Father C.J. McCloskey Shares Evangelization Tips
CHICAGO, 7 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
Every person a Catholic meets is a
potential convert to the Church, says the author of a new book on how to
share the faith.
Father C. John McCloskey, a priest of the prelature of Opus Dei and a
research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, is known for aiding
in the conversions of p residential candidate Sam Brownback, Judge
Robert Bork, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, journalist Robert Novak, publisher
Alfred Regnery and economist Lawrence Kudlow, to name a few.
Father McCloskey recently pooled his talents and knowledge with Russell
Shaw to write "Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the
Crisis of Faith" (Ignatius).
In this interview with ZENIT, Father McCloskey explains how
evangelization and friendship go hand-in-hand, and why the Church and
faithful Catholics are attractive to would-be converts.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
Father McCloskey: Actually, the idea came from my collaborator, the
noted journalist and author Russell Shaw, who visited me while I was the
director at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., and
suggested the idea.
Shaw thought my experiences and those of the people whom I have assisted
on their journey into the Church would be helpful to inquiring potential
converts and the many priests, religious and lay faithful who are eager
to share their faith in a personal manner
above all, through a strong friendship that leads to sharing one's great
joy in being a Catholic.
I had written some how-to articles on this subject, along with a good
number of Church history pieces that help to put my ideas and experience
in a historical context.
We are in a glorious moment of the New Evangelization, fueled by the
Holy Spirit, as evidenced in the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and
Benedict XVI; the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are being
brought to full and proper fruition.
Q: What is the difference between good and bad proselytism?
Father McCloskey: Good proselytism involves respect for the dignity of
the human person and their interior freedom.
Bad proselytism involves pressure and some form of coercion completely
contrary to the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross. The truth
makes us free, but it must be freely accepted to be effective.
Good proselytism comes through a sincere and close friendship in which
the potential convert recognizes that his friend has only his temporal
and eternal happiness at heart. The person eager to share his faith as
an apostle should see himself as an instrument God is using to offer
this gift to his friend to be freely accepted or rejected.
This is a process that can last months, years or even decades. I know
there are instant conversions. I have read about them but have never
seen one. I have, however, seen some persons "convert" too quickly, and
in some cases later fall away.
There is always opportunity for a comeback, though
the seals of baptism and confirmation remain, and so does God's love for
A committed Catholic is always on the lookout to share his faith with
others any way he can, but the most effective way is the means by which
the Church grew in the early centuries
through the power of "personal influence," to use a phrase coined by
Venerable John Henry Newman. That entails a good attractive example of
Christian virtue combined with a deep prayer and sacramental life.
This, along with personal one-on-one or family-to-family friendship,
fueled by grace, will inevitably create a powerful evangelizing
environment that can overcome any "culture of death"
whether that of the Roman Empire or that of our consumerist and
sexualized society in the West.
It doesn't happen overnight. God has all the time in the world.
Q: What can the faithful do to convert those around them?
Father McCloskey: On a human level, I would suggest the same tips that
are helpful in making friends.
First of all, be an interesting person, which above all means
to the extent possible
soaking yourself in Western culture by reading, listening to and seeing
all that is good in it.
Second, become an expert in humanity. Understand and love people the way
they are, seeing both what you can learn from them and what gifts you
can give them.
As the expression goes, to make friends, be a friend. A serious Catholic
should have dozens of friends of varying degrees of closeness.
Also, regard every non-Catholic, without exception, as a potential
convert. That is Christ's will. He died for all, not for a few, and
wants everyone to be his close and intimate friend as a part of his
family, the Church.
On a supernatural level, as already mentioned, the more we are immersed
in God through our participation in prayer, spiritual reading, the
sacraments, and the teachings of the Church, the more God can work
through us to bring people to him in the Church.
Above all, we should always be praying for our friend and helping him
advance at God's pace. We should always be asking ourselves, "What does
he need next, and how can I provide it?"
Q: What are the key things that attract people to the Catholic Church?
Is it the doctrine? or the practice? or the works of charity?
Father McCloskey: All potential converts, like everybody else, are
seeking happiness both in this life and the next. Otherwise, why bother?
In the Church they find an institution that claims to be Christ's
mystical body, founded by him during his time on earth, and unashamedly
teaching the truth based on divine Revelation as it comes to us through
Scripture and Tradition.
What a joy it has been through the years to see people discover through
study and prayer Christianity, which can and must be lived in order to
learn that being good does make us happy.
At the same time, converts remember very well the type of lives they
were living prior to discovering the Lord and his Church; they are
deeply grateful for the grace of this found treasure and have an
eagerness to share it with others. The truth did make them free.
I think, above all, people are attracted to the Church by their growing
knowledge and love of the person of Jesus Christ. As they grow more
curious in reading the New Testament and Church history, they realize
that Christ did not leave his children orphans, but rather instituted a
his family, his body
where he resides until the second coming.
The Church provides the means: its Scripture, sacraments, its
authoritative teaching, the example of the saints, etc., so that a new
Catholic can grow in Christ and reach his goal of holiness in heaven.
Of course, they must see others who show by their behavior, their
happiness, their practice of Christian piety and virtues, and by their
practice of true Christian charity as exemplified in the spiritual and
corporal works of mercies, that indeed the Church provides the means to
live the Christian life fully it can be done.
They see this not only in canonized saints of the ancient past and more
recent past, but even more importantly in their friends
the people who precisely have been God's instrument in introducing them
to Christ's Church.
Q: Are there any facets of Benedict XVI's teaching that strike a cord
with would-be converts?
Father McCloskey: What stands out immediately is his short and potent
encyclical letter on God as love.
The fact that a much misunderstood and maligned German cardinal became a
Pope who does not throw out anathemas but rather writes on "eros" and
"agape," and speaks about the essential importance of concrete acts of
charity to the poor, infirm and underprivileged
both corporately and in personal actions of each of its members
to the Church's mission underlines the Church's message that indeed God
I also think it has been helpful to see the wonderfully seamless
transition from two men with such a different personalities as John Paul
the Great and Benedict XVI, arguably two of the most powerful intellects
of the past century as, respectively, a philosopher and a theologian.
Remember that virtually all the converts of last 25 years never knew any
Pope other than John Paul II. While the Church certainly does not depend
solely on the holiness of its hierarchy, it certainly doesn't hurt.
Q: How do you see the state of other religions, in the face of
increasingly complex bioethical and moral issues?
Father McCloskey: To put it simply, no other Christian church or
ecclesial community really even attempts to speak authoritatively on
such questions. They simply do not have the tradition
or could we say the magisterial grace
to be able to examine these complex issues.
Indeed, those communities closer to the Catholic Church often simply
defer to its teachings, trusting in its millennial tradition and moral
theology even if they do not recognize its unique claim as the one
Church founded by Christ.
Only the Catholic Church institutionally provides prudent and clear
teachings that guard the good and dignity of the human person from
conception until a natural death.
This role is imperative, in light of the continuing rapid progress both
in scientific and medical knowledge that can be utilized for good or for
evil as applied to the human person, particularly in medical-moral
questions involving procreation and in the origins of life.
Converts see this as sign of the divine authority of the Church using
its vast experience and wisdom to facilitate clear moral choices.