The Great Invitation
When people hear the word “evangelization,” they commonly think of the great missionary saints like the Jesuit North American Martyrs and St. Francis Xavier who brought the Gospel to the remote regions of the world and spent themselves educating and preaching the truth. This mode of evangelization is good and worthy of continuing, however, there is another mode of evangelization that seems to be more applicable to our everyday lives and is a favorite method of Jesus.
When Jesus initially calls His apostles, what does He do? He invites them.
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)
He does not constrain them to follow Him. He does not force them. This mode of evangelization is essentially an invitation to the truth. It does not seek to change one's mind, but merely to invite one to examine the truth, to follow it. This mode of evangelization is by far the most appropriate for everyday life. Jesus was and still is a witness to the faith He preached. We too must become witnesses of the faith. When we do this, we will be able to say to others, “Come and see for yourself.”
In a radio address given on The Catholic Hour, Fulton Sheen once said that we cannot tell people to go to God. He continued: “The world is so bewildered that it will not go. But it will follow. That means we must go first. And that is why Our Lord led us. 'Come Follow Me!'” Sheen points out that the world is too bewildered to be told to go or return to God. It is constantly confused by new ideologies. People don't know what to believe in or who to follow. Eventually, many give up and follow nothing. Sheen also emphasizes that we must first follow Christ in order to bring others to Him.
Following Christ is not easy. In fact, it is very demanding. We must be willing to be like the rich young man who when asked to give up all his possessions and follow Christ went away sad. (see Matthew 19:16-21) We must take up our cross if we are to be followers of Christ. We must imitate the greatest of saints. Holiness is attractive. We must point to the Mother Teresa's and Karol Wojtyla's of the world. The world likes to judge the Church by her members who do not take their faith seriously. If the world judged the Church by her members who lived lives of heroic virtue, it would have converted to the faith long ago.
Whether you are a student, a priest, a parent, I highly encourage you to make this invitation. It can be as simple as inviting someone to Mass or asking if they would like to spend some time with you in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. It will greatly benefit yourself and others.
We see a beautiful illustration of such an invitation at the beginning of the Gospel of John: “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'” (John 1:43-45) After this invitation, upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael says “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” (Jn. 1:49)
In conclusion then, if we do not lead, we will not be able to invite others to follow. Even the missionaries led by example. The Jesuit Martyrs of North America had to hold their own, they had to keep up with the natives, carry heavy burdens and live virtuous lives before the natives were interested in listening to them. If we lead, we will invite and when we have invited, many will say with Nathanael, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”