What Are We to Do?
Updated: May 24
Jesus’ words beginning with: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19a]. are often referred to as the Great Commission – a “great commission” to go and do. While contemplation and devotional practices are important, Catholicism is first and foremost a “go and do” religion. In this time of growing hostility to Christianity and its followers, Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations can seem really daunting. We have trouble enough with our own families and friends without trying to reach all nations. What are we to do?
In Jesus’ day, ethne or “nations,” primarily meant those people who lived in
the same region as the Israelites but did not share their traditions and beliefs.
First of all, ethne is the word used in Mathew’s Gospel which is translated as “nations.” To us, “nations” means large bodies of peoples united by common descent and inhabiting particular territories or countries. But in Jesus’ day, ethne or “nations,” primarily meant those people who lived in the same region as the Israelites but did not share their traditions and beliefs, or who treated them as enemies, such as the Samaritans. Yes, it also included distant peoples, but it primarily meant those immediately around them who needed conversion. Their mission territory began right outside their door; just as our mission territory immediately surrounds us.
Where do we start? Well, we need to recognize that the teachings of the Catholic Church are meant to guide and foster the maturing of discipleship. The teachings will be like water off a duck’s back to those who have no real interest. Many of our best Catholic evangelists, like Bishop Barron, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sherry Weddell, and others all agree, trying to convey the concepts and facts of our faith as the starting point rarely yields good results, indeed it often has the reverse effect. That’s because it’s not our knowledge of the faith that moves us, rather it’s our lived experiences that move us. 1
The one being evangelized needs to “see” in the Catholic person an inner
peace and sense of purpose that the one being evangelized is seeking.
The Catherine of Siena Institute, run by the Dominicans, has done wonderful work since the late 1990’s on practical ways in which Catholics can live out the Great Commission. They found that, at least in modern times, there is an initial threshold that must be overcome in evangelizing. The one being evangelized needs to “see” in the Catholic person an inner peace and sense of purpose that the one being evangelized is seeking. There needs to be that “I see in you something I want in my life” experience. It is then that the person will feel safe enough to express curiosity in some Catholic teaching or matter. Until that point, it’s all in what they see in you, not what you have to say to them.
Well, it may be an awfully long wait before those first questions emerge. But don’t get discouraged. Recall that statement in the Gospel, Matthew said “When they saw Jesus, they worshiped, but they doubted” [Mt 28:17]. And this was the Apostles who had been in Jesus’ company for three years; they had witnessed many miracles, yet they doubted. Well, doubting is especially prevalent in our times when a mistrust of Christianity is promoted in our schools. In much of our education system, belief in God is regarded as superstition that stands in the way of the full realization of the human person. So, we should expect to encounter more skepticism than in previous times.
The most important thing we can do in that “time of waiting” is to pray for others
that they might experience an inner longing for great meaning in their life.
For many of us, then, “go and do” is not calling us to a flurry of activity. Rather, the most important thing we can do in that “time of waiting” is to pray for others that they will come to see the light; that they might experience an inner longing for great meaning in their life. 2 There is great cause for hope; but we need to provide opportunities for others to just chat with us. Rarely will their first questions come out of the blue. 3
In the years following the passing of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI there was a resurgence in interest in the Catholic faith. 4 Sadly, the Covid lockdowns and the growing woke mentality around us has dealt us a serious setback. But Catholics have had setbacks before, and we will see setbacks again. God continues to call all to Himself, whoever and wherever they may be. Our mission territory is just outside our door. So, live that inner peace and sense of purpose that only Christ can give, and you will be living the Great Commission. We are not a people of discouragement, we are a people of hope.
“Till next time,
Dcn Bob Evans
May 23, 2023
1. D. Everts and D. Schaupp, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2008.
2. S. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing), 2012.
3. B. Vogt, Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church, (Winter Springs, FL: Numinous Books), 2015.
4. D. J. Hartline, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, (Worthington, OH: Catholic Report Press), 2006.