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Friend or Foe

Bishop Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries is one of the most well-known Catholic evangelists of our time.

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I love him and his work. He not only knows his theology, but he also has a really good grasp on human psychology. He understands how to reach out to people and connect with them, their fears, their dreams, their questions.

One of his main mantras is to present people first with BEAUTY, then the GOOD, then finally the TRUE. When employed well, this technique is brilliant. I’ve talked so many times about beauty on this blog. Even someone with years of catechesis like me, I love spending time focusing on the beauty of this world and the beauty of the Catholic faith. No matter how much you know about the faith, beauty always seems to draw you in.

Unfortunately, some people take Bishop Barron’s ideas and distort them a bit. One faulty idea is to start with the beauty, but then once people are fascinated or hooked, they simply drown them in boring facts about the early Church and olden times. These may be TRUE, but these “evangelists” skipped over the good. They completely ignore the longing in people’s hearts of “Why should I care about this?” or “How does this affect me?”

This frustrates me so much when I see this type of teacher inevitably pushing people away from the Church instead of inviting them in to the fulfilling truth, beauty, and goodness that is the whole of the Catholic faith. Instead of slowly filling them and enriching their lives, these teachers seem to be using beauty to lure people closer before they snap back to their old ways of overloading them with minutiae of Church history and laws. If I’m honest, their methods feel like the same methods of a Venus flytrap.

Venus fly traps are one of a number of carnivorous plants. These complex creatures use nutrients from the soil, but also get nutrients from eating live insects and small critters. We’ve all heard of them, but how exactly do they work?

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Each side of the “mouth” is a single leaf with the hinge being a large vein, similar to the vein found in the center of a standard leaf. On the inside of each leaf’s surface stand tiny little trigger hairs, these activate the trap. When an insect is lured in by the very alluring sweet-smelling nectar glands, it will land and once it touches the hairs twice… SNAP! The trigger hairs prompt a quick release of pressure from another type of cell that causes the leaves to change shape, quickly closing around the prey. The whole process takes about a tenth of a second. Then once the plant has captured its prey, the flytrap excretes digestive enzymes, similar to those in our stomach, that will break apart the meal until it is liquefied and can be “slurped” down to the rest of the plant. Once the prey has been fully consumed, the plant simply opens back up, waiting for another victim to fall into its trap.

On the other hand, when you have an enlightened evangelist, they are more similar to the science portion of a blog I wrote a few months back about how some flowers use UV light. Flowers are able to show these beautifully vivid color patterns to attract insect bees, but these colors also show direction. They point the incoming creature directly toward the sweet life-sustaining nectar that they had to offer.

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Each of us Christians are called to share our faith with those in our lives. For some, it may simply be friends and family. For parents, we are called to evangelize to our children. For those who run educational ministries, their words and choices affect so many more. All of us must look at how we are choosing to evangelize. Are we acting like the flowers or the fly trap? Do we entice people with the BEAUTY, but then show them the GOOD path to the TRUTH of the faith? Or do we show off the BEAUTY of the church just to bring them closer so we can start shouting cold facts at people and then not understand why they’re not listening?

Most of my time in formal ministry has been in youth ministry and it broke my heart seeing someone so young be jaded to the amazing truths of the faith because of the misguided way their Youth Ministers presented them. In my time as the Catechist Scientist, I’ve had the pleasure of reaching out to many more adults, and when I speak with them you can often hear their years of receiving poor evangelization by how they speak about Christianity. Most of them were never shown the beauty. More were shown beauty but were never shown why the Church was GOOD.

This week I encourage you to look at your sphere of influence, those people who you influence each day. First of all, do you ever speak to them about your faith and the church that you are a part of? If so, how are you speaking to them? What are you sharing with them? Are you showing them the beauty and goodness of our religion or do you simply tell them the truths of the church? If you answered the latter, I want you to re-read my section describing the Venus fly trap and how it sucks the life out of its prey. This beautiful living breathing organism that we call the church is meant to be life-giving, not life-draining. Really think, how can you better share the beauty and goodness of the faith with others?

Beauty is the arrowhead of evangelization. – Bishop Barron