Beware the Devangelization

sunbeam, church, windowThe accepted dictionary definition of “evangelize” is:

1. To preach the gospel to.
2. To convert to Christianity.

3. To promulgate or promote (a doctrine or idea, for example) enthusiastically.

Now, we know that a large part of our job as Catholics is to evangelize, that is, to bring others to Christ. The ways and means are up for discussion, often passionate discussion over the course of our Church’s history.

If you have ever read my writing before, you know the big three evangelization techniques I have seen succeed: evangelize by example, evangelize by service, and evangelize by education. Unfortunately, something else I have seen succeed in recent years is a reverse evangelization — well-meaning, but perhaps not well-catechized Christians, and here I address Catholics in particular, are attempting to evangelize the fallen away of their friends or even family, and instead of preaching the Gospel and converting to Christianity, they end up as the object of a secular evangelization practiced by the person whom they were trying to help in the first place!

The person who is particularly vulnerable to this “devangelization” is typically the one who has an emotional attachment to the person whom (s)he is trying to convert.

Parents are possibly most likely to fall into this category when attempting to reconcile their fallen away or lukewarm children back with The Church. They may find themselves ill prepared to counter the slick and aggressive anti-Catholic arguments their child now has at at the ready, and as a sad result, they find themselves compromising, first a little, then a little more, and before they realize a wholesale defeat has taken place, they are the object of definition number three above . . . their teenage or adult child has “enthusiastically promulgated or promoted” the doctrines of secularism, or worse.

Often, in a noble, but destined to fail go at retaining the title of Catholic, the parent will perform a series of incredibly complicated mental and verbal gymnastics to retrofit the newly discovered SBNR (spiritual but not religious) or progressive ideas into the 2000 year old teachings of The Church. It is, of course, unsuccessful, but a lot of damage has been done.

Instead of researching answers to the anti-Catholic challenges and talking to a family priest, the parent simply folds. It is the easier and quicker path to a superficial family peace, and that feeling of relief is frequently mistaken for the warm fuzzies of finding common ground between two polar opposites.

The truth is this: evangelizing anyone requires that you know your stuff. But evangelizing someone you love and whose love you are afraid of losing requires that you beg God for some graces. You have the help of a priest, and you are armed with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. You have to steel yourself for the inevitable: that the beloved person you are evangelizing is going to present his or her “side” as being superior to Catholicism, or, worse and more insidious, as “different, new, loving” but totally compatible with Catholicism.

Now, we don’t to look at this as a battle for the upper hand; this is not a contest for who can be the better fisher of men. But we are given a divine commission to instruct the ignorant, and that applies full force to family members, especially children whose spiritual formation was entrusted to us from the day of their birth.

How not to fall for devangelization? It’s analogous to dealing with an addict in the family. Realize that if you are discussing religion with a loved one who is rebelling against Catholicism, this person may have enthusiasm for her new beliefs that seems to her to outweigh yours.  She will also try to use the argument that what is new is better — that your ideas are antiquated, that this “new way” of following Christ is more loving, more merciful, more in tune with our souls and our changing world.

Educate yourself with knowledge of the history of The Church and the words of the Church Fathers, the great saints, and our holy Popes, so that you are immune to these arguments. If the addict’s mouth is moving, he is lying, and if the fallen away’s mouth is moving, she is justifying, equivocating, and is quite likely very personally invested in covering up a secret sin.

As painful as it is, you also need to recognize that your loved one may utilize some emotional blackmail. Suddenly their love may seem conditional on you accepting their new identity as something other than your definition (read the Church’s definition!) of a Catholic. You shouldn’t engage in emotional manipulation, nor should you fall for it.

The truths of The Church speak for themselves, today more than ever before. Those who stray from The Church rely heavily on pointing to the evils of the modern world as evidence that there either is “no God,” or “many roads,” when in fact, the evils of this age are a point for the side of the one True Church. The practical and concrete examples are replete that demonstrate this: in every way that humanity strays from the teachings of Christ as guarded by The Church, economically, familially, sexually, humanity has failed miserably.

Work on your own faith life. That is the answer to nine out of ten, no make that ten out of ten conundrums faced by the Catholic evangelizer. Study Scripture and the Catechism and know with every fiber of your being that the truths outlined therein are immutable and unchanging, not to be contradicted nor negotiated down. If you find yourself backed into a corner and you can’t discuss your way out, remember that there is only really one teaching that you must know,  and that is the teaching about authority.

Jesus Christ is all in all. He is the one and only true Savior of our world, and He is God Himself. And Jesus Christ gave teaching authority to Peter, our first Pope, and He continues to guide the Church today. If we do not believe this, if we do not know this, then we shouldn’t accept the Bible, or any of the teachings or examples of Christ!

Either He is King or He isn’t. Either He guides The Church or He doesn’t.

So if you are asked a question by an argumentative son or daughter that you don’t feel prepared to answer in detail, you can say with confidence: “Because The Church teaches it.” No further explanation is required, at least not in the heat of argument. Your confidence (particularly if you can keep your composure and not resort to yelling or emotionalism) will make an impression with your loved one, whether he admits it or not.

Remember, never stop praying. Pray over your loved one, pray with your loved one, and if at all possible, try to get that loved one to Adoration. Sitting in the presence of Jesus makes it much more difficult to disobey Him! His love is irresistible!

Nicole is a Catholic SAHM loyal to the Magisterium. She blogs at Invisible Woman.