Most Catholics have stopped worrying about saving Souls


As a rule, evangelists from Texas don’t go shopping for bourbon before a speech.

But that’s what Marcel LeJeune and some friends did when the Catholic Missionary Disciples leader spoke at a Franciscan University conference last summer in Steubenville, Ohio.

Things turned serious while chatting with a saleswoman when he asked how she was doing, and she bluntly replied, “I wish I wasn’t on this earth.”

There was no easy response.

The woman was angry, LeJeune said, “because something was hurting.”

He offered to pray, and she fired back, “Oh, don’t do that. You’re talking to a rabid atheist, and I don’t want your prayers.”

LeJeune returned to discussing bourbon options and, as he left, the woman smiled and laughed when he said, “Look, I’m going to pray for you, but you just pretend I’m not. OK?”

That’s really all that could happen in that setting, stressed LeJeune, a veteran of years of campus ministry near Texas A&M University.

The saleswoman was candid — and he tried to show sincere concern.

Truth is, the woman he met “when I was buying bourbon was … easier to evangelize than the people who go to my parish who don’t know Jesus Christ.”

Catholic leaders need to understand that, six years ago, Pew Research Center numbers were already warning that 13% of American adults are ex-Catholics, with 6.5 former Catholics for every Catholic convert.

Waves of “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated, cannot be ignored.

Meanwhile, LeJeune has stressed another sobering reality — that nearly half of churchgoing millennials think it’s morally wrong to seek converts.

Among Catholics, many assume that “evangelism” is a Protestant concept and the same thing as “proselytism” that pressures people to convert.

The reality is that more and more churchgoers are, at the practical level, “universalists” who assume people go to heaven no matter what, he noted.

Only “really bad” people are in hell — if there is anyone in hell at all.

“God wants us to respect people’s freedom. That’s a given,” LeJeune said, reached by telephone.

“But let’s be honest. Christianity is not suffering because there are too many fire-and-brimstone Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox people who are trying to force people to become Christians.

“It’s just the opposite. Most of our folks believe they don’t need to do anything to help people go to heaven. They have no zeal to save souls, no matter what the Bible says about that.”

In a recent online essay, LeJeune described several strategies he has been sharing with bishops, priests and laypeople:

  • Most evangelism occurs outside of church walls, so “stop inviting non-Catholics to Mass. … Many people will feel out of place in Mass, and some may even be offended, because we do not invite everyone to take Communion,” he wrote. The goal is to find comfortable places to talk, so ask people to get coffee or lunch. “Invite them to join your friends at a dinner party. Invite them to go fishing.”
  • Don’t be “pushy, argumentative, aggressive or annoying. … Evangelization should always flow out of a real relationship. Real relationship means we have the other person’s best interest at heart.” The goal is trust, which means never viewing someone “as a project.”
  • Grasp that “understanding someone else’s viewpoint” doesn’t automatically “mean you agree with it.” After seeking to understand what someone believes, then ask questions. Allow people to “think through the issue themselves,” wrote LeJeune.
  • Truly listen to people. The best time to talk about faith is when someone asks a sincere question, trusting that “you won’t judge them for asking it, try to convince them you are correct or be argumentative about it.”

True evangelism, stressed LeJeune in his Franciscan lecture, is not about recruiting more people to fill pews or getting lukewarm Catholics excited. It’s about healing souls.

“Are you looking for souls that are far away from God? And you might say, ‘Yeah, I am.’ And then I say, ‘Well, what are you doing about it?’ … We need to turn our gaze to the people who never darken the doors of our church,” he said.

“We need to turn our gaze to people who never come to our churches, our parishes, our ministries, our programs, our events, our classes, our sacraments if we are going to renew our churches.”

  • Terry Mattingly leads
  • Published in Religion Unplugged. Republished with permission.
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