30 July 2007

Door-to-door evangelization

Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization. I think some avenues of evangelization have been chartered, but why is it that Catholics don't go door-to-door? Not that I think it's a great idea because I find the people who do this to be intrusive and presumptuous. They may be very sincere in trying to save my soul, but I don't like having to elude these folks and their questions while I'm standing at the door holding a child or a dust rag.

Maybe door-to-door evangelization should be my response to these people. Evangelize them when they come to my home. My father used to do that, but he was a great debater and could articulate his beliefs very eloquently. He was very unselfconscious and charming. He frequently turned the discussion back on the person(s) going door-to-door. I know this isn't my strong suit, at least not yet. It might not ever be.

Stuck in the door
When we got to our cabin, there was a pamphlet from the "Watchtower" folks. Seems they have been doing a full-court-press on getting out the word, or their version of it. A large number of my husband's family is in the area. His parents retired to their cabin on a nearby lake. Shortly after that, my sister-in-law and her husband bought a few wooded lots close to them. My husband's divorced grandparents, then in declining health, were moved into a home together in the very small town close to my PIL. My husband's uncle also moved in with them. Not too long after all this happened, my husband's aunt and her husband bought a lot on another lake in the area (there is a chain of lakes all within a few miles of each other). It seems all of us have been visited by the Watchtower/Jehovah's Witness crew.

My husband's aunt and uncle have a lot that is what they call "high bank." It's almost alpine in its height and steepness. In order to get to the lake, they had to cut a zig-zag path into the side of the hill. It's still incredibly hard to get down to the lake. It's even harder to get back up the hill. A mountain climber would be winded after walking up the path. But, twice the Jehovah's Witness gang navigated the path and knocked on their tiny cabin door at the bottom of the hill. All this despite the place being well off a road that sports "Private Drive" and "No Trespassing" signs. Obviously, they are a determined bunch.

But, where are the Catholics?

Personal experience
Even growing up we would get knocks on the door from people of various religions/denominations. I was in college and a group of ladies from Jehovah's Witness came to the door. No one else was home and, in the heat of the morning, the house was wide open. They saw me before I was able to hide. They gave me their spiel about things, then asked me what religion I was. I answered "Orthodox Catholic," which I erroneously thought they would understand as a secret code to leave me alone. Nope. They obviously hadn't heard that term before and asked me about it. Considering it ruse to engage me in conversation, I simply told them I was in full communion with the beliefs of the Church and the Pope, merely trying to distinguish myself from a non-practicing Catholic to let them know to leave me alone. They kept trying to sell me their books, which I thought was idiotic seeing as I was a very poor college student (I was living at home!) and I had just told them the Catholic password for, "I'm solid in my beliefs."

They persisted while I stood there and gave them an attitude and look that only a 20-something can pull off. It was well past the point of trying to be charitable and kind, they were not letting me go gently or gracefully. It was almost to the point that I had to either physically remove these women from my doorstep or close the door in their face. Fortunately, I had just gotten out of the shower and my hair was all wet. I told them I didn't have time to talk since I had to get to work. One of the ladies reached into her bag and pulled out a small pamphlet that she wanted me to have, actually, she wanted a donation for it. I told her to keep her pamphlet because I wouldn't read it and there was no way I was paying for something I wouldn't read. She then told me she still wanted me to have it even if I wouldn't read it or pay for it. I reiterated to her I would simply throw it away. We bantered back and forth about it, but she insisted I take the now contentious pamphlet. Right inside the kitchen door was an open garbage bag ready to be set out. It was garbage day. As the lady handed me the pamphlet, I moved my hand over the garage bag and dropped it in. I looked up at her and said, "I TOLD you I would just throw it away." Then I closed the door. Yes, it was mean and uncharitable, but I was 20 and felt like I was being ignored and manipulated, that they were forcefully trying to indoctrinate me.

What I didn't tell them was that my cousin had married a Jehovah's Witness and all the money in the world wouldn't make me sign up for their ranks, even if I had been "church shopping."

While I lived in Seattle, I had several friends who were Mormons. Not to bash my poor LDS friends, but their religion is like Voodoo or Santaria, taking parts of Catholicism/Christianity and mixing it with something very alien. Mormons, compared to their Voodoo cousins, are more mainstream because they have adopted a clean outward appearance; they are better packaged. Their belief system is still as extreme as Voodoo, but more palatable to people in the suburbs. Mormons will cut you from their ranks as quickly as the Jehovahs if you don't tow the line, then you are anathema. Not very forgiving.

New Evangelization
So, where is the Catholic Church in all this. Lately, people are up in arms because the return to the Latin Mass will remind Catholics to pray for their Jewish brethren. That's "anti-semitic." There are deep and painful scandals the Church is still recovering from. Possibly, the suffering of the Church will get worse before it gets better.

We need to evangelize by example. Clean up our own house. We need to embody our beliefs, not just espouse them. Show and share the joy we have. This should go a long way to help with public relations. Catholicism is such a rich religion that if we are just able to utilize the tools and gifts we are given, with God's grace, evangelization would be a by-product of our example of faithfully living the commandments.

I might not be able to evangelize door-to-door, but I can work on the example I provide. This needs to start with my children. The bible study I just completed really emphasized this and showed what happened to the Israelites who failed to instruct their children. I can see this happening in my own extended family. My great, big, Catholic family is not so great or Catholic anymore. It seems that evangelization needs to start on this side of the door, within our own families, nurturing a good example that can be shared with the world.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Superb post, swissmiss.

Terry Nelson said...

Yes! Very good post. Once, after my conversion in 1972, a couple of door to door types stopped at my apartment. I was so excited to talk to them when they mentioned Jesus, and when they asked for proof from the Bible for stuff, I enthusiastically cited different passages from scripture. I was thrilled to talk about the Lord with fellow believers my own age, and I spoke at length about how Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, etc.. Then they explained to me they were Mormons and I very kindly pleaded with them to leave their Church immediately because it was a false religion, etc. I explained to them it was important because Jesus was soon going to return and we had to prepare. They almost ran out of my house, and I suddenly felt like the lonely, blind hermit in Frankenstein when the monster fled from him. At the time, very few young people were interested in any religion except Eastern mysticism.

Bur anyway - the Legion of Mary used to go door to door, as well as stand on street corners, handing out Catholic tracts, I don't know if they still do that however.

swissmiss said...

Thanks for the kind comments. When my parents got home, I told my dad that some Watchtower ladies stopped by. My protective father's ears perked up and he wanted to know what they said. I told him what happened and how I threw their pamphlet in the garbage. He kind of smiled and said they were lucky he hadn't been home. I think he was ticked they tried to convert his kid. And, yes, they were lucky my father hadn't been home!

Ma Beck said...

Around here, the JWs always say (via the door buzzer - city life advantages) "Can we come up and talk to you about the JWs?" and I always respond, "No, but I'd love for you to come up so I can offer you the Truth of Roman Catholicism."
This is met either by silence or, "Uh, uh, I don't have time... blah blah" and they leave.

One of my parish priests, a dear friend of mine, is the child of Irish immigrants.
He said that his +Father+ had absolutely NO TIME for these door-knockers, and would get livid with them, but his mother ALWAYS invites them in.
Once, she asked them something they couldn't answer, and they responded that they'd have to 'ask their bishop and come back.'
She said fine, and went on the back porch with her tea.
About 15 minutes later, Father was out back with his mother when heard his father (who didn't know these poor folks had been told to come back) at the door booming, "GO AWAY! YOU WERE JUST HERE! WHAT THE HELL'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?"
He looked at his mother, who just smiled and rolled her eyes.

swissmiss said...

My mother's Irish family was very kind and never would've swore or been rude. My father's German family would've scared the daylights out of them.

In my neighborhood, in the city, we get a lot of door-to-door folks. I really don't like them because I have little experience being an apologist for my faith. I can't cite scripture (working on that for my own edification) and I can't articulate my thoughts very well on the fly. I was much better at it when I was younger, but then I was a much more brash individual, too. Now with little kids, I really don't like to deal with these people. I wish I was able to do what you do!!

Ray from MN said...

Swiss Miss

Wonderful post, food for thought.

I think a lot of Catholics around here learned to keep their mouths shut during the days of virulent anti-Catholicism in the 1890s by the Protestant American Protectionist Movement and later by the Klu Klux Klan, both organizations intent on keeping Catholics from having jobs.

In the 1920s, there were huge KKK rallies in Minnesota.

When my mother graduated from a public high school she was told by her parish priest that it was OK if she responded to the question "What is your religion?" by replying "Christian."

The only time that I have ever seen Catholic evangelization has been when Father Peyton came to Duluth with his Rosary Crusade, and a few tiny processions in parishes or at the Cathedral down here.

It is about time that we take the initiative on these issues. I am very frustrated at all the "guff" that I have had to take in my adult life, even when I wasn't going to Church at all.

Sanctus Belle said...

That last comment is dead on. I can't speak to the rest of the country, but in Minnesota there still lingers a rather pervasive anti-Catholicism. My personal experience has been the Lutheran brand of this scourge. One benefit to the dwindling of mainline protestant religion has been a strong lessening of this. There are more Catholics here now it seems, or perhaps we are simply more unified? I don't really know...but my mother has told me harrowing stories of being Catholic here in the 40's and 50's. Those days are thankfully gone.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't suggest that Catholics go door-to-door, but when friends/acquaintances express an interest in learning more about Catholicism we might offer to pick them up for Mass, tell them they can learn more in RCIA (which in many places will be beginning next month unless the parish has a program that goes on all year), or give them a book such as Why Do Catholics Do That ? by Kevin Orlin Johnson -- or perhaps that new one by Scott Hahn that looks really good on Amazon. I must say that if you express any interest in the Baptist church or the Church of Christ, they will be following up on your interest with an invitation to attend a church service. In fact, we recently got an invitation in the mail from the local Church of Christ. I am in the South where it is considered entirely appropriate to invite someone to church.

One Sunday I looked out into the "gathering space" at our parish and was more than a little surprised to see a devout Baptist friend. As I understand the story, he had invited someone to his church and the person had said that he'd like to go to Mass at his own church but had no way to get there. My friend had brought him and was waiting to pick him up after Mass. The happy ending is that a couple in the parish is now picking him up regularly for Mass.

I wonder how many inquirers we would have in RCIA if more people knew of its existence. Most newspapers have a religion section at least once a week and might be willing to publish a brief article about RCIA.

swissmiss said...

Ray and Sanctus:
I have an article on my genealogy webpage that describes life for my Irish Catholic ancestors in Canada, which was full of Orangemen at the time (1840s to 1860s). This wasn't too far from the area where the Fenian Revolt happened.

Growing up, I never really had any problems saying I was Catholic. I did live a sheltered life out in the suburbs. Everyone was either Catholic or Lutheran, everyone went to church on Sunday. We all interacted without any religious problems that I can ever remember. I do, however, remember an ominous comment my father made when I was young regarding me being so open about being Catholic. He told me not to run around proclaiming it because there were people in the world who didn't like Catholics. I do wish a movement to evangelize would gain some momentum.

I agree going door-to-door isn't the best method, especially today with so many other means at our disposal.

I don't mind evangelizing friends and family. My husband had been a co-worker and former Lutheran who fell into the clutches of myself and my father ;} The same with a good friend of mine. I have been trying to spread Catholicism to my husband's family, but they are so emotional about their beliefs and have no logical basis (quoting scripture just makes their eyes glaze over) so it is hard to find common ground or know how to argue with that.

Our parish used to have a very excellent RCIA program (taught by Father Altier) but now we are down to just one priest, Father Ubel, who is spread very thin with a fairly large parish and a K-12 school to attend to. Since we have been at our cabin most weekends this summer, I haven't heard if a deacon or lay person plan to teach RCIA. I think RCIA is a great tool to reach lapsed Catholics and converts, anyone really. I even attended Father Altier's course just as a refresher.

CA T said...

Yes, I agree. Catholics should be going door to door, just as Jesus and his apostles did in the first century, and as all his disciples are commanded to do at Matthew 28:19,20.

swissmiss said...

ca t:
Good point. I wonder why the Catholic Church got away from this? I don't recall any stories about a Catholic movement to go door to door. There have always been missionaries, but my impression is that missionaries aren't in the door-to-door business either.

Entropy said...

Does going door-to-door really yield that many converts or does it just annoy people?

I think you were on the right track when you talked about our examples being the best evangelization. In Acts it talks about many being added to their number just because they saw how the Christians lived and treated one another.

ca t said...

Going door to door with the good news should not be about converts.

Jesus said to preach and teach to all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, background, nationality, or economic situations, but he is the one who ultimately judges the sheep from the goats, not us.

We simply need to do as we are commanded, following Jesus example as written in the Scriptures..

swissmiss said...

ca t:
Thanks for your comments.
Absolutely our evangelization, in whatever form, should be without prejudice. Mother Teresa, in my understanding from listening to some nuns from her order, never evangelized those she served with words. It was her simple care, deep faith and humble, gentle way that made these folks see Jesus in her, just as she saw Jesus in them. By her example, many of the people she cared for converted. She cared for them no matter who they were or what their religion was. If we were to do the same with our neighbors, it would win many converts to the Church. I think the Church's message needs to utilize many forms: vocal apologists, contemplative orders, Catholics witnessing by their daily actions, missionaries, etc. John Paul II knew there were many means available to the Church to evangelize the world and urged us to take advantage of them. Door-to-door is one, one we are called to in the gospel like you mentioned, but there is additionally so much more at our disposal to get the "Word" out that we would be negligent to sit on our hands in that regard.

Sacchiel said...

I've had my experiences going door to door as a JW

Jenna-Bo-Benna said...

Sacchiel / Shelly,

Why are you going door-to-door with the J'sWs if you don't believe their doctrines?