My wife and I had our first go at street evangelization last Saturday. I’ve chatted on the internet, debated anti-Catholic radio show hosts, debated skeptics on Facebook and hosted several round table discussions about Catholicism at a Lincoln coffee shop, but I have never stood on a corner and greeted people by offering them a rosary or information about the Catholic Church. While I knew what to expect, I didn’t really know what to expect. Does that make sense? What I mean is that you just never know what to expect, even if you have experience with this type of stuff.
We owe last Saturday’s experience to a great new ministry called, Saint Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE). You can find them at http://streetevangelization.com/ This is a very new ministry that helps local Catholics get out and bring Jesus to the people on the street. They have training, resources, materials and lots of know-how to help evangelists spread the Good News. It is a great concept, and it has already changed lives across the country. I had been looking into starting a local chapter when a Facebook acquaintance (Wayne) posted an interest in the very same thing several months ago. Since then, with Wayne’s great leadership and organizational skills, we have formed a local chapter with over a dozen street evangelists and more than two dozen prayer warriors backing us up with their prayers. Our main focus this summer will be the Farmer’s Market down in the Lincoln Haymarket. But we plan to attend other events and locations as well, so keep your eyes and mind open and stop by if you see us. This fall, you may see us as you stroll onto campus to attend a Husker game.
Saturday was a great day all around. We met many great people and the weather could not have been more pleasant. Our shift was one hour and twenty minutes, ending at noon. We had the chance to chat with many people who assured us that they already had a rosary and lived their Catholic faith. We also had a small amount of people who avoided us like we had the plague (1 out of every 20 or 30). True to the Nebraskan values you would anticipate, nobody was rude. A few encounters do stand out though.
We were able to talk with a group of young women who were not Catholic. Initially, two of them accepted our offer of free rosaries. Then their two friends spotted them and joined the conversation. I was in the process of explaining the meaning of the rosary to the first two when I offered another rosary to one of the latecomers. I’ll call her Jenny, because I don’t recall if I ever asked for her name. Jenny declined the rosary and inquired about the Catholic Marian Theology. She mentioned doubt about things such as Mary’s sinlessness, devotion to Mary and Mary’s role as a mediator (mediatrix) between God and man. Jenny asked great questions. It was an excellent opportunity to talk about the fact that the Hail Mary prayer is biblical, as is the rosary. We assured her that the proper Catholic practice is to venerate Mary, which is different than worship and that Mary exhibited her ability to mediate at the wedding feast at Cana, when she played a significant role in the start of Christ’s public ministry. We pointed out that we don’t have to worry about showing too much love for Mary, as we can never love her more than Jesus did. We were also able to point out that Christ loved his mother deeply and He certainly wants us to show her respect and honor just as we want our friends and relatives to show our earthly mothers respect and honor. Jenny was very polite and even though she had doubts, she was able to carry on our conversation with respect and kindness. I like to think I did too.
In the end, I don’t know if we were able to say anything that would make Jenny think more favorably about the Catholic Church or of Mary, but I suspect we did. I suspect her friends gained some insight by participating in the discussion as well and the fact that they accepted rosaries and information pamphlets on the rosary and the Catholic Church, tells me they have some trust and maybe some heightened curiosity. No matter their future decisions, I pray that they pursue and achieve a deep relationship with Christ.
There were at least two Catholics who initially declined our offer of rosaries and information, but later doubled-back to ask us for a rosary. In both cases, they had been Catholic all their lives and it didn’t sound like they ever strayed from the Church, but that they didn’t feel like they were the disciples they should be. It was great to talk about the faith with them and I could tell that they had a thirst for a deeper faith, including prayer and ongoing education. Even though my involvement in their journey may be small, it was great to serve as a source for a renewed vigor for the faith of a fellow Catholic.
It was also neat to see that they actually thought about their faith on a Saturday morning when their primary goal was probably simply to attend the Farmer’s Market. These two Catholics had an unexpected encounter with the Holy Spirit that morning and responded favorably. I wonder how many others paused to think about their relationship with God and although they didn’t double-back to accept a rosary or a pamphlet, they recognized their need to grow closer to God anyway.
I had a fun conversation with two women who had actually spoken with one of our evangelists earlier that morning. One of the women was a Catholic, but her friend described herself as “seeking”. She was a Christian, but has some agnostic friends who typically try to coax her toward atheism or agnosticism. She was resistant to a rosary as well as information about Catholicism, but I am hopeful that she will be a little more receptive to her friend’s Catholic example now that we had the opportunity to show her that there are other Catholics who can have a respectful and inviting discussion about faith without the discussion devolving into an argument. I perceived that she was someone that needs to see examples of a Catholic who lives their faith instead of someone who would read their way into Catholicism or any other faith. I think many such examples exist in Nebraska.
Then there was the man who described himself as a “freethinker”. I ended up visiting with this man for over an hour (the discussion drifted into “overtime”). His philosophy boiled down to his lack of trust in everyone and everything. In fact, he started the conversation by stating that he doesn’t trust anyone, including the pope. But this man wasn’t truly a freethinker, which is someone who bases their “beliefs” on logic, reason and that which can be proven by math or science. He seemed more like a Christian who had fallen into syncretism or maybe even pantheism. Pantheism is the belief that God is in everything and everything is God. Syncretism is the incorporation of a wide array of beliefs that do not even need to support each other. His faith consists of things he likes about all the different beliefs he can find, but he also held equally firm criticism of every belief he mentioned. Therefore, while he may not yet be a freethinker, he may be well on his way to being a freethinker if he can’t turn things around and find some trust in God. I left him with one request, that he pray about his refusal to trust in anyone and anything. If he can find his barrier to trust, he may find a way back to the one true God. If he truly seeks the one true God, he can find the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church.
I look forward to my next opportunity to get out and share the Good News. If you see any of us, stop by and say “hi”.