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Evangelization: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Church Today

In the spring of 2007, I served as a Catholic missionary in downtown Chicago. As part of our training, we had to live on the streets for 24 hours and basically fend for ourselves. We were given clothes and told to “live the life.”

I started in a soup shelter line where I was quickly befriended by a couple of grizzled street vets who had been out on the pavement for too many years. They could tell I was new to street life, so they poured out all their secrets: where to get dinner, how to stay warm and where to sleep. 

With their help, I made it through the day and returned to headquarters warm and dry. Their caring and sharing made a simple difference in my day and a tremendous difference in my life. 

Often, we hear the word “evangelization” and think it is for far off lands. It is not a word we are comfortable with, and if we are honest, we have a hard time defining it. I once heard someone define evangelization as one beggar showing another beggar where the food is. In my study and practice of evangelization, I have found this description to be the simplest way to illustrate the term. In that soup line, those men knew I needed what they had, and they went out of their way to give it to me. 

Every person needs the good news of Jesus Christ. We are born into this world starving and Jesus comes to us and offers us the only thing that can truly satisfy, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Jn 6:35)

There are many ways to talk about evangelization in the world, the church and our parishes. Before evangelization can take root, it must first happen in us. To be evangelized is not merely a singular moment in our lives but a lifelong, personal process of conversion and communion to Christ and with Christ. We are constantly being invited into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. This invitation is ever present to us through the ministry of the church, her members, our families and friends. We are never done being evangelized because God is never done sharing himself with us. 

The invitation to be loved by God and to love him is at the heart of personal evangelization. As we give our daily yes to God, to receiving his love and returning it with our own lives, we decrease and he increases. This is a lifelong, ongoing conversion to Christ. We are never done in our journey with God because he is never done with us. That — brothers and sisters — is truly good news!

In the next issue of the Catholic Spirit, we will discuss how God is inviting us into deeper love and how we respond to that invitation.

Russell Hoyt serves as the diocesan director of Evangelization and Catechesis. He has been passionately involved in parish ministry and the New Evangelization since 2005. He lives in Georgetown with his wife and five children. Contact him at or (512) 949-2542.