Have you ever heard of the local Catholic evangelization groups springing up in cities and towns all over the U.S. (and beyond!), each of them a part of the wonderful St. Paul Street Evangelization effort? Literally standing on street corners with signs offering their prayers, answers to questions, and help finding the true joy, teams all over the country have reached thousands of people with God’s Truth in the last two years. What a fantastic mission! I follow their stories on Facebook for a dose of inspiration each day.
By following their stories, I have seen that many ordinary people are called to witness on the street corners, and more join every day. It’s not for everyone, I know; but–God has called each of us to evangelize. Even if you are not out on a street corner each week engaging with the people of your town as they pass by, opportunities to proclaim His truth in your daily life will come your way in abundance: speaking with neighbors, answering the questions of coworkers, explaining your religious positions to friends, and countering false claims from strangers on the internet. This can seem daunting, when you think about it. Being ready to charitably defend truth is so much easier with a stout preparation! I recommend a study of Church history.
Here are five ways learning Church History prepares you to evangelize:
By teaching you the truth. Basically, Church history is the story of 2,000 years of human error and sin being met by the mercy of God through the teaching, witness and sacrifice of the holy men and women of His Church. Every conceivable error or opinion you will meet as you travel through life has a robust answer, a legion of champions who have defended the truth it opposes, and there are a myriad of ideas for sharing God’s truth to those who are in such errors. Just what do we Catholics believe about grace, the Sacraments, the priesthood, the Trinity…and why do we believe those things? When did the Church define these teachings, and why? Of course, in a brief conversation you will not share all that you know, but you will be able to better answer, steer, and shape that brief conversation based on all that you know: you’ll be able to prioritize what is most relevant to your current topic of discussion and the other person’s needs.
By showing you the ideas behind the ideas. History is always a bracing dose of perspective. Heresies don’t spring out of nowhere! Bad ideas beget bad ideas, and like viruses they morph and spread throughout space and time. Some heresies have been strongly geo-political in nature (e.g., Iconoclasm, Protestantism), leveraging popularity and power from secular rulers and movements in the culture. It’s important to know this, because it can keep you from unwittingly being led down a rabbit hole by the person to whom you are witnessing, and can help you define what the issue at hand is really about underneath its many layers.
By introducing you to real people behind the errors. One of the heretics I am particularly fascinated by is Martin Luther. Tortured mentally and spiritually to the point of exhaustion by what they called scrupulosity then, and what they would call Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder now, he chose to embrace heresy as a self-treatment for his condition. If only he had chosen to offer his suffering for the good of souls, seeking healing and help from within Mother Church! I can’t even count the ways the world would be better for it. Knowing this about him, I hope to always be able to keep in mind that I am called to witness the truth to real people, who may have similar tragic reasons for professing errors–and who therefore definitely need the truth in charity!
By giving you saintly role models for championing orthodoxy. God raises up heroes to defend His beloved children from error! Saint after saint after saint suffered and sacrificed and gave his life to God and the Church to lead men back to the truth. Study their lives and times. Steeped in prayer and charity, their patient and humble lives of service show you what to do, what to say, and how to stand for truth. As you strive for sanctity through defending the truth, it will be encouraging to know how they’ve done it before!
Demonstrating that errors are products of their times. We temporal beings have an addiction to novelty. Ironically, no heretical ideas under the sun are actually new, but different ideas are in vogue at different times. Modernism, the ultimate heresy, is the heresy ultimately privileging the zeitgeist. But because God’s truth is eternal, all the errors of this passing world will eventually fall away before it. With the bolstering hope that you gain from studying the vanquishment of past heresies by orthodoxy, you will know as you evangelize and witness that God is still working in the lives of those you speak to in order to bring them out of error into the freedom of the truth.
The next time when you will have to stand up and witness for the truth of your Divine Faith is coming closer and closer! Backed up with the truth, hope, and a commitment to charity from a prayerful exploration of the work of God’s Church throughout the ages, you’ll be ready to build foundations for your evangelization efforts with blueprints from the past. Make today the day you dive into those books, sites, and videos that you’ve been meaning to get started on someday! (And I hope you’ll check out the St. Paul Street Evangelization site, perhaps considering if joining (or starting!) a local chapter is for you!) May God be with you as you serve His Truth.