The hallmark of good evangelisation is people enjoying themselves, said British Catholic author and catechist David Wells.
An engaging and humorous speaker, Mr Wells reminded catechists and teachers in Auckland diocese that Pope Francis’ message cannot happen without two virtues: joy and mercy.
Mr Wells, who works in the diocese of Plymouth as a member of its evangelisation team, gave a talk at the St Columba Centre in Auckland on August 12.
“Don’t take this the wrong way but the hallmark of good evangelisation, strangely, is people enjoying themselves. When was the last time misery converted anybody?” he asked.
Joy without mercy is just self-indulgence, he said. Mercy without joy, on the other hand, is just eternal despair.
Mr Wells said he was with his father when his father was dying.
“On one occasion I asked, ‘Dad of all the things you taught me, what is it you most want me to remember?’ He said to me, ‘son, don’t take yourself seriously. You’re gonna die. Get over it’,” Mr Wells related.
Mr Wells said sometimes the Church takes itself too seriously when Pope Francis is consistently asking the faithful to pray for joy.
“The last thing we need is a tired, burned-out and worn-out Church, busy saving the world and being miserable in the process,” he said.
“Our culture is terrified of not being busy. Resist the temptation to prove yourself by being busy because the people who you serve need you to be well. Don’t turn life into a busy contest,” he added.
He said problem with Western society is that people have become self-possessed. The “selfie” or “I” generation has given birth to three things: insecurity, idolatry and individualism.
“When you don’t know who to believe, you put your faith in something crazy. When you present an idea to the present culture, it’s filled with consumerism,” he said.
He said this situation should be countered by attentiveness to others’ pain and needs.
Mr Wells spoke about an experience he had years ago when a parish priest he knew in Nottingham asked him [Mr Wells] to help get parents into church.
“The Catholic school is next to the church and I never see them in church. I worry about them because they are poor people and they need help,” the priest told him.
They set about welcoming some local women by providing free breakfast and child care at a pub owned by a Catholic couple one day a week, but only if the women would listen to Mr Wells.
“I started giving a talk about the sacraments. Can you feel my pain? You prepared the entire morning and within ten minutes, you know it’s not working,” he said. “I felt like an abject failure. I’m a bloke standing there in a suit. I looked like a person who collected debt.”
The following week, he asked the women what they wanted to talk about. One of the women replied, “sex”.
“For six weeks, we talked about sex. We talked about men, in many cases, for these women, how they were unreliable. Sometimes, they would get crude,” he said.
“Little by little, we were talking about their lives. I sit there and let them talk to me.”
And though he did not talk to them about Jesus, on the last day, he lit candles and told the women he was going to pray for them and invited those who wanted to pray to join him.
“One of the women started with this line, ‘Dear Lord, my life is hard.’ Then she just started to weep. I was stunned. I looked around and everybody was crying,” he said.
It was a tender moment, he said.
“Pope Francis said, be tender. What the Catholic Church should do is find pain and love it,” he said.
“Where do you see a need, a pain, confusion, some kind of discrepancy in the community?“
Mr Wells said everyone can evangelise. “It is an act of mercy which gives joy,” he said.
In so doing, he said, both the giver and the receiver are blessed. “So it gives life to the Church to be evangelising,” he explained.
He said evangelising takes us away from ourselves.
“We become less focused on I and me and the result is that God is worshipped, Jesus is followed, the Spirit is experienced and neighbours are loved,” he said.