An explicit admission of our Catholic snail’s pace:
47. The Church, while ever containing in herself the fullness of the means of salvation, always operates “by slow stages”. (Ad Gentes 6b) The conciliar decree Ad Gentes clarifies well the dynamic of the process of evangelization: Christian witness, dialogue and presence in charity (11-12), the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion (13), the catechumenate and Christian Initiation (14), the formation of the Christian communities through and by means of the sacraments and their ministers (15-18). (113) This is the dynamic for establishing and building up the Church.
(113) In the dynamism of evangelization a distinction must be made between “initial situations” (initia), “gradual developments” (gradus) and situations of maturity: “appropriate acts must correspond to condition and state” (AG 6).
All kidding aside, Ad Gentes is crucial to get the Church’s whole view of evangelization. The section cited we examined years ago on this web site. It works for a parish, new or established, as well as in an explicitly missionary situation. How so?
A faith community offers an example of the Christian life. Individuals and groups invite non-believers to dialogue, a mutual exploration of human hopes and dreams. Christian witness is reinforced through an active part in the local community, through caritas, which I would interpret in the whole sense of the original term: a love for others demonstrated with shared sacrifice and shouldering of burdens. In other words, Christ’s urging to his followers in Matthew 25:31ff. Believers need not worry about going off the rails into the mode of providing social services as long as they are convinced of finding Christ’s presence among those in need.
Once trust has been established, the proclamation of the Good News can occur with fruit when those listening are convinced they are conversing with companions who know and love them, and who have demonstrated they will be true friends. If a person can be trusted with small matters of charity, friendship, and companionship, then perhaps the setting is right for taking a deeper step toward conversion.
These steps work well for alienated Christians and inactive Catholics. Can bitterness be overcome? I would hope we Catholic believe it. Otherwise, why do we operate with a sacrament of reconciliation? And speaking of sacraments, GDC 47 acknowledges the importance of liturgy and the sacraments in building up and sustaining the local community, and by extension, the Church.
While the Church does not deny an intellectual component of its evangelization efforts, note how minimized it is in GDC 47. It is a part of what we offer to non-believers. But it is hardly the whole, or even the main part of the picture. Church teaching as elucidated here, is part of the reason why I find much in modern Catholic apologetics rather off the rails, and at its worst, more an occasion of intellectual narcissism, rather than a true evangelical effort. Agree or disagree?