Here is a quick introduction to a few key concepts that form the backbone our work and method. If you have questions or would like to explore how these can be applied in a practical way to your organization, community, or project click here to set up a call.
1. Begin with the End in Mind
Before you make any decisions about your project, you need to know your "Why" or what your project is for the sake of. You have a parish, a school, or a campus minstry. Why are you building something else? Ultimately, our Why, our goal, is God, but God shared his being with each of us and made us for our own sake in an act of pure gift. If we want to participate in that creative act of God and model His motive, like Him we create for the sake of persons. But, if we desire the true good for persons, we must desire love for them. Real love is a gift of self, which requires community. So, for the sake of God, we create a community of persons. But, again, what kind of community?
2. In Relationship, In Community
It is our firm belief that the normal context for any kind of evangelization, and certainly any real discipleship, is to first be "in relationship in community" with the other person. Rather, evangelization and discipleship are a natural aspect of real relationship. You can stand on a corner and yell, start awkward strained conversations with strangers in a Starbucks, or randomly put videos on social media, but this is not the most fruitful method or the way God intended it. The Triune God is Himself a community. Relationship is what He is. It is what we have, it is what we offer, and it should be the context in which that offer is made.
3. Build Something for the Other As Other
St. Thomas Aquinas defines "love" as "Willing the good of the other as other", therefore if we are going to build something that embodies love, we are building something for the other...as "other". This is hard for many Catholics because they like to build places for other Catholics and seem to think that this is evangelization. What does it mean for a place to be "Catholic". Is it named after a saint? Are there activities and decor that Catholics like? Regardless of these trappings or lack thereof, this place is a Catholic place because of who makes it and because of the end it serves, not because of anything on the walls or shelves. It is not for Catholics, but by Catholics for the other. The place is the context for relationship, but relationship is the context for evangelization. You must build a place where the person you desire relationship with will feel comfortable dwelling, on a near daily basis for months, maybe years, before any conversion happens. It is easy to create a filter for people who are different than us. It is much harder to create a place in which the other can feel welcome and loved.
4. You Have to Earn the Right to Be Heard
So, we need to build a place in which we can dwell in relationship in community with the other. But, how to do we do that and what do we do in that place? This can be summed up in the phrase "earning the right to be heard". This phrase is a place holder for a complex process in which the distance between two people or between a person and a community is reduced over time, resulting in real mutual empathy, respect, and value. In this process we move past the reduction of persons to positions or stereotypes and begin to enter into each other's story. This process begins with a connection in shared true goods that we call "anchor goods", deepens in the experience of longing, wonder, and an awakened desire, and comes to fruition in the answering of questions born of that awakened desire and in the context of it.
5. Lead with Anchor Goods
When developing a space to create community for people who would not normally be attracted to a religious context, you have to focus on some of the true goods still loved by whoever you are trying to build for. In the modern West, especially among the increasing secularized youth, that means beauty, social justice, the care of creation, and wonder, with beauty having pride of place. If you build a beautiful intentional space, source your product deeply in accord with Catholic Social Teaching, treat the created world with real gratitude and restraint, and approach reality with a stance of real wonder, you will be surprised how many walls will begin to come down in a previously very guarded person. There is more to our Faith than the culture war, apologetics, and revealed dogma. Lead with what we hold in common and build upon that organically.
6. Live with an Awakened Desire
We see people with incorrect, partial, or insufficient beliefs or ideas and immediately think what is called for is information. For Catholics, this is usually in the form of catechesis or apologetics, since it's what we know how to do. An old Pennsylvania Dutch saying goes, "To the man whose only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Information is our hammer. But, reality is the kind of thing that gives itself when questioned correctly, which is with a real awakened desire for the fullness of reality including the infinite. The problem here is two fold. First, the modern world has made it normal to dial desire down to what we know exists or what we already think is the answer and numb those desires when we are unable quiet them ourselves. Secondly, the immediate experience of reality has been replaced by living through the lens of an ideology or a moralism. This deeply affects those we desire to reach in the New Evangelization, but more tragically it affects us as well. This is really the key to the entire project of apostolic hospitality. The only way to have one's desire awakened is to be around someone who's desire has been awakened. The place you build must be a place in which you can experience the wonder and good of Christ in the other in a way that your heart is opened and your longing ignited or that will never be passed on.
7. Never Answer Unasked Questions
Now, we can talk about how verbal content is exchanged between staff/volunteers and guests in the space. Too often this comes down to a method or trick in an attempt to bait someone into an apologetic script. That is the polar opposite of what we are proposing. Given what we have said above- that we have created a community, marked by shared goods, and staffed by a team with a real awakened longing for reality, desiring relationship and empathy with the other as Christ in our midst- then, and only then, can we begin to enter into the hard territory of evangelization, and begin a slow organic process of disicpleship. Reinhold Niebur famously said, "There is nothing more incredible than an answer to an unasked question." To that end, you never answer questions that are not asked. Or, put more positively, you answer questions that are the real product of a desire awakened by relationship in community. Why? The desire is the hermeneutic required to hear the answer as something other than an assertion of ideology or moralism. Likewise, a real desire awakened by the good of the other is the prerequisite to being able to offer the answer as a real proposal of reality and not a mere imposition or assertion of ideology. In short, truth can only really be spoken or understood in the context of wonder and love.
8. Live the Tension of Missional Community
It is somewhat normal to be attracted to dwelling within our tribe, living and experiencing existence within a zone of comfortable agreement with those around us. But, there is one called out of that context- The Missionary. He is called to leave the warm hearth of the familiar for the sake of the other. In the past, to dwell among a people with a completely differing vision of the cosmos, a different language, a different ethos, one had to board a boat or a plane and head "ad gentes" or "to the nations" as the phrase went. The implication was that these "nations" were pagan nations and hence outside of the West which was Christendom. But, now the West is increasingly post-Christian and true missionary territory lies in the shadow of our Churches, even in our pews. So, we must be ready to live like the missionaries of old, at least when they did it right, and dwell among those we long for and love them in any way they can receive or understand to earn the right to love them more deeply. This may be by mindfully and beautifully making them a drink, listening to their break up story, asking how their test went, or listening to them as they try to chart a course in the modern boundless sea of infinite options. In these relationships, moments will come in which a true longing comes to surface in the form of a sincere question from an open heart. That part is easy- you simply answer them. The real task of modern missionary activity is to live in relationship in community in a way that draws that question, always mindful that though we till, sew, and water, it is God that gives the increase.