Starting this month, To Reconcile All Things will feature a monthly post from a young adult in or near the Diocese of Des Moines breaking open the Scriptures. Through these reflections on the Word of God, we hope you are able to grow not only in knowledge of the Bible, but in comfort with turning to it in prayer.
I remember being a squirrely six-year-old hanging around with my cousins who had just acquired the ultra-popular WWJD bracelets. When a friend asked what the abbreviation stood for, I quickly blurted out “What will Jesus do!” Of course I was quickly corrected with “What would Jesus do!”
Though the bracelets have fallen somewhat in popularity, the principle remains: we can and should use Our Lord as a model for our own action, particularly in the moral life. One aspect of Divine example that we sometimes overlook, though, is in evangelization.
“Evangelization” simply means to tell the good news. The preeminent evangelizer, indeed the first evangelist, was God himself. Theologians even go so far as to call Genesis 3:15 the “protoevangelium”, that is, “the first Gospel”. And who speaks in Genesis 3:15? God himself. We cannot underestimate the treasure trove of evangelistic wisdom present in the Scriptures!
With that in mind, below are six rules for evangelization from the Almighty himself. Next time you find yourself with a non-believer, ask yourself: What Would Jesus Do?
#1 Start with one person
When God created the world, he started with one man (Adam). When that world became corrupt, he started over with another singular man (Noah). When Noah repeated the sins of Adam, God started over again, but differently. Instead of destroying the earth and all men, he decided to raise up one man (Abraham) who would give birth to a family (Israel) that would become a nation (the Davidic Kingdom) so that he (God) could draw the rest of the world to himself through those people.
When Jesus established the Church, he started small as well: twelve men. Small can be powerful. What started as twelve men has become 1.2 billion Catholics. When it comes to our own apostolate of evangelization, it would be good to start small as well.
Quickly think through the people in your life. Who are the four or five people that come to mind first? Do they know Jesus? Can they grow in holiness? How can you help them? If you draw five people and those five people draw five more people, you’ve suddenly touched the lives of 30 people. God is a fan of exponential growth.
#2 Stoop to their level
God is a fan of exponential growth but he’s also a fan of radical attentiveness. God has every means available to himself to evangelize the world. He chose the Incarnation. St. Paul followed suit: “I have become all things to all, to save at least some”, he says to the Corinthians (1 Cor 19:22). Are we willing to stoop to the radical level of the Incarnation for the sake of our friends? Do we have friends that have not yet encountered Jesus? Our Lord was a friend of tax collectors and sinners–we ought to be as well.
#3 Conversion is not the end, the human person is the end
“While still sinners, Christ died for us,” St. Paul says (Rom 5:8). In other words, God’s love is not conditioned by our actions, and neither is our worth. Sometimes we can grow so greedy for conversion in others that we lose sight of the person themselves. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage growth or even echo the high demands of Our Lord. We need to have enough love for the other so we remember that slowness of growth is not cause for abandonment. Our will must be God’s will and our patience must be God’s patience.
Side note – Sometimes God in his wisdom does not allow us to see the fruits of our labors. Can you imagine how amazing we’d think we were if everyone we encountered became Catholic?! That puffed up pride = bad news for your soul.
#4 Ask lots of questions
Jesus loved questions. In fact, he often answered questions with questions. Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels and is asked 183 questions. Only three times does he directly answer one of those 183 questions.
This was far from a cop out. Pay attention as you read the Scriptures and you’ll notice that Jesus’ questions foster trust and convey attentiveness. They clarify and help others more clearly formulate their thoughts and views. They are a gentle tool in hard conversations. If there is one clear action item you can walk away with from this post, it’s this: talk less, ask more.
#5 Be natural
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to evangelization. This is where I encourage you to go with your gut. If it feels unnatural and contrived to do X-Y-Z, then don’t do it. Be natural. Ask yourself: God, religion, and disagreements aside, what would I do if I just wanted to get to know this person better? And then do that.
Yes, Jesus did grand and shocking things during his public ministry, like preach to thousands of people and perform miracles, but he also just got together with people to spend time with them. He ate with them and traveled with them and talked with them–all very natural, normal things to do. What is needed most in a world so skeptical of Christianity today are Christians who are natural, normal, and (above all) relatable.
#6 Set lofty goals
No I don’t mean “Plan to convert one hundred people by the end of your life” or “Set your sights on the serial killer and don’t rest until they’ve come to Jesus”. The loftiest goal is not the conversion of others. The loftiest goal is the conversion of ourselves.
Though he was without sin, Jesus showed us the ultimate goal in his death. In fact, he accomplished the redemption of the world in his very body. Jesus did not reconcile the world to himself by convincing the world to repent. Jesus reconciled the world to himself by his obedience on the cross. This is the radical fruitfulness of obedience.
At the end of the day, the best thing we can do for our friends and neighbors and the world is to become saints. As St. Paul said, “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). Imagine winning dozens of souls to Christ but not joining them in the beatific vision because we worked out their salvation but forgot to work out ours. Run so as to win!
God’s plan for the salvation of the world includes us, just as it included Jesus’ disciples, and Abraham long before. In some ways, the salvation of our corner of the world begins with us. Though not what the WWJD bracelets intended to convey, “What will Jesus do?” is in fact still a valid question and a worthy point of meditation. What will he do, what will he be able to do with my free and unfettered cooperation? Give it a few thousand years and the answer could be 1.2 billion more Catholics.
Katie Patrizio is the Director of Faith Formation at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Ames, Iowa. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a Master’s degree in Biblical theology from John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego.