As people of faith, we hear so much about the New Evangelization that those words can become hollow — an empty, meaningless phrase that seems too broad to apply to our own lives. So when we hear or read the term, we pass it by without much thought, shoving it aside as a worthy concept we might revisit at a more convenient time.
But in his 1990 encyclical on evangelization, Redemptoris Missio (“Mission of the Redeemer”), Pope St. John Paul II boils it down like this: “The kingdom aims at transforming human relationships; it grows gradually as people slowly learn to love, forgive and serve one another.”
It is those human relationships that author Karen Edmisten had in mind when writing her new book, “You Can Share the Faith: Reaching Out One Person at a Time.” She takes what for many is an abstract concept and gives readers a simple, concrete path to being a strong witness to Christ and his Church. In the book’s introduction, Edmisten asks the question she will spend a concise 160 pages answering: “What does evangelization look like on a practical level?”
To her, the answer is clear. Sharing the Faith doesn’t start with memorizing the Catechism or studying the countless guides to apologetics; it starts with each person doing his or her best to follow Christ’s lead and living joyful, virtuous lives — the kind of lives others see and ask, “What makes them so different, so happy?”
As Edmisten puts it in the book, “Passion is magnetic. And when we encounter a soul who has genuinely fallen in love with Jesus, we encounter the most powerful kind of attraction. ... If we want to transmit the idea that faith is life-changing, the world needs to see Jesus changing our lives.”
Throughout the book, Edmisten chronicles how the joyful witness of her Christian friends at first piqued her curiosity and then sent her on a path from atheism to Rome. She shares with readers her early struggles with accepting — and living — the teachings of the Faith, and then how her love of Jesus transformed her life.
While the book is filled with personal stories — of acceptance and conversion, of patiently waiting for her husband to find the Faith, of worries and hardships — at its heart, “You Can Share the Faith” is about the crucial role personal relationships play in evangelization.
Before converting, Edmisten writes, “I had been watching people, consciously or subconsciously, all my life. ... In the final analysis, the witness of people whose faith was honest, sturdy and real swayed me. They had faith that they openly lived, faith real enough to change lives, as it was changing mine. ... Until I saw how some people lived, I hadn’t believed in God. But thanks to a faithful, resplendent cloud of witnesses who modeled real Christianity for me, a new light was dawning.”
Edmisten makes clear in “You Can Share the Faith” that the New Evangelization isn’t about standing on a soapbox proclaiming the teachings of Christ to strangers passing by. It is about living lives so joyfully full of Christ’s love that our neighbors, friends and loved ones cannot ignore the light within us.
Scott Warden is associate editor of OSV Newsweekly.