First Huddle then Hustle! Pentecost and Evangelization

Today we celebrated Pentecost Sunday wherein the Church is strengthened and empowered for her great mission to go unto all the nations. The principal account of it took place in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2).

As we encounter the Church we find a Church that has been given quite a tall task:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20).

And Luke adds a detail in his account:

Jesus said “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father  upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:46-49)

And so the Church gathered in Jerusalem, about 120 in all, and prayed for nine days (the origin of the Catholic practice of “Novena” wherein one prays nine days for an intention). On the Tenth Day the Holy Spirit came. During those nine days we find the little Church somewhat fearfully gathered. There is no evidence that they are boldly seeking converts. They are a small community huddled together, fearful, behind closed doors,  and awaiting a fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit. This was something they probably only vaguely understood.

So there’s the image: a community fearfully and apprehensively huddled together, wonder how they would ever Go unto all the nations when they were too afraid even to go out side the doors where the huddled together.

This is all about to change, but for a moment, grasp the picture and consider with me if it does not look a lot like many of our Catholic parishes today. Increasingly small communities that huddle together and talk only privately about the Lord but are afraid to go out of the doors of the Church and speak a word about the Lord. Perhaps they will be laughed at, scorned or asked questions they cannot answer. The general approach of most Catholic parishes in terms of evangelization does not seem to be to open the doors and go out but, rather to open the doors and hope people come in. But Christ said “GO.” And still we huddle together fearfully and with an inward focus. We spend most of our time talking about inward things like what color to paint the women’s restroom, who will be the new Holy Name Society President, why women can’t be ordained etc. All perhaps important issues  to resolve but the main mission of evangelization is neglected and we focus on inward things too much.

Hence we are huddled together, fearful, and lacking in proper focus. Outside the Church doors is a world that needs to hear from us, but still we huddle together, timid and fearful of opening the doors and going out.

To be sure it is not wrong to huddle together. It is essential for us to gather each week as a community to ponder the word of the Lord, hear his teaching and plan, be fed and strengthened for our mission. But if all we do is huddle, we are missing the point.

Consider a football game. The offensive team always huddles before the play. This is essential to make sure all the team members are on the same page and know their roles. The quarterback makes clear what each is to do. But at a certain point it is time to break the huddle and come out and execute the play. If you went to a foot ball game where all they did was huddle you wouldn’t stay long. The huddle is not the game or the point,  is to  prepare the play. And then it is time to hustle up and run the play.

What would you think of a football player that was afraid to come out of the huddle and run the play? Perhaps he is afraid of getting hit or something. Well it’s clear that we’d think he’s a pretty poor excuse for a football player. But this is our struggle as Christians. Too many of us are afraid to come out of the huddle (the Mass) and run the play. What play you say? “Go there are make disciples of all nations…..” The deacon or priest says it at every Mass: “The Mass is ended, Go in peace.”  And this is short for “Go make disciples….” And so it is that the huddle is supposed to break and we are to go out on the (mission) field. But in too many of our parishes this is not happening. We are not passing on the faith well even to our children,  let alone strangers.

Come Holy Spirit – The early Church was also huddled together behind closed doors. But on that tenth day (Pentecost) the Holy Spirit descended on them as a strong rushing wind and tongues of fire. And suddenly they started speaking boldly. The next thing we notice is that the door is open and Peter preaches a sermon to the crowd so bold that three thousand are added to their number that day.

And the Church went forth that day, unto all the nations. Sure there were fits and starts but the mission to the world had begun. The huddle broke and the play was executed. Surely the Church would huddle frequently, but then they would break huddle and hustle up to the line to execute the play: Go therefore.

How about your parish? How about you? Don’t just huddle….., hustle! When the Mass concludes “Go in peace” don’t miss that this is a commissioning. Get out on the field and execute the play. Move the ball, gain some yards! And if you loose some yards, get back up, huddle up again, and hustle again. But don’t give up! First huddle then hustle.

Here is an excerpt from the Sermon I preached today at my parish here in Washington DC that makes some of these points. I am preparing my parish for a neighborhood outreach.

The full sermon can be heard here:

4 Replies to “First Huddle then Hustle! Pentecost and Evangelization”

  1. Evangelization in a Parish is not as easy as one might think. For a successful program it has to be done in cooperation with staff, school, religious education program and the parishioners. You have to be a community that talks and works well with each other. If you don’t have this in the community you already have a road block. All best intentions mean nothing if you can not talk and work together.

    Having information about your parish is helpful – some type of brochure or handout that highlights the organizations and groups with a brief explanation about those groups. An updated and current website is a must.

    At my parish we have had greeters who welcome people before Mass, just a friendly “hello”. Also we say hello to those standing next to us before Mass beginnings. During warmer weather after Mass we sometimes have “coffee and donuts on the lawn”.

    We have had several out reaches in our neighborhood. They have all been non threatening to both parishioners and neighborhood residents, meaning no door bells were rung, we just past out booklets, door to door with some information about our parish life. One year at Christmas time we had a postcard with a picture of several parishioners “60 in all” in front of the Mary Statue outside and it said “From our family to yours, Merry Christmas” on the back was the Christmas & New Years schedule. When that was passed out we had one person from the neighborhood call the rectory and ask for another postcard because she wanted to frame it and put it with her family photos.

    Recently we had the Catholics Come Home project in our dioceses. The school children did an art project for the campaign and they evangelized in a simple and direct way. The projects hung from the ceiling in the vestibule area. Their message just stated “Welcome Back to…the Eucharist, …the bible, …forgiveness, …love, ….Jesus.” It was quiet beautiful, a sea of beautifully handcrafted statements from the children. Our parish also had a picture-story playing with the background music “I am with way, the truth and the life by John Angotti” of the different events that have taken place at our parish, with the climax focused on the Eucharist. The pictures included the children at school, at play and at Mass, adults at Mass and play and as many events as possible. We played it at the beginning and end of each Mass during the campaign in the vestibule. In the back of church we had a Welcoming table with parishioners at the ready to direct any questions. Postcards were available so people could write down the harder questions and have someone call them at a later time with the answer.

    During the campaign we found, when people were ready to come back, they come back quietly. So the program was successful. And the parishioners did a great job.

    Individually I evangelize all the time. The very simple things work the best: Manners respecting the personhood of the other person, saying hello, affirming the existence of that person. How often do we walk by people and never acknowledge the other persons existence. I remember one Christmas I made a lot of cupcakes. I wrapped them up and attached a card explaining the purpose of the cupcakes and the tradition (Jesus birthday cake) in my family. I gave them to the people I saw everyday, bus drivers, passengers on the bus, I even gave it to a man who I pass by everyday. He was totally shocked, but to this day we always say hello to each other.

    Helping people is another thing we can do. In this day and age it is scary to help anyone because you are afraid of being hurt and/or the other person is just as afraid of you. I’m am very tall and if I see a shorter person who needs help is trying to get something off of a shelf at the store I will get it for them. We don’t always think of these things as evangelizing but they are.

    I am the chair person at my parish for evangelization. I have found the people who need to be evangelized most are the people in the pews. I have prayed, prayed some more. I have shown religious movies, had adult enrichment programs, discussions on the Eucharist. It is tough, very tough and like I said if you do not have the support of the staff etc…your efforts are in vain. Thank you for the blog as I wrote in response I remembered all the people who did respond to the evangelization efforts. I was about to give up. And I still might say goodbye at this parish because of the staff. Some are not very receptive to my efforts and In one person I cause deep seeded anger in her and I have to say I am so tired of the jealousy.…But thank you again…it was kind of like “it’s a wonderful life” and you were my Clarence.

  2. We have a “team huddle” before work in the ER. The Charge Nurse tells us what is going on in the hospital, the unit, any new protocol, etc. Or sometimes she might just come in and tell us, “Everybody get to work!”

    I do know for a fact that my own parish has an Evangelization team. Mostly it is just going around the neighborhood and inviting people to church. No Jehovah’s Witness stuff, just a simple, friendly invitation and questions answered if needed (to my understanding of the team). As I’ve said before, just like I need to be the one to approach people if I want to be welcomed and get results, maybe I also need to be the one to reach out more. We’re not mind readers, we can’t see what people want or need, and most people are flattered to be welcomed into a community and church. Or maybe we can visibly see that someone is in need but not know what’s going on in their heads….in any case, inviting someone to church or a church event may be just what they need 🙂

  3. Msgr. Pope,
    You have hit the nail on the head in this post! We seem to be stuck in huddle (or not even in the game) where evangelization is concerned. The “E” word seems to instill fear in the hearts of the faithful. I find it interesting that your post on veils/no veils incited a discussion of close to 200 posts, and this wonderful post on our Baptismal call to proclaim the Gospel to all people at all times has garnered only two. Kudos to the two previous posts; the indicate that while evangelization is not easy, and perhaps it may be uncomfortable, but it is possible.

    Pope Benedict has been vocal in calling for a new evangelization among the faithful. In his recent trip to Portugal he stated: “We need to overcome the temptation to limit ourselves to what we already have, or think we have, that is safely our own: that would be a slow death for the Church as a presence in the world,”

    As one who tries, quite feebly at times, to evangelize; I am strengthen by the last phrase of the Gospel passage from Matthew which you cited in your post: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Even when we leave the huddle, we are not alone in our efforts!

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