It’s Time to Re-Re-Evangelize the World

St. Augustine of Canterbury

In much of the West, the lights of the Christian faith seem to be dimming, and the world seems to be growing ever colder towards the Gospel. We should take heart in the fact that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen things go south, and we should take counsel in seeing how the Saints succeeded in the re-evangelization of fallen away places like England.

Father Matthew Fish of the Archdiocese of Washington used the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury to delve deep into the spiritual problems that we’re facing in our culture, and what we must do in response. I was hardly alone in being stirred by the powerful homily, and got his permission to publish it here. From here on out is all Fr. Fish:

Today we celebrate the feast of the apostle to England, Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Not the first missionary to the British Isles, he remains the best known because he converted the people, the Angles, who would eventually rule most of those islands, and make England one of the greatest countries in Christendom. How strange, how sad then that we celebrate his feast when it seems the whole project has failed: England has given up the true faith, and is mostly secular and pagan, as most of the countries of Europe are quickly becoming. Are we to think of them like cursed fig trees, no longer bearing fruit that lasts?

Well, the history of the Church is abundant with examples of lands and cultures once evangelized and then fallen away, only then to be re-evangelized. That great Englishman G.K. Chesterton once criticized the modern aphorism, “you can’t turn back the clock.” As he said, “the simple and obvious answer is ‘You can.’ A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour.”

Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to an England that had lost its Christian roots. As the Venerable Bede tells us, after various foreign and civil wars, the Britons forgot the practice of virtue, and gave up trying to share the Gospel with the other peoples of England. “However,” as he said, “the goodness of God did not forsake his people whom He foreknew, but sent much more worthy preachers, to bring that nation to the faith.”

That preacher was Augustine, prior of a Benedictine abbey here in Rome. Augustine and his companions came to Kent, and met with the King of the Angles, Ethelbert. He was impressed by their earnestness, but not by their words. He was quite happy to keep the traditions of his ancestors. But he let Augustine and his companions go free. Which probably was his biggest mistake, as far as staying pagan goes. Soon enough, the English people, and not least of all King Ethelbert, noticed how differently these missionaries were living. Plainly free of self-interest, conspicuous in their generosity and simplicity, their witness proved to be the greatest argument to the English people. Venerable Bede relates how it went:

“As soon as they entered the dwelling­ place assigned them they began to imitate the course of life practiced in the primitive church; applying themselves to frequent prayer, watching and fasting; preaching the word of life to as many as they could; despising all worldly things, as not belonging to them; receiving only their necessary food from those they taught; living themselves in all respects conformably to what they prescribed to others, and being always disposed to suffer any adversity, and even to die for that truth which they preached. In short, many believed and were baptized, admiring the simplicity of their innocent life, and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine.”

I don’t think things have changed that much today. Much of the west, like early England, has left its Christian roots and become pagan again. So let’s turn back the clock, and witness by heavenly words and simple lives, as Augustine and his companions did, as saints do.

22 Comments

  1. I forget who the commenter is her that, with his wife, gives out Catholic radio cards. I think Christians need to publicly be Christian. Street evangelism is still something I am working on, but I’ve found that a sime, “Good afternoon, may I give you one of these?” works fine on people of all stripes. Christians need to retake the culture of the paganized West.

    1. Hi Craig, I’m still here. :)…. I just haven’t had the time to comment much lately.

      I am currently giving out about 10,000 bulletin sized selections from St. Bonaventure’s “Life of St. Francis” in a publication titled ‘The Spirituality of the Saints Series’, in public areas. I printed them about 15 years ago and hadn’t paid attention to them because of all the Catholic Radio promotion wherein I helped distribute over 700,000 cards. I still have about 300,000 in my garage and am continuing at a slower pace due to a new evangelization project that I’m working on. Currently, I’m publishing selections from the lives of the ‘Early Christian Martyrs’ as detailed in Eusebius’ Church History. I have 4 bulletin sized readings on them at present, and they are designed with the same template that I used with St. Francis. They are highly inspirational to read. I have a small offset press that I plan to print these in quantities of about 10,000 each reading. I might deliver them door to door in my area, in addition to giving them out in the usual public locations. I also have The Life of St. Antony of Egypt, St. Hilarion, and St. Ammon formatted and ready for printing, using the same bulletin sized template. So, as you can see, I’m still quite busy promoting Christian knowledge and faith to the public.

      Anyway, If you want to see any of these publications in PDF form, I think I might be able to dig up your e-mail from our past communications, and can send you the martyrs series via e-mail.

      Best to you,

      – Al

      1. Sure, though I wonder what interactions you have with people, as the Joe on the street knows literally nothing about history. Your wife’s pace is more than yours, right? You’ll get rid of the other 300,000 😉

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. That’s the point. Joe Christian will soon know a little more about history! When I talk to them I can see how their interest lights up when I discuss this history with them. It only takes a minute or two to get many of these people intrigued….and sometimes only seconds. And I don’t just give one bulletin size publication to them, but usually 3 or 4 parts, that is, the whole series on St. Francis….2 hrs. worth of reading St. Bonaventure at a moderate pace.

          As for the Catholic Radio cards, my wife and I put out a steady 1000 cards per week for about 2 1/2 years straight. Some weeks 1700, other weeks 500, but on average 1000. The other cards were given to other distrubutors like ourselves, wherein each distributor was given about 500-5000 cards.

          Now that I’m doing the Lives of the Saints, I think the Catholic Radio Campaign will only distribute about 100,000 per year. I just don’t have the time and energy to do both projects, considering that now I have to print the material myself.

          But whichever project it is, it is certainly enjoyable getting out to public places to offer these holy items to …”Joe”. Jesus said “Feed my Sheep”, and at least a few of His sheep will be fed when we go out each week.

          Best to you,

          – Al

          1. For the Catholic Radio Cards you need to live in the San Francisco Bay Area because the only station printed on the cards is Immaculate Heart Radio 1260 AM, out of San Francisco. I can get you various thousands free of charge, if you need them.

            For the lives of the Saints, I only have Saint Francis already printed. Again, if you live in the Bay Area, I can get you some copies to put out.

            You can reach me at [email protected]. if you live in Northern CA.

            Best to you,

            – Al

  2. It begins with ourselves. We need to re-discover Catholicism for ourselves. Then the Holy Spirit takes over and moves you in ways that will surprise you. When we know our faith, when we grow in friendship with Christ, when we know and accept the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, really, really internalize it, the joy in our hearts will touch many. We need to be transformed first!

  3. True as to street ministry. But that effort lacks efficacy if those who preach don’t live the truth.
    For the majority of us, our mission field should be those we encounter regularly during the year. Co-workers, neighbors, grocery clerks, etc. we do t have to go to the street to find people in need of the Truth.

    Cursillo teaches to ‘Make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ.’ But we waste our time and insult the Sacrifice if our friends don’t see the Truth in how our own life.

  4. True as to street ministry. But that effort lacks efficacy if those who preach don’t live the truth.
    For the majority of us, our mission field should be those we encounter regularly during the year. Co-workers, neighbors, grocery clerks, etc. we don’t have to go to the street to find people in need of the Truth.

    Cursillo teaches to ‘Make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ.’ But we waste our time and insult the Sacrifice if our friends don’t see the Truth in our own life.

  5. Mike O just nailed it! True enough, what a waste of time and insult to the Sacrifice of Jesus if our actions do not show our faith.

    Sometime last year, Trent Horn of Catholic Answers debated atheist Dan Barker on the question “Is God an imaginary friend?”

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_nC99sCxFbE

    In his opening remark, Dan Barker gives one of the most serious argument against God, his fourth one in his opening remark (near the 0:30:00 mark). Barker used to be a Christian pastor, and uses the Biblical texts to show that the lack of consensus among theists on God is reason enough to reject theism. To paraphrase, he says that before Christians try to convince unbelievers there is a God, they should first agree among themselves what to believe about God, then come back later once they’ve made up their minds.

    Ouch… that really hurts.

    There is a reason why Unity or One is the first mark of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, our schismatic brothers see no problem sacrificing Christian unity in their obsession for doctrinal purity. They believe the Bible to be the final authority except when it says that the disciples “…be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). In this case, “being one” in the Bible really means something else. They don’t see how Christian disunity helps bring about atheism and justifies the lack of belief in Jesus.

    Catholics did not separate themselves from the Protestants. It was the other way around. Catholics did not stop teaching confession and penance, it was the Protestants who did. Craig Truglia now advocates for Protestants to return to these two practices. If all Protestants were to do this tomorrow, how will they explain to the world what they just denied for 500 years?

    But if Craig were to work his way to the Catholic Church tomorrow, he will not only get to practice confession and penance, he will help end Christian disunity. He will get much, much more than he is advocating for.

    1. I’ll take that remark as a compliment about my articles on the subject of Confession and Penance. I do wonder, what do you think historically I got right and wrong?

      God bless,
      Craig

      1. Craig,

        If I were you, I would not take my comments on your articles on Penance and Confession as compliments. Doing so would shift the focus on questions of theology towards questions of reading comprehension. Never ever give in to the temptation of hearing what you want to hear. Rather, listen and understand what is being said, no more no less.

        Historically, let me give you the benefit of the doubt. Let me suppose, for discussion’s sake, that you got it right… historically speaking. And let’s suppose, your pastor and your entire church listens to your advocacy, and agreed to start Confession and Penance tomorrow. Now you have a problem. How do you explain to the world why you never practiced this before?

        According to the Council of Trent, the consensus of all the Fathers always understood that by the words of Christ in John 20:22-23, the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and their lawful successors (Sess. XIV, c. i). It is therefore Catholic doctrine that the Church from the earliest times believed in the power to forgive sins as granted by Christ to the Apostles.

        St. Augustine (d. 430) warns the faithful: “Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins” (De agon. Christ., iii).

        St. Ambrose (d. 397) rebukes the Novatianists who “professed to show reverence for the Lord by reserving to Him alone the power of forgiving sins. Greater wrong could not be done than what they do in seeking to rescind His commands and fling back the office He bestowed. . . . The Church obeys Him in both respects, by binding sin and by loosing it; for the Lord willed that for both the power should be equal” (On Penance I.2.6).

        Again he teaches that this power was to be a function of the priesthood. “It seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through penance; Christ granted this (power) to the Apostles and from the Apostles it has been transmitted to the office of priests” (On Penance II.2.12).

        The power to forgive extends to all sins: “God makes no distinction; He promised mercy to all and to His priests He granted the authority to pardon without any exception” (On Penance I.3.10).

        Against the same heretics St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (d. 390), wrote to Sympronianus, one of their leaders: “This (forgiving sins), you say, only God can do. Quite true: but what He does through His priests is the doing of His own power” (Ep. I ad Sympron., 6 in P.L., XIII, 1057).

        In the East during the same period we have the testimony of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 447): “Men filled with the spirit of God (i.e. priests) forgive sins in two ways, either by admitting to baptism those who are worthy or by pardoning the penitent children of the Church” (In Joan., 1, 12 in P.G., LXXIV, 722).

        St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) after declaring that neither angels nor archangels have received such power, and after showing that earthly rulers can bind only the bodies of men, declares that the priest’s power of forgiving sins “penetrates to the soul and reaches up to heaven”. Wherefore, he concludes, “it were manifest folly to condemn so great a power without which we can neither obtain heaven nor come to the fulfillment of the promises. . . . Not only when they (the priests) regenerate us (baptism), but also after our new birth, they can forgive us our sins” (On the Priesthood III.5 sq.).

        St. Athanasius (d. 373): “As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost, so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ” (Frag. contra Novat. in P.G., XXVI, 1315).

        Should your entire church decide to start Confession and Penance tomorrow, none of you will be able to forgive sins. The power to forgive sins is not something you acquire by reading texts from the Bible and the Church Fathers. So now you have two problems.

        But let’s turn the other way. Let’s suppose none in your church listens to you, and flatly rejects what you’re advocating. What then will all that newly acquired knowledge about Confession and Penance do to you? Without a church to practice it, it has no spiritual benefit. It will do you no good. But neither can you go back to your previous state of ignorance on the subject.

        Think of the ramifications of that knowledge. You cannot forever kick against the pricks.

        1. Rico,

          Your words about the ramifications of knowledge ring so true. For me it was the evidence of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I discovered what John’s disciple, Ignatius of Antioch, taught, then Justin Martyr’s teachings, then Irenaeus’s teachings, then Origen’s teachings. Then, I looked into baptismal regeneration as taught by the Early Church Fathers. Then, I considered what the Early Church Fathers taught about confession. Same men, same teachings. It is all Apostolic Church – Catholic. I saw the Biblical support for all the Early Church teachings in the Bible. All if this information then culminated into the realization that the power of the early Christians was God’s power through His sacramental graces bestowed lavishly upon those believers coupled with the Apostolic teachings of the Church.

          I could not in good faith rationally, reasonably and reliably trust the teachings of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli over the uniform doctrinal teachings of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Origen, Justin Martyr, etc. When I compared the radiant light of the Early Church Fathers and the historic testimony of the martyr witness of the early Church herself, I saw the continuous thread as maintained in the Roman Catholic Church and her sacraments. The faith of the Roman Catholic Church easily won over the faith of any of the 16th Century “Reformers” by the beyond a reasonable doubt evidentiary threshold.

          Now and in light of the historical, doctrinal teachings of the Early Church Fathers, the Bible’s teachings are not tortured, stretched beyond recognition and discombobulated to fit into a Protestant framework. I do not have to ponder justification as used by James, I do not have to rationalize the plain words of Peter “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” All Bible verses fit within the framework of the historic Apostolic teaching magisterium of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

          It is truth, for me, at least: once the cat is out of the bag, the cat ain’t goin’ back in the bag. The Protestant jig was up. As an Evangelical, the weight of evidence became more than I could bear. In good conscience, I swallowed my pride and ran back to Rome. Now, the cognitive dissonance is gone. I can move on to becoming a mature, prayerful, forgiving Christian husband and father – “About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is an ocean of Catholic Christian wisdom to absorb and encourage and prod me to becoming holy through His grace. Indeed, God is merciful and good.

          1. Rock,

            Thanks for sharing that wonderful conversion story. In my case, it was while reading an account of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto and how the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession saved Europe from becoming Muslim that turned out to be the last straw that broke my camel’s back. That very day, I said to myself I will go back to church. This was a Sunday sometime during the Autumn of 2013.

            I was born and baptized Catholic, but my family joined a pseudo-Christian cult when I was young. When I left it in my 30s, I would be the kind of guy who would pray like Mark Twain, “Lord, protect me from your followers!” I was what many today would label, “spiritual but not religious.” I held a very low opinion of organized religion and thought that Jesus never started one, but just a movement that later evolved to become a large convoluted church. I believed that a church was unnecessary to achieve spirituality. Most of the time, it was actually a hindrance. Or so I thought.

            So for me to even say the term “Council of Trent” and regard it as something special is so utterly unthinkable just three years ago. Yes, we do need to eat humble pie more often than not. It is not good for the teeth, but does wonders for the soul.

            🙂

  6. “…what a waste of time and insult to the Sacrifice of Jesus if our actions do not show our faith.”

    And this is why Christianity needs more than the Bible to feed the lambs and sheep of Christ. Christians need to be inspired by the lives, prayers, examples and virtues of their fellow brothers and sisters, both past and present. This is to say, that all of the lives, words and acts of the Saints throughout the centuries should be read and studied by all Christians, so as to provide the inspiration and spiritual guidance needed to fight the good fight for Christ in our lives.

    One of the greatest damages, I think, inflicted upon Christianity by Protestantism is the focus on Sacred Scripture almost exclusively, and neglecting the lives and words of the saints who put those same scriptures into practice in their lives. And, one of the second worst injuries to the Church is that the Church itself has more or less followed the Protestants in this regard. Christianity formerly had instituted feast days in memory of the Saints, which populations might be reminded of their heroic words and lives. To replace these holy feast days, Protestant society has instituted secular “holidays”. Just change a ‘y’ to an ‘i’….and you can forget about any virtuous example from the past and turn a holy day into a money making ‘holiday’.

    St. Patricks day is a perfect example of this. How much evil, drunkeness, excess, idiocy and sin is the result of this feast day of St. Patrick? Every supermarket throughout the country has a hundred shamrocks decorating it. What quantity of special discounts, and advertisements, are found for alcoholic beverages for this day?. But, does anyone even know that St. Patrick actually wrote an autobiography with his own hand? Do any of these supermarkets sell copies of this short work of less than 50 pages, and at a retail cost that might only be 1 or 2 dollars, to actually teach something about the actual man whom the day is named after??

    In my opinion, this is an evil fruit, or result, of ‘sola scriptura’, unintended or not. Under the pretext of a few fanatic old women giving excess attention to saint statues, there is an accusation that idolatry is taking place in Catholic Churches. And, by such calumny the real reason for canonizing saints is lost, which is to highlight the virtuous lives and writings of these saints so that others might imitate them and become better followers of Christ in doing so.

    What the societal result has been, due to such a diminishing and neglect of the the lives and writings of the Saints, is easily seen by the feast day and story of St. Nicholas morphing into the present story of ‘Santa Clause’, ‘All souls day’ morphing into into ‘witch and devil day, the The Holy Pasch, morphing to Chocolate Easter Egg and Bunny Day, and again, St. Patricks day becomes…”Let’s all get sloshy drunk day”.

    This is what happens when holy feast days devoted to the virtues and holy examples of Saints, is replaced by secular feasts promoted by sin, indulgence and the love of money. Pretty sad, and again, I think an evil fruit of Martin Luthers’ ‘Sola Scriptura’.

    Just sayin’.

    1. I think you forgot to say that St. Patrick’s Day is also celebrated by a parade of happy pride? The evil of the day is too much already…..

  7. ContentsProfessio fidei Tridentina
    Creed of Pope Pius IVSymbola

    Dear Father to be. Amidst the clamoring, we ought to consider being as bold as possible.

    We could, for instance, simply resurrect this great Creed and being to, once again, let our “Yes” be a “Yes” and our “No” be a “No.”

    Of course the objections to the One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church speaking the truth so boldly are uncountable – but that alone suggests why we are in such trouble.

    http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Symbola/Tridentinae.html

    The good Father, Father Erlenbush is moving in the same direction:

    Fr. Erlenbush

    http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-feast-of-most-holy-trinity-and-war.html

    We old war horses maintain hope owting to you younger faithful Priests and Seminarians

  8. Evangelism starts with greeting a person at mass you do not know and introducing yourself. Don’t let visitors float out like ghosts. The only ghost in church is the Holy One.

  9. I was blessed to hear Fr. Fish deliver this same homily. “In short, many believed and were baptized, admiring the simplicity of their innocent life, and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine.”

    Let’s do it!

  10. From what I can make of current events, we have been undergoing a democratic revolution for the last 60 years; the quotes are taken from Tocqueville’s Democracy In America. “There are no revolutions which do not shake existing belief”; Catholicism and mainline Protestantism has declined rapidly in recent years. In the last census taken by the Diocese of Baltimore, our Parish had fewer than 4% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 – an entire generation lost. “When men have once allowed themselves to think no more of what is to befall them after life, they readily lapse into that complete and brutal indifference to futurity, which is but too conformable to some propensities of mankind. ” I know that the focus of this post was to encourage the spread of the faith, and I do not wish to dampen. I believe to be effective witnesses, we must try to understand the age we live in, but there is also a simple approach, to paraphrase Tocqueville, the most effectual evangelization is to live as if we believe.

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