I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but it’s become unpopular in America to be a Christian, especially Catholic. Even the very mention of Catholicism can trigger some people into becoming hostile. Misconceptions and resentments run rampant in people’s minds and hearts. Some who claim Christianity may even be cast out of their friend groups and families. We could also be humiliated. “What if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to?” “Faith is too personal of a topic to talk about with others.” “What if I lose my job based on my beliefs?” Suffice it to say, being open about one’s Catholicism can be considered borderline dangerous.
However, we have brothers and sisters who aren’t as fortunate as those living in the US for multiple reasons. They can lose more than just their reputation and family if they claim Christ. Outside of our borders, people are threatened with slavery, death, and worse for practicing Christianity today. Martyrdom has never stopped being a thing, even through the “modern” age. Honestly, I don't think it will ever go away.
Jesus calls us to “Make disciples of all nations” in Matthew 28:19. There are several more instances and stories in scripture that emphasize the fact that it’s everyone’s duty to evangelize. Through all the threats we face across our country and world, it’s our obligation to share the Good News with others regardless of the dangers. Early Christians had it far worse.
Despite all this, just the word “Evangelization” causes anxiety and apathy in the majority of us. People shut down over the mere idea of talking about their faith with strangers and friends alike because they don’t want to be rejected, fired, or embarrassed. They also think of Jehovah's Witnesses going door to door saying, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” Yeah, I cringe too.
Perhaps there’s a different way to evangelize. I’ve found an alternative to directly confronting people about the faith. It’s called joy.
Why I Evangelize with Joy
Joy is Attractive
We’ve all encountered that person. That person you can tell is truly happy even though their life isn't perfect. There’s something about this person that draws you to them. An attitude of confidence with a side of humility and strength. I know when I encounter this kind of person, I want to spend more time with him or her. Religious sisters, anyone?
Usually spending time with someone results in building a relationship and learning about what makes them themselves. For me, that sometimes leads to talking about my faith. Therefore, a connection is implied: It’s possible to be joyful and Catholic.
I’ve had people tell me they were drawn to the faith because of my unapologetic joy about it. They could tell I was happy about something and they got to know me because they wanted to know why. Sometimes I’ve heard people say, “I’ll do anything to be as happy as that person is.”
Joy isn’t up for Debate
Unlike morals and facts, it can be difficult to argue with someone on what they’re feeling. You’re not in their head. Have you ever tried to tell someone, “You aren’t angry. You’re actually happy!” So when you exhibit authentic joy, it’s nearly impossible to tell someone their joy is fake and that they’re actually experiencing a different emotion.
There are a few caveats to this point. Firstly, it’s possible to fake emotions. All of us have done this at some point. Even me. This is why joy needs to come from a genuine place. People can sometimes tell when you’re faking it. Not sure how to exhibit authentic joy? I discuss this later in this post.
Secondly, the validity of emotions are up for debate. Sometimes people don’t necessarily have the “correct” emotion over something. There have been times when I wish I had had a different emotion for certain situations. On the other hand, there are those who appear to rejoice over the fact they’re leading sinful, unrepentant lives. People may argue that “your happiness is based on lies.”
Thirdly, I am not talking about identifying as something based on feelings (sex, race, species, etc.). I’m not even going to engage in that conversation.
In the end, I personally haven’t gotten very many messages that say, “Your joy is fake. Stop being happy.” Maybe it’s a question Chris Stefanick has received though. He's got more publicity than I do.
Joy is an invitation, not a confrontation
Just think. How many conversations that begin with a claim about morality (or anything, for that matter) end poorly? Indeed, there is a time and place to ask someone, "Have you thought about becoming Christian?" Sometimes people need that push, but I think that timing must be thought through meticulously. People aren't projects.
Being different (joyful) but not being up in people’s faces about it gives a person the freedom to observe that and to ask me why I am the way that I am.
Have you heard of the technique in storytelling, “Show, don’t tell”? Critics usually aren’t a fan of characters telling the audience things they can figure out themselves by being shown clues from the story, whether it be character attitudes, objects shown, etc. Disney has become notorious for the storytelling sin, “telling, not showing”. Ever seen Frozen 2?
Critics don’t like this because it essentially treats the audience as if they’re idiots. It takes away the fun for the audience to unravel the meaning and mystery of the story for themselves. It’s like spoon feeding a perfectly capable adult.
I’ve found this rule rings true for many other areas in life. This includes getting people to do what you want them to do, like softening their heart to receive Christ. It’s so much more effective to show results of living a life for Christ first and then tell them how to and why they should get it. Why would someone want to give their life to Christ if you look unhappy doing it?
People don’t like being told how to live their lives anyway.
Joy is contagious
Kindness is a free commodity I think we need to be giving away more of. Whether or not people ask me why I’m joyful, my joy still makes people’s days better. Letting someone else go first. Complimenting a stranger (or friend!). Saying hello to a cashier. Remembering a coworker’s birthday.
Our attitudes influence others. When I serve communion, I try to give people a smile. I’ve noticed people copy it sometimes. It’s been said that giving someone a smile is a gift in itself. So smile more!
This can also be applied to laughing. Being the way I am, I laugh at a lot of things, including myself. When I’m out in public, I try not to be shy about laughing at something, especially when I’m with friends or family. I’ve noticed when I act cheerful around others, many people mimic my attitude. So laugh more!
It’s really about selfless love. Even if I don’t convert someone, I still make someone’s day. I don’t know the battles people are fighting nor do I know the seed that may be planted as a result of my actions.
Joy is one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit
It’s simple. Producing the fruit of joy means the Holy Spirit is with you. There is great power with the mere presence of the Holy Spirit. So by bringing the Holy Spirit to others can make a great impact in ways we don’t understand.
Joy feels good
A joyful heart is the health of the body but a depressed spirit dries up the bones.
Joy benefits more than just others; it benefits me! There are studies out there that show living a happy life leads to a healthier, longer life. Creating joy for myself makes a more enjoyable life too. One that I want to live. One that gets me out of bed or out of the house. I can say I love my life. I have a surplus of happiness I want to share with others.
How I evangelize with joy
Have a Consistent Prayer Life
If you ask me how to fix a spiritual or personal problem, most of the time I’m going to ask you how your spiritual life is. Having consistent and wholesome prayer has been crucial to improving many areas of my life.
Having a consistent prayer life means I’m having a consistent conversation with God. Most of my prayer time is devoted to, “What the heck am I supposed to be doing?” Sometimes God gives me an answer in consolation and other times it’s inconclusive. I’ve learned to be at peace with either conclusion. That’s what it is to trust God. It minimizes fear. That way, I spend more energy being happy than worrying about things. Not sure how to create a consistent prayer life for yourself? Check out this article.
Wonder and Excitement
Many things bring me joy. Big things, small things, grand things, simple things. The gift of health. The delight of a sunny or rainy day. The mystery of the flight of hummingbirds. The profoundness of a good friend. The conundrum of why I am blessed with the life I have. The accomplishment of cleaning my room. Find many things that fill you with joy and you will be filled!
The next step is to verbalize this wonder. “Wow! Look at that mountain!” “Isn’t [so-and-so] just a wonderful person?” Sometimes people are caught off guard because they’ve never thought of these things as particularly profound but once I’ve drawn attention to something, they’re left thinking…
Additionally, if you’ve spent time with me when I’m with a group of friends I am close to, the joy it fills me with is palpable.
Grateful people are happy. Usually not the other way around. As discussed, acknowledging the many blessings in my life fuels a lot of my joy and happiness. I kid you not, it literally puts a stupid smile on my face thinking about blessings. Like the gift of my friends and family and the silly memories I have with them. It all sounds so corny but it’s true!
Passing on gratitude is another way to be joyful. Like I said, kindness is free. Thanking, complementing, appreciating, and acknowledging are little things that can have huge impacts on people. I think appreciating each other is an art we’ve lost as a society too.
Side note while we’re here. I think gratitude is the antidote to the current culture of victimhood. It seems like moment by moment, people are identifying more and more categories that have been wronged or are being wronged in some way and that they are owed something.
It is absolutely legitimate to seek justice for oneself! Please seek it when appropriate!! Justice is the most important cardinal virtue. However, some don’t have a proper understanding of justice. There are people who think they are entitled to more than what is due to them, if anything at all. Whether or not they are owed something, I think their time could be better spent looking for ways to improve society and their lives in constructive ways instead of waiting around for someone to repay them or fix whatever is broken. Even if they are “repaid,” will it even satisfy them? Our society rejects the reality that life isn’t fair sometimes. Sure, life isn’t fair, but we still have a tremendous amount we ought to be thankful for. Take responsibility for yourself.
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.” Simply recognizing good traits I have is not pride, nor recognizing negative traits is not self-loathing. I think being able to objectively claim the positive and negative within oneself is true humility.
I try to objectively recognize my strengths and weaknesses. I’m artistically talented. I’m also terrible at math. I think I’m good at bringing people together. I also think I can overwhelm and annoy people with my enthusiasm.
I’ve found being honest about these things relieves social pressure. For example, as mentioned, I can get very excited when I have a lot of friends around. I’m aware it can get on people’s nerves. When I sense that may be happening, I say, “I’m sorry. I can be over the top sometimes. Please tell me if I’m getting too obnoxious!” and that can sometimes coax a giggle out of people and at least help people be less annoyed with me.
Another example is during a Bible study on the five loaves and two fish passage. I tried to make a profound remark about numbers and symbolisms. I said, “Five times two equals twenty, so that clearly makes a connection to the second reading!” The entire group paused for two seconds before someone said, “Except five times two is ten.” We all had a good laugh. Because I own my poor math skills, I was laughing with everyone else instead of being upset with myself and bringing down the mood of the entire room.
God created the human race. He wanted to have a relationship with them, but humans broke that relationship in a way that could only be repaired by God. Thankfully, God sent Jesus to repair that relationship so it would be possible for us to have salvation and be with Him again. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the ultimate source of my joy. That is the Good News we must share with people.
Our world is starving. It’s feeding on the mud pies of pleasure and pride that doesn’t satisfy. I myself can see symptoms of malnutrition from joy in our community. I think they know it too, but they don’t know what else to eat. Let’s show them happiness that fills and satisfies: The banquet of the Good News and of the Eucharist. Perhaps once it is shown to them, they will want it for themselves too.
Thanks for the read! I had a lot to say. What’s your attitude on evangelization? How do you evangelize? Do you think evangelizing with joy works? Drop a comment!