One of my good friends from St Blog’s (and an occasional foil) is concerned about remarks by Pope Francis on proselytizing. According to CatholicCulture:
It’s not right to convince someone of your faith. Proselytism is the strongest venom against the path of ecumenism.
I treat the relaying of remarks like this with skepticism. In speaking with German Christians, Catholics and Lutherans, it’s likely the Holy Father had a certain context. I wondered also what he said in the actual language. Rather than an ad-libbed remark as was reported, there was a question from a fifteen-year-old girl (translated):
My friends don’t go to church, but they are my friends. Should I try to encourage them to go to church or is it enough that they remain good friends?
And a reply:
Listen – the last thing you need to do is “to speak.” You should live as a Christian man, as a Christian woman, chosen, forgiven, and on a journey. It is not allowed to convince them of your faith. Proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path. You should give the testimony of/by your Christian life. The witness stirs the hearts of those who see you. And from this concern, the question arises: why does this man, this woman, live so? And this is to prepare the ground because the Holy Spirit, who is the one who works in the hearts. Do what you must do, but he [the Holy Spirit] has to speak, not you. Grace is a gift, and the Holy Spirit is the gift of God from whom comes grace, and it is a gift that Jesus has saved us with his passion and resurrection. It will be the Holy Spirit to move this heart, with your testimony-because he asks it of you-and there you are able, with much delicacy, to say why. But without wanting to convince.
He did use the Italian verb convincere. As I encounter non-believers and seekers, do I want to convince, or do I want to show? That doesn’t strike me as a problem with indifferentism. And if some Christians or even Catholics possess a faulty definition of “proselytism,” then that isn’t the pope’s problem. The US bishops spoke against it years ago:
At the same time, we Catholics cannot proselytize—that is, manipulate or pressure anyone to join our Church. Such tactics contradict the Good News we announce and undermine the spirit of invitation that should characterize all true evangelization.
Pope Francis is suggesting testimony, not pressure. I see nothing wrong with that. Likewise the action of grace–the reliance on God, and not my golden-mouthed words.
Testimony suggests the person has great faith, and there is no need or urgency to convince someone of a stance. This isn’t out of keeping with the thinking of the Council bishops when they penned Ad Gentes at Vatican II. Testimony as suggested by the pope and bishops doesn’t lack discipline, knowledge, or a certain demand on the disciple. It also requires that trust be removed from our own abilities and placed squarely on the Holy Spirit. We cooperate with the Spirit, to be sure. We use our God-given talents as well as the blessing of supernatural spiritual charisms.
A problem appears, I suppose, if one sees faith and conversion as an act of the mind and will. If a person “decides” to follow Jesus (or the Roman Catholic Church) then that could be a matter of reason. And no doubt, there are many Christians who give witness to qualities such as truth. It seems to undergird much of the apologetics movement in which one is prepared to “argue” in favor of Christ or Catholicism.
Speaking from my own experience, I can’t say that has ever worked.
In sum, to evangelize is something different from the act of proselytizing.