Evangelize – Proselytize – Catechize, what is the difference?
Evangelization and proselytization are both acts which are done with the hope of converting someone from a particular religion, or no religion, to another religion. Evangelization when done properly is the sharing of one’s faith in a non-confrontational manner with the hope that the sharing sparks an interest in the listener and the conversation continues. Proselytization is a more direct, confrontational approach that tries to convert a person by making them believe that a particular way is the only right way and that you must believe that way as presented or suffer the consequences. Proselytization has never been overly successful and is illegal in some countries. It never less remains one of the most popular ways to try to convert people to a particular way of thinking. To catechize is to instruct someone in the principles of a religion (most commonly associated with Catholicism) by means of question and answer, typically using a catechism. Catechism continues what evangelization begins.
This blog is a bit of both evangelization and catechization. It is my way to share my faith with you while providing some instruction and explanation on why Catholics believe what we believe. Going through RCIA the second time with my wife and son I found that I like to share my faith. More so, I found that I enjoy explaining or teaching why we believe what we do. There is no end to the number of people, Catholic or not, who are willing to tell you why we believe and do what we do. Unfortunately, the number of people who get it wrong are more numerous than the web pages that will back up their claims. The Church, at least in America, has done a poor job through the ages in properly catechizing the faithful. As a result we have a church full of people who stand together on Sunday and proclaim, “I believe….” But then get to the parking lot and say, “But I think the Church is wrong on….”
The Catholic Church has the magisterium. The magisterium is the authority that spells out exactly what the authentic teaching of the Church is. It stems from apostolic succession. Jesus taught his disciples and gave them the authority to teach their replacements. The replacements came to be known as bishops. Bishops have the authority, responsibility and duty to teach the authentic teachings of Christ to the faithful. The magisterium consists of the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him.
What the magisterium ensures is that every Catholic Church teaches the same thing no matter where they are in the world. Truth and teaching is not left up to the individual parish or person to define for themselves. Jesus taught his disciples one way, one truth. Today we have over 41,000 Christian denomination and non-denominational churches throughout the world each teaching what they believe to be the truth. I think it is safe to say that there are not 41,000 different versions of the one truth.
The Catholic Church is the only church that can back up a claim of having an unbroken line of apostolic succession leading directly back to Jesus himself. What the Church teaches today is exactly what the first disciples taught and received directly from Jesus. Church teaching may have been clarified through the years but it has never changed, even during the bad years of even worse popes. No matter how corrupt they may have been none of them changed Church teaching even to benefit themselves.
The key word behind teaching a faith is authority. By whose authority are you teaching? If I were to show up at your house and demand you let me in because I was with the FBI I would be in a lot of trouble. I am not there with the authority of the FBI. The same is truth with faith. Am I teaching the faith according to Christ or am I teaching the faith according to Bob? Where does my authority come from? For a Catholic, the authority to officially teach the faith (catechize) comes only from the diocesan bishop. All Catholics are called to evangelize their faith as a mandate of their baptism but only those with the bishop’s approval may officially teach the faith.
I wanted to join our parish’s RCIA team but I would first have to gain the bishop’s approval to teach with authority. The following week I saw a notice in the church bulletin announcing that a new class of ministry formation was about to begin. The diocese offers a two year course for people who want to become a Catholic lay minister in one of the many ministries the church offers. The description of the course reads as follows:
What is the Ministry Formation Program?
A two-year formation program for Catholic lay men and women with at least a high school education who want to:
- offer leadership in an area of ministry,
- deepen spiritual awareness,
- enhance theological knowledge,
- develop pastoral skills for a particular area of ministry.
Who benefits from the Ministry Formation Program?
You and your parish. Well trained lay ministers will promote the Gospel and encourage the involvement of others.
To learn more about the ministry formation program CLICK HERE.
I sought approval from our parish priest and was enrolled in the course. Orientation day I felt very out of place. I wasn’t very comfortable around “church people” and these were definitely people who wanted more out of their faith than just a Sunday Mass. In the first class we had to do an introduction, state what parish we were from and tell what rolls we currently do for our parish. I listened to my classmates tell who they were, where they were from and the title after title of the ministries they were involved in. When it was my turn it simply went, “Hi, I’m Bob from St. Rita in Rockford.” It was the exclamation point on the “you’re in the wrong place” sentence echoing in my mind.
I am now half way through my second year of ministry formation and I can honestly say that it has been one of the best things I could have ever done. It has been transformative in my life. I have learned my faith at a deeper level while making some very good friends along the way. It has changed the way I think and look at people. It is leading me in directions I never thought I’d go. Before taking this course I would say that I did more proselytizing than evangelizing. I can only hope that my proselytizing days are long behind me.
As with all things with God each door he opens leads to a larger room. One just has to be willing to walk through the door. I am now almost through the room of ministry formation and am faced with yet another door. God is asking if I want the door to be opened and now instead of presenting excuses why I don’t I am willing to say yes and see where it leads.
I am now walking this road to Damascus with purpose instead of wandering aimlessly.