The following report comes to us from Joe in Emmitsburg, MD:
When I started my first year at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, I met a seminarian who was inspired to evangelize after reading Facebook posts from St. Paul Street Evangelization. He said that it seemed so simple and that there was no reason why he couldn’t be doing the same. So, he bought a bunch of materials from St. Paul Street Evangelization and began evangelizing. One day, he saw me and asked, “would you like to evangelize with me?” I happily accepted, and that week I was off in downtown Gettysburg with my friend evangelizing.
I’d never evangelized before, so I was incredibly nervous, although it was something that I had wanted to do my whole life. I was confirmed in my nervousness when I quickly discovered that I was not very good at evangelizing.
Meanwhile, my friend was awesome. I watched him boldly hand Rosaries and
Miraculous Medals to strangers passing by our table, many of whom were rudely ignoring us. A significant number of people would stop to speak with my friend, and he would constantly engage them, asking all the right questions at the opportune moments. My friend knew just where to take the conversation, whereas I was frozen.
After handing out a Miraculous Medal, I would go blank. I did not know what to say
next. But it turned out, the Lord did not even need me to be skillful to work powerfully. That very first day, a middle-aged woman walked by our table and signs and then stopped. She turned to us and said, “this is the sign I need to return to the Church.” I had not said anything to her and did not have the chance before she quickly walked away. Later, she returned with a gift card for my friend and I to dine at the restaurant across the street as she thanked us for the work we were doing. Although I did not know how seriously she was committed to reengaging her Catholic Faith, her actions certainly filled me with a desire to keep evangelizing.
Thankfully, my friend was so zealous that he went out every Sunday, giving me many
opportunities to learn how to evangelize. And after going out almost every week, I started to get much better at evangelizing, even though I made a lot of mistakes along the way. For example, sometimes I was too hard on people, feeling as though it was all my responsibility to convert them. Yet, my friend was showing me that the Holy Spirit is the true protagonist and evangelist, which I began to discover to be true. For about two years, I was evangelizing on Sundays in Gettysburg with my fellow seminarian friend while other seminarians began joining.
Additionally, during my Fall and Spring Breaks I traveled with my seminary to different college universities to evangelize. This was something that had been taking place for several years at our seminary. In these excursions, seminarians would spend two days walking around a college campus wearing priestly collars and engaging students about the Catholic Faith. These trips were powerful learning experiences for me, strengthening me in the work that I was already doing in Gettysburg.
Yet, I ended up leaving seminary for two years due to health reasons. While I was away from seminary, I still wanted to continue evangelizing, so I bought my own materials from St. Paul Street Evangelization. I kept Miraculous Medals in my car, which I would offer to people anytime I went out in public, including the grocery store.
Additionally, I started a group in my home parish in Virginia to go evangelizing. We
would go to the National Mall in D.C., set up a table, and send out parishioners two-by-two. With my philosophical and theological knowledge from seminary, I was beginning to understand how to evangelize better. But, I discovered that most people in the parish did not have a grasp on how to engage strangers. Thankfully, I had been reading literature about evangelizing like John Bergsma’s book, “Yes, there is a God,” along with materials and charts from St. Paul Street Evangelization. So, I developed both a practical and intellectual system of evangelizing that I used to train people.
When I returned to seminary, this system came in handy, as I was asked to give one of the talks in preparation for the Fall and Spring Break Evangelization Trips. Additionally, I started an evangelization group amongst the seminarians to go once a month to Gettysburg, just as I had done in the past.
There have been many tremendous fruits that have come about from my experiences
evangelizing. First, I learned that I can talk to anyone on the street and that I always have a reason for doing so, namely to bring them to Christ. This goes against several social stigmas, which are harmful and opposed to the Gospel. For example, many people now find it odd to make eye contact or talk to strangers around them, even if they are alone with someone in a waiting room or on a bus. To be faithful Christians and effective evangelists, we need to break these social barriers and share the Gospel with others, even when it is awkward. An encounter with someone could be as important as eternal life and death.
Thus, evangelization brings about peace and joy in knowing you can have real
conversations with people around you. It has made me appreciate my philosophical and theological knowledge, as I have to rely upon it in every conversation.
Additionally, there’s a confidence that comes from evangelizing. I am confident that I
have the best things to share, namely the Catholic Faith and love of Christ. If someone rejects me, I know that most likely it is not anything wrong that I did, but simply their unwillingness to receive the Gospel.
Evangelization develops many other virtues. It develops boldness, for it makes a person become willing to speak through awkward situations and unafraid proclaim the gospel. It enkindles zeal for souls because it is a work which is oriented simply to saving souls. And, it makes one more in tune with the Holy Spirit so long as a person is constantly asking for guidance, words, and power from the Holy Spirit and is willing to listen and obey Him.
How will my experience evangelizing effect my vocation as a priest? I know that Pastors, along with their Parochial Vicars, are responsible for all the souls in their parish boundaries. Even if persons are of a different religion or not religious, the priests of the parish are still responsible for their salvation. An evangelizing priest will be more able to reach out to all people in their boundary. Likewise, there are many Catholics who do not go to Church. Yet, they often respond well to an invitation. Through evangelization, a priest can go out or send someone out to
bring them in. In fact, every Mass ends with a dismissal such as, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” This command expresses that we are supposed to evangelize. If a priest cannot evangelize, how will his parishioners be able?
Throughout all these years, the Lord only ever asked me to take one step more in
evangelization. I did not learn overnight. My seminary and close friends both encouraged me, taught me, and gave me opportunities to evangelize. Since I was faithful in those small efforts, I grew in desire, knowledge, and ability to evangelize. Yet, my friends and I owe so much to St. Paul Street Evangelization, who through their wonderful Miraculous Medals, Saint Medals, Rosaries, Crucifixes, signs, pamphlets, and trainings made our evangelization efforts feasible and successful. Without my friends and seminary, I may never have begun evangelizing. Without St.
Paul Street Evangelization, perhaps they never would have either.
Praised be Jesus Christ!