Summary: The following sermon was preached at Mass at the end of a Society of Catholic Priests Training Day, "Catholic Evangelism for All Christians: Resources from the Anglo-Catholic Tradition for sharing our faith".
The mass this sermon was preached in the middle of was the experimental children's liturgy "The Nursery Rhyme Mass" though the sermon itself is an adult sermon
Mother Sandra Millar in her talk earlier said
“Sometimes we act as if the good news of God might run out. So we had better ration it. We had better not tell too many people in case it runs out.”
Children thankfully are not like that. In the middle of a Nursery Rhyme Mass it seems thoroughly appropriate to reflect on children as evangelists. I’m not sure about you but I know many people who became Christians after their children dragged them to church. Indeed – and I didn’t know when I arrived here today that he was going to say this: one of our speakers today, Tim from CaFE described how he became a Christian after his kids got him to start attending mass.
In an all age talk last Sunday – I asked children – if our friendship with Jesus is something special what would we want to do with it – and they instantly got it – you share it. Because if you have something good you are meant to be generous. Every child knows that. It’s the first thing you learn at primary school. My own son a few years back worked out that if he wanted a chocolate, he should pick up the box and offer it round everyone else in the room; because he had shared it with you, you would of course want to share it with him.
And children do get: that applies to faith too.
My partner used to run a messy church at her old church. It was extremely successful full of parents and children of every ethnicity and background – mainly because her daughter went round enthusing and inviting all her classmates.
Sadly we grown-ups are often slower off the mark. Jesus tells the 72 The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Why are the labourers few? Because we grown-ups don’t get our backsides in gear.
We are all to happy to leave it to the other people “leave it to the vicar – it’s her job”. Or leave it to those two over there, because they like that sort of thing. Or even as anglo-catholics – “leave it to the Evos – They are good at that sort of thing, and perhaps when their converts grow up some of them will become proper Christians and join us…”
The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.
St John Chrysostom says “I cannot believe in the salvation of anyone who does not long for the salvation of their neighbour”
Perhaps that is a bit harsh. But I think he has got a bit of a point behind it. If we haven’t realised how worth sharing our faith, perhaps we haven’t “got it” – got how wonderful our faith is.
In Evangelii Gaudium – Pope Francis says “Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.”
I think sharing our joy is one of the principles of Catholic Evangelism. Our Lord tells us “I have come to bring you life and life in abundance” Irenaeus tells us “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
I came to faith as a teenager through an evangelical Christian Union at boarding School. One of the things they would say “Where do you think you will be in ten years time? What about twenty years time? Thirty years time? Fifty years time? Seventy years time?” The idea was to scare you – on the day of judgement are you going to heaven or are you going to hell.
That was not what led me to give my life to Christ.
What led me to become a Christian was the way they invited back guys who had just left the school to come and talk about their faith. It was the enthusiasm they had, the joy they had, the fullness of life they had – that led me to want what they had – not the stuff they said about hell, that I personally found quite off putting.
As Catholics we don’t do evangelism by putting the fear of God into people but by offering people the joy of God.
“Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.”
At theological college I went on a mission with Father (now Bishop) Stephen Cottrell. One of things he does to train his team and the local church is to ask them to share with a neighbour what they like about their faith. What they like about going to church.