Our neighbors are waiting for a message that provides hope

The Ascension of the Lord, May 16
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3,6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-29; 10:19-23; Luke 24:46-53

In 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) had 51,736 missionaries, serving in 344 missions throughout the world. In 2009, these missionaries, most in their teens and early 20s (supported by their families, not the Mormon Church) made 280,106 converts. This means that each Mormon missionary on average made 5.4 converts.

Now, if Mormons sacrifice their time and resources to proclaim the message of Joseph Smith — and people respond in large numbers — how much more will the Gospel of Jesus Christ resonate, if only we Catholics will obediently proclaim it?

According to St. Luke, Jesus’ final words were: “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and “Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, [will] be preached in [my] name, to all the nations” (Luke 24:47). Each of the four Gospels contains its own version of the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Mark records Jesus’ final pronouncement as: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15). In John 20:21, Jesus announces, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”

Several years ago, Tom Peterson was praying about how he might use his experience as an advertising executive to promote the cause of Christ. In 1997, he created a series of TV advertisements for the Diocese of Phoenix, which aired for two-and-a-half weeks. Miraculously, 3,000 people returned to the church — at the cost of $10 per soul.

Since then, Peterson’s “Catholics Come Home” advertisements have aired in 12 archdioceses and dioceses around the United States. As a result, some 200,000 people have returned to the church or converted — with the average diocese growing as much as 11 percent.

HUNGRY FOR THE GOSPEL
In a recent study conducted by the Barna Group, 80 percent of non-Christians said they would be inclined to visit a church if someone would invite them. Sadly, within the past year, only 2 percent of these same people reported having been invited. When a focus group consisting of non-Catholics and fallen-away Catholics was shown Peterson’s “Catholics Come Home” ads, 53 percent indicated they would consider looking into the Catholic faith.

Are people hungry for the Gospel? Yes! Will people respond to a message that promises them an eternal future? Yes! If we train parishioners to evangelize their neighbors, will we see large numbers of people entering the church? Yes! If our parish budgets underwrite evangelization and foreign missions, will we have more converts? Yes! Yes! Yes!

What we must do first is honestly assess our present situation. How many inactive parishioners in need of evangelization do we have on our church rolls? Do we have confirmands and graduates from our Catholic schools that need to be evangelized? Is the number of those entering our parishes via baptism, conversion, and transfer growth greater than the number departing due to death, transfer, and inactivity? Do we have line items in our parish budgets for evangelization and world missions? How many people came into the church through our parish last year due to purposeful evangelization?

Having answered these questions, we must then gear up to address the deficiencies we discover. We should train our parishioners to evangelize their friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. We should actively evangelize, as well as catechize, in our parishes and Catholic schools. We should provide parishioners with quality literature on a variety of subjects of interest, including brochures describing our parish, and maintain attractive Web sites to which parishioners might refer potential converts.

We should organize “Friend Days,” “Homecoming Sundays,” “Alpha Courses,” and other evangelistic opportunities. We should train teams to contact everyone residing within our parish boundaries.

Quiet disobedience to Jesus’ command to evangelize is not an option. Our neighbors are waiting for a message that provides hope for this life and the next. Are we content to have the Baptists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses reach them first?

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Father Douglas Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.

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