Steve Dawson, founder and president of St. Paul Street Evangelization, came to Terre Haute to join our team for some evangelizing Monday afternoon September 19th. You can see him in the middle of the picture, between Kevin and another young man. We were very happy that he made the trip from Bloomington just to be with us.
It was fascinating to watch Steve evangelize. He never missed an opportunity to greet someone passing by. He never just said, “hello”, but always, “hello, would you like a miraculous metal?” He had a knack for establishing trust and for engaging people, and if you ask him how he does it, his reply is, “Practice.” It is certainly true he has done this over thousands of times during the past 4 years since he founded SPSE.
He can give the gospel in a few seconds: God created us to be in relationship with God. We’ve broken that relationship through sin. Jesus Christ, who is God, became man to restore that relationship and allow us the opportunity to go to heaven. We need to respond to that. We need to repent of our sins and turn our live over to Jesus and follow him. We need to be his disciples. And he gave us a church to guide us and to give us grace on our journey.
Another thing he is really good about is calling people to action. Let me explain. Say he’s talking to a college student who hasn’t been to Mass or confession for a long time. He will say to them, “Can I give you one good reason why I go to Mass every week?” (Or “why I became Catholic” or “why I go to confession every month?) Then, when he has finished telling them why Mass is important or why the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Christ, etc. he finishes with, “Now that you know, you have a decision to make. What are you going to do about it?” He calls for action. Personally, I’m more a teacher than a salesperson. I tend to explain things and assume that, now they know, any reasonable person will naturally see the truth and decide on their own to take the correct action. And that simply is not true much of the time. Inertia keeps us in the same trajectory unless invited or nudged in a different direction. That was very challenging for me.
He did give me one piece of advice that I’ve spent a lot of time pondering since that day. I’m going to share it with you now because I want to start a conversation about this and I really want to hear what you have to say.
He said, “Don’t be afraid to talk about Hell with people.”
He said that reminding people of the eternal consequences of sin is often the only thing that will get the attention of many people. We can talk of the higher motivations to people who already love God. But 9 out of 10 people will blow it off. They need to hear that if we die in mortal sin, we go to Hell. He said we must be very careful not to accuse anybody, and we speak in generalities like, “What do you think will happen if we die in a state of mortal sin?” But because we love them, we have to speak the truth.
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And I am still a little afraid of talking to people about Hell. I know that blowing off Mass is a mortal sin, but the idea of telling someone that blowing off Mass a mortal sin makes me uncomfortable—even if it’s done with charity.
On the other hand, we all know a lot of people these days don’t even believe in Hell. People don’t want to go to confession.
It can even be argued we have an obligation to warn people. God said in Ezekiel 33:8 “When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die, “ and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their way, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.”
I don’t want to discount what Steve says. He has had these conversations with thousands of people over the past 4 years of SPSE. If he says 9 out of 10 people respond better to fear of damnation than to the love of Christ, he is probably right. I just don’t know if I’m ready to do it. I don’t know if I can do it. It seems confrontational. Maybe it’s not. It doesn’t feel charitable. But maybe it is more charitable than enabling people to continue ignoring the coming judgment. We are our brother’s keeper. Right?
I spoke to Friar Mario who says he has never used fear of hell to evangelize. He says most people are already so bound in their feelings of unworthiness and self-hatred that they find it hard to believe that God could love them. What they really need to hear about is God’s mercy. That, I believe, is most certainly true.
Dear reader, tell me what you think. What is the right path? Is there a right path? Let’s talk.