’t begin to tell you just how positive are the responses. They assure me they can’t wait to come, and they do. I believe we have something truly substantial and authentic to offer them. In this “heavenly setting,” their hardened hearts are made soft and supple, like a sponge. They are laid open to receive what God so desperately wants to give them: The Divine Life.

So, what is this “groundwork” that allows the Mass itself to be Source and Summit of authentic evangelization? This is what we did …

  1. We began offering the Mass ad orientem (this was the most important improvement – greatest impact)
  2. We offer a communion rail (we offered a wedding kneeler – pre-dieux – at first) for the “option” of kneeling
  3. We encourage (mainly through teaching) proper reception of Communion (kneeling and on the tongue)
  4. We restored chant and polyphony (no more contemporary songs)
  5. We added more Latin
  6. We no longer use extraordinary ministers
  7. We use more incense
  8. We added more silence
  9. We eliminated the sign of peace
  10. We encouraged appropriate attire
  11. We support sacred veiling of women
  12. We use only male altar servers, and they are very well-trained (like a military honor guard)
  13. We worked very hard to develop an excellent choir
  14. The priest stays strictly to the rubrics and chants his parts of the Mass
  15. We gave great attention to signs of the mystery of redemption (veiling chalice and tabernacle, vestments of priests, altar servers in cassock and surplice, gloves for servers touching sacred objects, etc.)
  16. We made every effort to restore sacred art and architecture
  17. We offer the Traditional Latin Mass at one of the Sunday Mass times

While all of this is meant to assist the soul in being raised to a sense of transcendence, it also speaks of a “seriousness” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In such transcendent beauty and splendor, it becomes difficult for the soul to remain flippant about their faith any longer. In many cases, this exposure to a sense of transcendence “flips a switch” in people’s faith lives, and they “get it” (they are illuminated) … they now know their relationship with God is the highest priority of their lives. Many, including myself, are moved to tears of indescribable joy in beholding the “Real Presence” of God in this most sacred liturgy. It is a union one never wants to lose.

This is the gift of “Awe and Wonder.” NOW, one has moved from unspiritual man to spiritual man. NOW, he can receive all of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. NOW, the truths of God are no longer foolishness but a “way of life.” NOW, the soul hungers for “the more” of God. NOW, has the man been truly and authentically evangelized.


The Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin Mass

Anyone is free to disagree with me, but I believe the Church is in crisis, as Pope Benedict XVI said, because many Novus Ordo Masses are offered etsi Deus non daretur.

Pope Benedict XVI famously stated,

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.”

I agree.

Listen, we can knock on all the doors we want and create all the DVDs we want, but if our “landing pad” … The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – the very Source and Summit of our faith … is not assisting people to move into the Divine Life, we are spinning our wheels … our efforts are in vain. Authentic evangelization begins by getting our house in order. So, I very much understand when those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass have grave reservations in regard to the Novus Ordo Mass.

However, I believe (and so do the giants in our Church – Cardinal Burke, Bishop Schneider, Cardinal Arinze, etc.) that the Novus Ordo, offered as I described above, plays a pivotal role for those who have been away from the Mass or have been immersed in a Protestantized etsi Deus non daretur version of the Novus Ordo for a lifetime.

Most of them have been conditioned to be very busy during the Mass, and most of them do not comprehend the value of using a language they do not understand. So, the long periods of, as most would say, “just sitting there,” or listening to something incomprehensible is, for most, non-negotiables. In other words, they are not yet “ready” for the Traditional Latin Mass. Now, I know there are exceptions, and I know some people will describe there own story that refutes this, but we are talking about the vast majority of souls who are simply “unspiritual” right now, mostly due to what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as “the disintegration of the liturgy.” Our charitable concern extends to them. We want to evangelize them.

In my own parish, I have witnessed this very thing. We have had a great influx of beautiful young families whose stories speak of anything from being away for years to being an atheist. One way or another, they checked out our more pure form of the Novus Ordo, and they received the gateway gift of the Holy Spirit. A few years later, and some are now “ready” to attend the Traditional Latin Mass. Who are they now? Deeply devoted Catholics who are inspiring others to “want” what they found.

This is authentic evangelization.


I love this depiction of a woman receiving the gateway gift of Awe and Wonder. She will now be changed for life. (You can start watching at the 3:00 mark)

Category Latest Posts, Soul