Know your faith. Live your faith. Share your faith. Three simple suggestions that Greg Willits shared with those attending the recent Catholic Media Conference in Denver.
Willits, a writer, radio show host, ministry leader and director of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Denver, is fired up about being a Catholic, and his new book, “The New Evangelization and You – Be Not Afraid,” ventures to ignite the faith in others.
The New Evangelization is really not new, he says, but the “reintroduction of Jesus Christ (and the Catholic faith) to the world.” The message of Scripture hasn’t changed in its more than 2,000-year history. What we are charged to do is to become more informed Catholics in order to share our love for the Lord using all means possible, including new technology.
Willits says everybody, including the pope, can be a better Christian and an evangelist of the Catholic faith. While there is no one way to be a crusader, knowing the faith and living it daily in our family, church life and community are key.
He said it was Pope John Paul II who christened “The New Evangelization” (borrowing Pope Paul VI’s words, “The church exists to evangelize.”). The challenge is “to learn how to renew the hearts, minds and lives of Christians and non-Christians alike in a definitively secular landscape.”
Willits admits to not always possessing the knowledge or confidence to talk about or defend the Catholic faith. Shortly after he got married (his wife is a Catholic convert), he began seeking answers to, “Why Am I Catholic?” He began reading the catechism and books on Catholic faith to enrich his understanding.
Like many children who grew up in faith after Vatican II in the 1960s and 1970s, Willits learned a watered-down, touchy-feely version. He called it “a Catholicism formed more by the emotional resonance of the times than by the truth and beauty that comes to us through the teaching authority of the church.”
What our faith needs to be, he said, is what God intended church to be – “a truly Holy Spirit-inspired place of worship that is rich in sacraments and the celebration of the faith.”
As Willits began realizing the beauty that our Catholic is – direct from Jesus who handed it down to the disciples, to generations of our ancestors to us, and that Pope Francis can be traced directly to Peter whom Jesus chose as his rock on which to build his church – the more zeal he had to share his faith.
Speak Lord, I’m listening
He cited an early experience of evangelization back in 2002 when he had an inspiration from Mary, Jesus’ mother, to start making rosaries and teaching others how to do it. He established RosaryArmy.com and has since distributed millions of rosaries. A month after this venture began, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared the year of the rosary and introduced the luminous mysteries.
Willits doesn’t think it was coincidence. He was receptive to the Lord and his intercessors. An interesting result of his maturation in faith was beginning to happen, he said. It was having a transformative effect on others.
He said to “be not afraid” to start your journey in faith knowledge. Willits suggests learning to become a more “credible” witness of the faith by setting small faith-learning goals such as reading St. Paul’s Letters to the Romans as he did one Lent or studying the creed of the Catholic Church that offers a well-defined pathway to heaven whether we realize it or not. Every Sunday at Mass, we recite that we are “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.” Do we grasp the meaning?
Once we truly understand and accept that Christ is present in the Eucharist, how could we not want to attend Mass? It could be that lack of understanding or loss of the sense of what faith is that has led Catholics to abandon Catholicism in favor of something deemed “more exciting” or relevant.
Several speakers at the Catholic Media Conference mentioned the new ardor in the Catholic faith today. I can truly see it in the fervor of the faith of many young adults throughout our archdiocese and beyond. We need to grow in our faith and try to reach out to others through social and digital media where many communicate or we will lose them. In the words of Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “If the church is not present in this space, we risk abandoning the many people for whom this is where they live.”
By baptism, we are all called to be evangelizers, whether we know it or not. Baptism is more than just the eraser of original sin. It starts our pilgrimage to heaven to get to Jesus. Will the path to spread the word of God always be easy? No, just look at the stories of the disciples or any of the saints. But, we shouldn’t give up even though the world around us “seems completely oblivious to the beauty and joy of Catholicism.” It may be challenging at times, but God never abandons us. He is in the midst of our hectic lives waiting for us to take up the call.
In this declared “Year of Family and Faith,” let us go forth and proclaim the Gospel.
Willits has also written “The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living” (Servant, 2012) with his wife, Jenifer. Visit www.gregwillits.com.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.