Our first line of teaching is actually teaching people to know Christ and the only way we can do that is to get people to pray. Notice, I did not say, teach people to pray but get people to pray. This is because prayer is personal before it is formal.
You can require someone to pray the Our Father once they come to understand who the Father is but do not make the Our Father the requirement for someone to pray. That goes for all prayer, including the Mass. The first step is always to get people to pray and one prayer for people to understand is to ask Jesus to present himself to them.
“Lord Jesus, show me that you are real” for example.
I always remind people not to expect that Jesus will appear in the bedroom that night saying: “Here I am, I am real.” However, do expect that in time, that prayer will be answered in Jesus’ own way.
This is the most important way to evangelize because if you do, you actually call on Jesus to make good on his promise. It is an act of faith you make in the Lord that he will answer this person’s prayer. It is an essential part of evangelism. Catechesis, formation, in other words, is more important but that is the second stage of preaching the Gospel. There is no sense in preaching the Gospel to a person who does not know Christ. The first step is to teach of Christ.
Teach of Christ First
Remember, when that is not the first step then we teach people a moral system without them knowing the Christ who calls them to it. This will make no sense to them and even drive them away. When we teach them of Christ first, then they desire to learn the morality to encounter Christ more.
This means that you will teach people who may be the worst of all sinners to ask God to show them he is real. That is absolutely true. It makes no sense to teach people of Christ by demanding them to stop being sinners first. Jesus encountered sinners first and after their encounter, they converted, he did not encounter the converted first. He even condemned that approach by teaching that he came to the unconverted not the converted by giving the analogy to the doctor. Sick people need the doctor, not the healthy (cf Matt 9:12). This is why you must teach people to ask Jesus to introduce himself to them and leave the results to him. You can pray for the person’s conversion as well. What you are doing, in this case, is that you are bringing this person, on a spiritual level, to meet Jesus, just as if you were going to his house to have him meet this great friend you have whom you call Jesus.
Once he encounters Christ, his communion with him will grow. The community, which we call the members of the Church is there to foster that relationship and make it grow. However, it starts with the encounter.
Too often this is not done in Catholic circles. Either we have one group that sees the Church as an NGO and a lobbying organization, so Jesus has little to do with their mission or we have another group that sees the Church as a system of morality.
In both cases, the focus is not on knowing Jesus, it is either right behavior or lobbying for some degree of justice. They are common forms of ersatz Catholicism but they are not Catholicism.
Christ Is Our Center
Catholicism is always Christ-focused. It is not the person protesting in front of the statehouse, it is the person who seeks to do God’s will when everyone is busy seeking their own interests. It is the person who prays maybe even in front of the tabernacle at the local Church. It is the person who chooses not to engage in tearing down another person because he knows he must answer to Christ. It is the person who stands up to one bullying another person again because he knows he must be accountable to Christ.
The true Catholic understands his actions root themselves in what is and is not pleasing to Christ. When he sins, he knows that he is doing something against the will of God. When he says no to sin, it is for the same reason because he embraces Christ first. The focus here is not on doing the right thing, it is what is pleasing to Christ. This must be our most important motive at all times. Let us please Christ and our most important criteria for acknowledging our sin is that it is not pleasing to Christ. This takes everything out of the good/bad category and puts it into the loving God and neighbor category which is what Christ mandates.
When I was in junior high school, there was a gym teacher who was known to be rather harsh to the male students. Since I was fat, he had me run around the school. This was junior high school, a time when student’s egos are sensitive and he had me run around the school because I was fat. I am sure many saw this, including the administration, but only one teacher thought this was serious enough to inform my parents. One teacher realized this was not right. I am sure many teachers were considered good and some of them were but only one went the extra step and spoke out against the practice of my gym teacher. After I left the school, I heard unconfirmed reports that he broke a hockey stick over a student’s head and cracked his skull. The signs were there that this man was trouble but only one teacher spoke up about it.
You and I have a calling by our baptism to be that one teacher who acted out of concern in everything we do. That means we must not do what is good but what pleases Christ. Many students, teachers and administrators in that school did what was good in the eyes of the world but only one teacher took it to another step to a step that pleases Christ.
This goes for everything we can do. One way that we can contrast this is the standard of avoiding sin. We can believe we are doing the right thing if we are avoiding sin. Avoiding sin is important but the commandment is to love God and neighbor. If we focus on what is pleasing to Christ our friend, we will avoid sin by default. We will ask the question: “Is what we are about to do pleasing to Christ? instead of how close can I get to doing something without falling into sin?” As you can see the focus is on the higher standard because that is what we seek to do to please Christ in our service to Him.
The other side, the focus on not sinning without a focus on Christ is living like the person who goes right up to the line that must not be crossed and dances in a mocking fashion. “I did not step over the line you cannot touch me.” This is not what Christ calls us to do. Such a person ends up believing he can go to Heaven because God has no rule to cast him to Hell. However, at no point was he focused on pleasing Christ. He was just focused on not sinning. Again that is not Catholicism.