“Ask a Priest: Why Bother Trying to Evangelize?”

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Q: In the Legion of Mary we are taught to evangelize people when the opportunity arises. I do it because this is my duty, but in my heart I don’t think it will make any difference. I believe that the Holy Spirit will do his part, but that people will use their free will to choose vice over virtue. Nevertheless, I go through the motions. I feel this way because no one I have ever talked to has decided to become a faithful Catholic. I pray and make sacrifices for my friends and relatives, but they still reject the Catholic faith. There are glimpses of change here and there but nothing permanent. If I still go through the motions of trying to set a good example, pray for people, but in my heart know it is a waste of time, am I committing a sin? – N.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your e-mail recalls the Gospel account of the father who pleads with Jesus to cure a possessed son: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

You pray and sacrifice for loved ones – that shows your faith. Yet, you think it a waste of time – that shows your faith is shaky.

Genuine prayer is never a waste of time. God always listens to our pleas, though he has his own timetable and way of responding. And often his timetable is not what we expect.

It is good to remember that evangelization isn’t about winning people over on the spot. Rather, our sharing of the faith, backed up by our good example and prayers and sacrifices, will help provide the fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to do his wonders.

The parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13) is helpful here.

Some of the seeds sown prove to be extremely fruitful. But the seeds sprout long after the sower has moved on.

So it is with the Gospel message: We can sow seeds in the hearts of others, but we might not see any immediate results.

As to your question: Is it a sin to think you are wasting your time by trying to evangelize?

That attitude could reflect a lack of faith and hope. You say that the Holy Spirit will do his part — but do you really believe that?

You seem frustrated that you don’t see more change in your relatives and friends. This might be a sign that deep down you really think the conversion of others depends on you and your efforts, rather than on the Holy Spirit.

In fact, conversion is a gift from God, not from us. When we try to share the faith with others, we do it humbly, trusting in Divine Providence to do the heavy work. For Jesus told us, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

It might be good to go back to the basics of our faith. God is in control. And he knows what he is doing when he asks us to do our part in evangelizing.

If we don’t see results right away, that is even more reason to be humble and to trust in God and his timing. Think of St. Monica and the many years she waited until her wayward son Augustine converted.

Some of the great conversions begin quietly, with little acts of charity and with hidden prayers.

If you need to confess a deficiency in faith and hope, then do so. But don’t get discouraged.

Ask Our Lord for a deeper faith and a deeper sense of joy. We can be people of hope, even if we aren’t optimistic about the world as it is.

You might find Benedict XVI’s encyclical Saved in Hope a worthwhile read. Count on my prayers.


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