LA QUINTA, California — Regarding  “Time to evangelize: Course of archdiocese set on attracting and inviting others to faith,” Dec. 6, Page 19:

Our church needs help learning how to create disciples.

Sadly, we have become defensive and reactionary over all the ugliness the church has been enduring these last few years. Many Catholics are wondering what we should do next. I’m grateful we weren’t alive in those early church years of persecution and martyrdom or later on with the turmoil in England, Korea, Germany, etc. Maybe God put us here at this time to help him strengthen his church.

I’m an apologetic so I know how to defend my religion. But it’s not possible to do it alone. Through faith, we were entrusted with evangelization skills. Only three tenets really: Love God, love your neighbor and feed the sheep. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent 70 disciples to 70 nations to evangelize. Pretty simple instructions, but we’re not doing it. 

Did you ever see the movie that was out a couple years ago? It was called, “Pope Francis, a Man of His Word.” Of course you didn’t. I purposely church-hopped a couple dozen parishes on the West Coast to listen to homilies, talk with parishioners and read bulletins cover to cover. Not once did a bishop, priest or deacon speak about the Holy Father’s movie, which raised awareness of relevant and contemporary issues surrounding our church and mother Earth.

Why did no one mention it? Does U.S. church leadership think they have it figured out? Have we become so self-absorbed in our country’s riches that we’re above listening to and learning from our pope?

There is a silent schism growing within the church today between the Baby Boomers and generations who have followed. Next time you’re at Mass, look around. Most everyone looks like me, 70, gray and getting older. What do you think the church will look like in 20 years? Chris Stefanick, a lay evangelist and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it best at the conference in Salem: “If every Catholic doesn’t catch the spark and take a new ownership of their faith and the mission to evangelize, I think our days are numbered.”

For every baptism, six Catholics leave the church. Church attendance has been declining since 1955 but really dipped between 2005 and 2008 and continues to slide downward across the United States.

But we’re not down or out yet!

Pope Francis says, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something new.” We are there.

We Catholics need to reclaim our purpose. On that will separate us from our predicaments. The initial step is for this evangelization focus to start from our priests. Then it must rise up in Catholic schools, in the safe haven of our homes, in the workplace, among friends, family, and classmates. We won’t just talk about what we should do; we’ll live an authentic Christian life. We all come with our flaws and scars, often hoping they will not show. But even in our weakness and brokenness, God still will use us. Why? Because it’s not about us and our abilities, it’s about God and God’s love, grace, generosity and kindness. It will work if you believe in the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the shepherds in each of our parishes.

Know that our priests are tired and need our help in evangelizing. We have to be accountable just as our priests are to God the Father. So put your boots on, roll up your sleeves and buckle your chin straps. It’s time to jump in.

Consider the evangelizing power, for example, of Mount Angel Abbey. There are monks who possess a radiant quality. I remember listening to Benedictine Father Odo Recker, one of the absolute best public speakers I’ve ever heard. Laypeople can learn from the monks and St. John Society (who are committed to discipleship) how to fuel-up then go out with our hearts on fire with the love of Christ. Lay people need priests who can spiritually direct them to reach out to “all nations.” Creating strong one-to-one relationships in the faith creates strong communities of faith. Discipleship isn’t just teaching and mentoring, it’s companionship in our pilgrimage to heaven.   

Here are some ideas to further evangelization:

• Priests ought to welcome everyone before Mass starts, especially non-Catholics, and invite them directly for a blessing and how to fold their arms.

• Young adults should serve as greeters before and after Mass. Look for young people to spearhead community gatherings. 

• Have children’s Masses with a children’s choir and have children proclaim the readings.

• At special intention time, pray for our children to return to the church and attend Mass.

• Have a Sunday evening young adult Mass for all young people in the area. Have a hamburger feed after Mass.

• Pray the rosary

These are just a few of the ways we can work as a Catholic family to open our doors to our Lord’s house for our children, teens, young adults and young families. 

Concannon spends part of the year in Oregon.