Conversion doesn’t happen overnight

Anne Marie Amacher
Father Jeff Belger, Elizabeth Starr and Gabrielle Greco, delegates from the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, listen to music at the start of the Vision 20/20 Convocation June 6. The event was held at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

By Elizabeth Starr
The Catholic Messenger

At the first Vision 20/20 meeting I attended last year, I met a woman whose name I’ll admit I’ve forgotten. We started talking after the meeting, and she described to me what changes she wanted to see in her parish. I took them in, and then I asked her how she thought to implement these changes. She said to me, “Well, I can’t do it, I’m too busy. But somebody should.”

I think one of the biggest traps we fall into is the idea that evangelization is looking at the big picture. We want to see a solution that will bring in people immediately. We want large-scale conversion. We want to see an overnight change. But because we build this up so much in our heads, we think it’s therefore unattainable. We throw up our hands and say, “I couldn’t possibly do that.”

However, evangelization is not all “big picture.” In my experience, the smallest gestures can make the largest difference. Every speaker I listened to at the convocation said, in some way, shape or form, that we have to invest in people to evangelize. What does that mean? You have to make friendships with people. You have to care about the people sitting next to you in the pew. Why? People are not going to come back to a place they do not feel welcome.

All people have different qualities that make them unique and, in the same way, each person has a unique faith story and way of getting to know Christ. Because of this, there is no one way to evangelize. There is no rule book. And this is true for all ages, whether you have been in the church for 40 years or have never stepped into one.

Because there is no rule book, the largest question I heard at the convocation was, “How do we do that?” How can people evangelize when you haven’t given them steps to follow? I’d say, it’s not about tricking people into the pews. You don’t have to convince people with arguments to make them believe what you believe. All you have to do is be authentic with people. If there is someone in your life you want to evangelize, let them know you care for them where they are at. It’s not, “I want you to become Catholic because we need more Catholics.” It’s, “I have experienced so much love and joy in my faith that I want you to have it, too.”

Where do we start? I’d say start with yourself. Figure out where you are at in your faith. If you are waiting for your faith to be perfect before you start evangelizing, then you are never going to evangelize anyone. Instead of one person being the teacher and the other the student, we are all students walking together. Every person struggles with something, so find someone who understands your struggle and fight it together.

For me, it’s easy to see where others fall short in this without looking at myself first. I go through many days without hardly even thinking about my faith, let alone talking about it with others. I find that self-reflection first helps me because it allows me to see how I can grow in order to help others grow. Or, if I still see brokenness in my life, to find someone who can help me with it. This is not an endeavor we have to take alone. We can and should walk with each other, because we all need some form of evangelization.

Evangelization is not large programs, it is not overnight changes. It is small. It is genuine friendship. It is joining people where they are at in their faith and walking with them. While we all are busy, we all have people in our lives that we love. Start with them. Be not afraid.

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