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Courage for the Task

Evangelizing: Consider Saints Peter and Paul

Courage for the Task: Evangelizing: Consider Saints Peter and Paul

The feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is on June 29. Spend a little time thinking about their stories. St. Peter evangelized the Jews, while St. Paul was sent to proclaim the good news to the Gentile world. Celebrate the feast thinking over what that means for us, who are also called to evangelize.

A True Friend of Christ. Peter was always trying to do whatever Jesus asked of him. He was always hungering after more of the Lord. Peter was taught, tested, and sifted, and through it all he became a true friend of the Lord. We too can be a people that Jesus can call his own. Yes, it means that we need to be taught and tested, stretched and refined, transformed and recreated. But like any close friendship, the rewards far outweigh the challenge.

Never Give Up! St. Paul is a special example of the cost of evangelization and the courage needed to persevere. He went around preaching the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyria (Romans 15:19) and eventually all the way to Rome. And what happened to him? Labors and imprisonments, Paul tells us, with countless beatings, and frequent brushes with death: “Five times . . . I received forty lashes less one; three times I was beaten with rods; I was stoned once, shipwrecked three times; I passed a day and night on the sea. I traveled continually, endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, by sea, by false brothers, enduring labor, hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and thirst and frequent fastings; in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Just imagine what St. Paul’s back must have looked like after all those beatings! Yet, amazingly, he never thought that he should stop evangelizing. He kept right on preaching. In Lystra, when he was stoned and dragged out of the city, he got up and continued on to Derbe with Barnabas. And after they proclaimed the good news in that town and made numerous disciples, they even retraced their steps back to Lystra and Iconium (Acts 14:19-21). It sounds like Paul was thickheaded in more ways than one: stones bounced right off his head, and the idea of giving up could never get into it! He lived out—literally—the prophecy of Christ: “They will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings to give witness . . . on my account” (Matthew 10:17-19). And Paul did it all, because for him evangelization was that important! And it’s no less important today.

When the first Christians were persecuted, their response was to gather together and pray: “Grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). The martyrs did not stop proclaiming the good news of salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ.

The Foolishness of the Cross. Today we hesitate to evangelize our friends and coworkers or even to mention Christ to our children because we don’t know what to say. But didn’t Jesus promise that we would be given the right words to speak? “When they hand you over, do not worry about what you are to say or how you will say it. . . . When the hour comes you will be given what you are to say. . . . You yourselves will not be the speaker. The Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Matthew 10:17-19). Or we fear that someone might call us a name or give us a dirty look. We only want to evangelize at a perfectly safe moment when we are sure to sound absolutely brilliant. If Jesus had waited for the perfectly safe moment, we would still be waiting for him to get there!

Describing the dangers Paul encountered and the problems we face in sharing the gospel with others might scare you off rather than convince you to evangelize. Yet you are following the example of Christ. He clearly foretold the dangers, but he also added this encouragement: “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot destroy the soul” (Matthew 10:28). The reason he warns us is this: If you’re easily scared off, you can’t do the full job.

Proclaiming the “stone rejected” invites rejection (Acts 4:11). Witnessing to a crucified Savior involves the cross. Preaching virtues like humility, forgiveness, purity, poverty, and justice tends to put our necks in a noose. But it is in the nature of evangelization to be out of style, to go against the grain and rub the world the wrong way. If you’ve never been persecuted while doing the unpopular job of proclaiming the “foolishness of the cross,” you might not be doing the job well enough.

Proclaiming the Good News with Perseverance. When it comes to evangelization, none of the excuses gets you anywhere. “I’m too timid!” only means you are too worried about yourself! Evangelizers need the determination, courage, and conviction of St. Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God leading everyone who believes in it to salvation” (Romans 1:16).

“I’m too busy!” Too busy for what? Too busy to talk? Or just too busy to talk about Jesus?

“It’s not my thing.” If you are a Christian, it is! It’s the basic task of the people of God; it’s the reason why the Church exists; it’s our supreme duty (Mission of the Redeemer, 3). If you are planning to go to heaven, you’d better make it your thing fast! As Pope St. Paul VI once said: “Don’t be so sure you’re going if you’re not taking anyone along!”

“I don’t know enough.” About what? God? Salvation? Goodness? Truth? God’s living word? The way to peace and happiness? But what’s wrong with studying? The answers have all been revealed.

If excuses like these don’t work, then the job simply has to be done—despite the dangers, persecutions, rejections, insults, time involved, things said, comments made, looks given, study, and preparation needed! The successful evangelist is a person so convinced of the importance of the gospel that he or she will pay the price—whatever it is—to proclaim.

The secret is to persevere, as Saints Peter and Paul did, when the going gets tough—and it will get tough! So “let us not grow weary of doing good. If we do not relax our efforts, in due time we will reap the harvest” (Galatians 6:9). And what a harvest! Nothing less than new souls for paradise! It’s worth the effort! It’s worth the cross! It has to be done! And it can be done with nothing less!

How to Reach Others with the Gospel:

Be Natural and Open. In your conversation with friends and acquaintances, share naturally. Don’t worry about getting all the theology right; just speak from your heart about the Lord. Talk freely about your Christian activities. Don’t be afraid to offer a godly perspective on the news or current affairs. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Speak Personally and Sincerely. Be courteous and gentle as you speak about your experience of God’s love, his mercy, or his power to change your heart. Avoid religious jargon. Be careful not to be critical or judgmental, but simply share what you know to be true, and let the witness of your life do the work of convincing. (2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

Pray. Intercede with love and compassion—and with patience and perseverance—for those with whom you are sharing the gospel. Don’t just pray for a deeper conversion, but pray for their everyday needs and for the other challenges they are facing in life. When you do have an opportunity to talk about the gospel, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words and the right heart. Also, ask the Lord to send more “laborers into the harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38; 10:19-20; Philippians 1:8-11)