Being humble enough to evangelize
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
In the week bridging the turn of the decade, over 8,000 college students, consecrated religious, campus ministers, and other friends flocked to Phoenix, Arizona for SLS20, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) conference. Geared toward students who are leaders in their faith by ministry and campus involvement, the series of keynotes, training periods, and concurrent sessions aimed to equip attendees with the tools for evangelization.
From how to lead Bible studies to how to combat toxic college culture to navigating family problems, SLS20 speakers hoped to educate the whole person. The challenges they offered were dependent upon a certain readiness to take the faith to the next level. It seemed a step beyond the encounter with God that is at the heart of FOCUS’s other conference, SEEK. SEEK draws a crowd twice the size of SLS, and the two events alternate every year.
On December 31, I awoke at 6 a.m. in my Phoenix home, and I reconsidered whether or not I really wanted to drive downtown for the first full day of SLS20. I thought over my SEEK 2019 experience, and I grumbled to myself about hearing the same spiels from the same speakers and not needing what the conference had to offer. At that moment, Fr. Mike Schmitz’s words from his opening keynote the night before rang in my ears. He had reminded us that none of us are fine on our own. Then, he had said, “We shouldn’t act like we’re God’s gift to the Church.” Now, I heard, “Stop acting like you’re God’s gift to SLS.” That got me out of bed and on my way.
We are so tempted to ignore our state of need. “We are no less helpless than babies,” said Dr. Edward Sri. Yet we do not consider our vulnerability comparable to theirs, although evidence of it riddles our lives. As hard as we try, no effort can win us love. We can’t be successful missionaries if we are trying to earn love. Love must be received; it can’t be earned. This means that we need to stop thinking of evangelization as a checklist that results in the saving of a soul. It is so crucially relational, and it requires the personal sacrifice of love.
God, of course, made this sacrifice first when He bent down and became man. “God,” Dr. Scott Hahn said, “didn’t need to do anything.” We can live much more comfortably if we don’t really invest in the lives of others. Investing well in others almost certainly looks like a sacrifice of our time. We forgo our interests and activities for theirs, and allow our friends to know us personally and in fact come to know us better than we know ourselves. When we enter into intimacy by inviting people into our homes, conversations about our struggles, and prayer, we acknowledge that we are in as great of need as those we want to serve. We become accountable to each other. Friendship, many SLS speakers reiterated, is the ground for evangelization that Christ Himself chose. It’s the most effective and, fortunately for us, the most natural method of evangelization.
I think we avoid this form of ministry—authentic friendship, which inevitably leads to God—because we experience shame so strongly. Both shame and humility are feelings of littleness, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT said. We experience them when we encounter someone who is greater than us in some way; both are inherently relational experiences. The difference, I think, is in the isolation of shame and the dependence of humility. Here is a variation of identity. One looks inward at our own inadequacy; the other looks outward to God and marvels at Him. Ashamed, we feel trapped in ourselves. Humbled, we realize that with God, everything is “mentionable, and so it is manageable.”
And so the humility of evangelization is greater than an ability to look like a fool and start awkward conversations. It’s more than sharing openly about past obstacles in our lives; it’s meeting people where we are now, and inviting them to run with us to Heaven. What if we thought about where our friendships are headed, like we do with romantic relationships? Will the conversation eventually turn to God and our goal? What if we evangelized to no more people than those we already know? Would that be enough for us?
Lizzie is a sophomore majoring in theology and the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in Constitutional Studies. She and her friends have been enjoying the unique challenges of training for the Holy Half in a South Bend winter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.