Catholic evangelization

Question: Why are Protestants more effective at evangelization than Catholics? Catholics seem to be uncomfortable with this concept, even in private conversation. What would be some things ordinary Catholics could implement in their day-to-day lives that might help us establish a more comfortable way to spread the Gospel?

-- Name withheld, Sandy, Utah 

Answer: I may be in a minority here, but I have always thought that the Catholic Church has been quite effective in the work of evangelization. Look at how quickly and extensively the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to all the great centers of the world. In modern times, we have seen the Gospel spread to Africa, North America and Asia. Recent popes, beginning with Pope Paul VI, have spoken of a "new evangelization," whereby a new effort is undertaken at all levels of culture, and the Church learns to incorporate the means of evangelization made possible by new communications media.

It is probably true that Protestants have been more adept at personal one-to-one conversation about the Gospel. However, this is only one mode of evangelization. In this regard, it is useful to keep in mind words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "The Christian should proclaim the Gospel by every means possible -- and, if necessary, use words!"

If Protestant evangelization has traditionally emphasized the one-to-one mode, the genius of the Catholicism has been evangelization though institutional means. By this I mean the living witness of the saints, the edifying power of religious orders, the great writings of those inspired by the Gospel.

In the United States, the Church has had great success in recent centuries in the implementation of the power of the Gospel through Catholic schools, hospitals and networks of outreach to the poor and underprivileged. While this legacy seems to be threatened in many ways today -- not least through the waning of religious orders and congregations -- the Catholic Church will, I believe, continue to have a strong and transformative role in the culture and life of the country.

Evangelization is carried on through a variety of means -- from the personal to the institutional. While Catholics have shone in the latter, they can learn a great deal from Protestants in the matter of biblical and doctrinal literacy. But we should never forget it is not primarily by words -- but by deeds -- that the Gospel is most effectively spread. 

Cardinal Newman quote

Question: In a recent column (June 14), you quoted a very beautiful passage from Cardinal John Henry Newman. Is the book from which you quoted still available? Do you recommend any book by Cardinal Newman for beginners?

-- Composite question 

Answer: A number of readers reacted very favorably to the quotation from Cardinal Newman in the column you mention. The book from which I quoted, "Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman," was published in 1893 and is out of print. However, selections from his works have been printed in a variety of editions since then.

The quotation you mention is available in a book in print titled, "Cardinal Newman: Prayers, Poems and Meditations," selected and introduced by A.N. Wilson (SPCK, 2007). This is the best introduction to Cardinal Newman's writings that I know of.

Beyond that, I recommend a book titled "Parochial and Plain Sermons" (Ignatius, $59.95) This work contains quite an extensive body of sermons by the cardinal while he was still an Anglican.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.