Evangelization in a Hostile Culture

During the course of the past three months, I have been analyzing and commenting on the gravity of the situation in this country, the mass of lies, the deep divisions arising from radically opposed world views, and the increasing power of militant secular anti-Christian forces, accompanied by the subtle and not so subtle persecution coming what looks like the beginning of a new ‘soft’ totalitarianism. I have highlighted three grave institutionalized evils that clearly mark the dividing lines: a legal, constitutionally protected right to abortion; a legal, constitutionally protected right to same-sex ‘marriage’; the increasing legal establishment and promotion of the transgender ideology.

After addressing the need to resist these evils, strong in faith and strong in mind, I then turned to the matter of evangelization. Last Sunday I addressed the matter of the evangelization of the powerful, which essentially means warning them that they will have to give an account of their actions before the judgment seat of God who will judge the mighty all the more severely. Well, that is more the task of the bishops, since few of us really have any possibility of interacting with the powerful. For our part, however, while we must bear patiently with the increasing persecution, we must also be mindful of the danger in which the powerful have placed their souls, and so pray for them, thereby fulfilling our Lord’s command to love our enemies.

Next, it is necessary to say something about the evangelization of ‘ordinary people’, whether fallen away or lukewarm Catholics, or modernist Catholics, or those who are outside of the Church. My purpose here is not to write and guide to evangelization, but only to comment on a certain aspect of evangelization in the midst of the hostile culture.

While we need to understand the words rightly, we really do need to start with the words of the Lord, Judge not, lest you be judged. (Mt 7:1) In the context of evangelization this does not mean that we approve the way a person lives and thinks, nor does it mean that we should refrain from proclaiming the Gospel to him. Rather it means that we have every reason to distinguish the individual from the groups to which he belongs or the ideas and behaviors by which he tends to identify himself. People have been led astray or bought into the whole culture of abortion and LGBT for reasons of which we are completely ignorant. Catholics have lost their faith or been seduced by modernism for all sorts of reasons of which we are ignorant.

In his letter, St. Jude writes in a time like ours in which men defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme majesty. (Jd 1:8) In this context he first directs the faithful regarding their own life: Build yourselves up in the most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jd 1:20-21) Then regarding others he says: Convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them from the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Jd 1:22-23)

We need to recognize on the one hand that we are engaged in a battle against a corrupt culture, while at the same time we desire to help lead those who have become prisoners of that culture to the light of Christ.

We can consider the example of former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director, Abby Johnson, and the people from Operation Rescue, that prayed every day in front of her clinic. They did not shout hateful slogans; they did not shout personal insults; they prayed, and they made every effort to engage both workers and clients in conversation. When Abby Johnson reached her crisis point and fled the clinic of which she was the director, she went to the offices of Operation Rescue and there she found welcome, help, support and guidance.

While there are some pro-lifers who shout insults and epithets and while that has been the mass media characterization of the movement, the contrary is rather true. The pro-life movement has actually shown tremendous love in the face of hatred and one of the most heinous crimes short of the Crucifixion of Christ himself.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson who had been an atheist, a major abortion doctor, who played a key role in the legalization of abortion in the United States, left off the practice of abortion due to ultrasound convinced finally that it was the destruction of human life. While still an atheist he began opposing abortion and supporting the pro-life movement. Witnessing the prayer that took place outside abortion clinics he was impressed the tremendous display of love that he saw. He eventually found the mercy of God and became a Catholic before he died.

Evangelization in the midst of a hostile culture needs to be founded first on a deep personal union with Christ in prayer, prayer for others that recognizes that however depraved, degraded, and seemingly hopeless their condition they are not beyond the reach of God’s mercy, a readiness to enter into conversation with them in a way that sustains human connection, and a readiness to provide help in time of need.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.