Author encourages Alaska Catholics to boldly share the faith

.- While many Catholics might find the idea of evangelization intimidating and a bit scary, it doesn’t have to be, says Catholic author and apologist Mark Shea. “We have this great magnet called the Blessed Sacrament that draws people (to the church),” he told a crowd at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage earlier this month.

Shea said he hoped Catholics attending his Anchorage talk would realize that spreading the Gospel is a matter of allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them as instruments of evangelization.

Shea was in Alaska as a guest speaker for the Anchorage Archdiocese’s deacon retreat. He also spoke to young adults at the Anchorage Theology and Brew about how he journeyed from being an Evangelical Christian to eventually embracing the fullness of the Catholic Church.

“As a Catholic, the Holy Spirit is in charge … and is the chief evangelizer,” he said. “We are just reporting what has already been handed down.”

Often times, that simply means inviting people to Mass or different events. Other times, it means sharing personal stories of faith. The most important thing is to remain open to the promptings of God, Shea said.

All desire happiness

People all over the world are desperately searching for happiness, Shea pointed out.

“We are creatures and we are made to worship,” he said. “The population is divided between those who worship God and those who worship something else.”

The problem for those who worship something else is that they have an inability to satiate their thirst and desires, Shea said.

“You can never get enough of what you want if it is disordered,” he added. “If you seek your happiness in a disordered way, that is not God — it is sin.”

The good news of the Catholic Church is that is offers a holistic approach to spiritual longing by nourishing both the body and the spirit, Shea said.

“We have an embodied faith,” he said, adding that the reason we have sacraments is that Jesus came to save both body and soul.

And that underscores again the importance of inviting people to liturgy and Mass. Shea shared a story about how he invited a co-worker who was an atheist to Mass. He did not preach or try to convert, but simply invited her to come with him every Sunday. Eventually, the woman began to attend Mass even without him and became Catholic.

Connect to other Christian churches

Evangelization is not just for non-Christians, however, it is important to work with the various Christian denominations as well, Shea said.

“We are discovering again our lives as missionaries in the world,” he said of Catholics. “And we’ve seen this especially in the pro-life movement.”

A powerful way to spark conversation and heal divisions between Christian denominations is to focus on common goals. The pro-life movement is a prime example of this, he said.

“This is one of the profound ways that Christians are coming from all walks of life, recognizing the commonalities that we have,” Shea said. As an example, he pointed to the annual “40 Days for Life” prayer vigil in which Christians from all backgrounds pray in front of abortion clinics across the country.

Working together on common causes is a great way to begin the conversation and recognize the strengths both sides have, he said.

“Catholics tend to look across the fence, so to speak, and say wistfully, ‘I wish I knew the Bible as well as Evangelicals did,” Shea said. “Evangelicals look across the fence and wish they could be more mystical and prayerful like Catholics.”

These are great starting points for discussions. And the conversations don’t require gifted orators or skilled debaters. All that is needed is access to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and teachings of the magisterium.

Don't water it down

While it is important to share commonalities and similarities, it is also crucial not to water down the faith, Shea cautioned.

“The mission of the church is to proclaim the church and not to compromise,” he said.

That’s especially true when it comes to young people, he noted. It is important that the message is challenging and that hard questions are tackled head on.

He pointed to Pope John Paul II as an example of a successful evangelizer who did not water down the message for young people.

“John Paul II understood that the task of youth is heroism,” Shea explained. “He gave youth the good news that God is calling us to something that is so hard, so heroic that is it worth dying for.”

And the youth responded, Shea added, pointing to the large crowds the late pontiff attracted at various World Youth Days — crowds that were among the largest youth gatherings ever seen on earth.

People are responding to the challenge and call of the Gospel. A population the size of Tallahassee, Florida enters the Catholic Church each year in the United States, Shea noted. These people came because they were invited to something that challenged and fed them spiritually. They came, he added, because others answered the call to be evangelists.

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