As the international speaker and Scripture scholar prepares to address the Archdiocese of Sydney via Zoom this month, Dr Mary Healy answered some questions about the power of parishes to bring Jesus to people.
Register for Dr Mary Healy’s 12 February online talk at www.gomakedisciples.org.au/cas-events
Dr Healy, you have written various articles and books on evangelisation in the Scriptures. We look forward to hearing you speak on this topic on the 12th February. Could you give us a preview of your essential message?
We Catholics have put tremendous effort and resources into launching the new evangelisation, in the face of many challenges, sometimes with mixed results.
What we have not fully taken into account is the first evangelisation – the explosive growth of Christianity in the ancient world, when a handful of fishermen, tax collectors, and ordinary people turned the world upside down for Christ, even while undergoing waves of state-sanctioned persecution.
The beginnings of that story are told in the New Testament, and it’s there that we find the secret to becoming the missionary disciples we are called to be. So my talk will unpack what Scripture teaches and models about evangelisation and show how it directly applies to the parish of the twenty-first century.
“Evangelisation” is not a word that everyone is comfortable with. Can you explain what light Scripture can shed on what ‘evangelisation’ means and what it doesn’t mean?
That not everyone is comfortable with it is certainly a fact! But it must be said that the Lord’s goal is not always to make us comfortable.
As the saying goes, the Lord comforts the afflicted… and afflicts the comfortable. Now part of our discomfort is that the word “evangelisation” conjures up the image of Bible-thumping street preachers or getting in people’s faces with a message they don’t want to hear.
But Scripture shows that evangelising does not mean pressuring or coercing those who are not interested. Nor does it mean trying to recruit people to “fill the pews.” Filling the pews with unconverted people would accomplish precisely nothing!
Rather, evangelisation is joyfully sharing the greatest news that has ever been told in a way that leads people to encounter Jesus themselves. It is one beggar telling another where the bread can be found. It is showing others the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price that we have found. It is introducing people to your closest friend, the One who fulfils the deepest desires of the human heart.
What role did Scripture play in your evangelisation? What role can it have in the evangelisation of people in our parishes, and also in how they share the good news with others?
Scripture has played—and still plays—a huge role in evangelising me. When I was a teenager, I personally encountered Jesus through teen retreats, and one of the first effects was that I developed a huge hunger for the Bible. There was a time during high school when I was attending three different Bible studies!
I experienced the fact that by reading Scripture I could hear God speak to me personally, with truths and guidance that directly impacted my life. I’m still being evangelised by Scripture because the more I read and study it, the more deeply the glorious good news of Christ gets into me and changes me.
I think we underestimate the power of Scripture to evangelise people in our parishes. When parishioners are given good Bible study resources, created by people who have not only biblical expertise but vibrant personal faith, they begin to fall in love with Jesus, and they get set on fire. Only those in love with Jesus and on fire with the Holy Spirit can evangelise others effectively.
You have spoken to groups around the world, including the recent Eucharistic Congress in Hungary, seeking to make and form disciples of Christ. What signs of hope do you see in this mission? Conversely, what do you see as the main challenges to sharing faith in Christ?
One of our main challenges to sharing Christ is a jaded and indifferent secularised world in which many people know—or think they know—just enough about Christianity to be inoculated against it.
Also, it’s obvious that there is increasing hostility to Christian faith in our secular culture. Another challenge is the fact that so many Catholics have themselves been more evangelised by the culture than by the gospel.
But one of the most encouraging signs I see is a new hunger for the gospel, especially among those who have been disturbed by the pandemic.
Another hopeful sign is that because our challenges are so great today, both lay people and clergy are opening themselves more fully to the Holy Spirit and letting the Lord have his way, rather than trying to run things ourselves.
There can be a kind of desperation that is good, because it makes us turn more radically to God. Only when we get to the end of our own rope do we discover that when we have him, we have everything. And the Lord actually has all the answers we need for the renewal and restoration of his Church and the evangelisation of the world.
In many Western nations, the number of Catholics seems to be declining. Yet Jesus asks his disciples – including us – to go and make disciples. What insights can Scripture offer to us about the most effective ways for parishes to evangelise today?
Yes, in many places there is not only a decline but what can truly be called a collapse. Scripture offers a treasury of insights as to how to evangelise effectively. I will say more about this in my talk, but Scripture shows us what our mission is, what message we are to proclaim, what methods we are to use, and what is the means by which we can actually do it.
Register for Dr Mary Healy’s 12 February online talk and other Go Make Disciples events at www.gomakedisciples.org.au/cas-events
For more information about the Reclaiming Evangelisation Series contact Sister Anastasia by email at [email protected]