I recently came across Fr. Robert Barron’s column from Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, called “Faith and Culture.” Fr. Barron, the mastermind behind the multi-part Catholicism series and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake-Mundelein Seminary, recently wrote a commentary on—well, a topic of expertise for him—evangelization.
In a piece titled “Let’s Stop Talking About Evangelization and Just Do It,” Fr. Barron lays out three practical, yet perhaps (too often) overlooked, strategies for any Catholic who wants to not simply talk about, but — better yet – live out, a state of evangelization.
Fr. Barron’s three strategies to the faithful include:
1) Deepen your knowledge of the Catholic tradition
2) Let the language of faith be naturally on your lips
3) Don’t be afraid to pray in public
He writes eloquently and poignantly in articulating the need to deepen our knowledge of the richness of the Catholic tradition, filled as it is with so much beauty:
“We have in the church an extremely smart, rich and profound history that comprises the incomparable Scriptures, treasures of theology, spirituality, art, architecture, literature, and the inspiring witness of the saints. To know all this is to enter into a densely textured and illuminating world of meaning; not to know it deprives one of spiritual joy.”
How often do we take the profound, deep knowledge and beauty that exists within our faith tradition for granted, giving little consideration to the centuries of wisdom, art, spirituality, philosophy, and theology, all forms of literature that have come from that multifarious tradition. Fr. Barron reminds us that, as souls called by Christ to evangelize and spread the Word, we cannot share what we do not know, and when we do not comprehend the full potential of what Catholicism has to offer our efforts will go nowhere.
It, therefore, becomes a requisite, a responsibility, we may say, to deepen our knowledge of the multifarious beauty and richness of our inheritance—for that is what our faith is, it is the inheritance of a treasure given by those who came before us, those who protected it, fought for it, often died for it; an inheritance that stems back to the One who initially died for it: God himself, as Christ the Lord. In that sense, when we deepen our knowledge of faith we are deepening our knowledge of a sacred inheritance, when that brings us in Communion with those who came before and those who will come after us, after we pass on our tradition. It is a Communion between both living and the dead.
In his second point, that “the language of faith be naturally on our lips,” Fr. Barron emphasizes that the “faith must be all pervasive, invading and influencing every dimension of our lives: public and private, personal and professional. Allow your Catholic convictions to come to verbal expression. If this prompts a reaction or a question, so much better for the church’s efforts at evangelization.”
In this sense, Fr. Barron asks the provocative question of how many in our social circle even know that we are Catholic? Do we take our faith everywhere, living it and expressing it, or do we keep it locked up in the privacy of our domestic, or perhaps Sunday, lives?
Fr. Barron’s final point may be the most profound yet. The British author William Golding once wrote that the most profound ideas are usually the simplest. In this paradox, we have an answer for the depth and brilliance that is present in the seemingly simple suggestion that Fr. Barron gives, in efforts of evangelization, to not be afraid to pray in public.
Perceptively, Fr: Barron observes:
“How many times have you sat down with your family or friends at a restaurant and simply dug into your food without offering a word of thanksgiving? Again, you need not be ostentatious, but a simple, unaffected prayer, publicly offered, can be a powerful witness to the culture.”
Don’t underestimate the evangelical power of demonstrating your faith in public, Fr. Barron tells us.
We should consider, in no matter what our cultural, societal, or familial role is, that there are those around us who may look up to us, see us as possible role models, as examples, as friends or persons of integrity. The very act of seeing someone you admire partake in a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal may inspire innumerable appreciation and compassion within oneself for the gift and example of prayer. The very act can be inspirational to strangers as well, seeing such an unashamed display of sincere faith in a public restaurant, especially in the middle of a secular setting wherein few people — think of most waiters and waitresses especially – get the chance to see a sacred ritual — yes, for prayer is always sacred, even during the simple act of saying Grace — of gratitude to something higher than ourselves, to God Almighty.
It may feel awkward at first, something we’re not used to if we do not habitually say Grace, or even simply thank God informally for our meals, especially in public places, but — in the end — it is these small acts of courage, courageous expressions of our faith, which can have the most effect in influencing and evangelizing the culture. You may get some looks of bewilderment or perhaps even slight derision, but who cares…God is our judge. And in the midst of a sincere display of gratefulness to God, and expressing that sincerity, even for the smallest things, like our daily bread, we will inspire faces and sentiments of admiration.
St. Francis of Assisi once famously said to his friars before sending them out: “Go preach…and, if you must, use words.” Fr. Barron is giving us a similar message in his final point, showing us that evangelization is not just a spoken reality but one that is lived through the personal example of faith.