Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Start Spreading the Good News: The First (and Most Ignored) Rule of Preaching the Gospel: "Know Your Audience."

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Start Spreading the Good News: The First (and Most Ignored) Rule of Preaching the Gospel: "Know Your Audience."

Article excerpt

A FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY PARTY OCCASIONED ONE OF THE odder questions I've been asked lately: "Do you My questioner seemed genuinely curious--not hostile or incredulous--but I couldn't help feeling as if I'd been asked how often I sacrifice goats. The stylish, 25-year-old woman represented the demographic brass ring for most churches, the coveted-though-AWOL, professional, single "young adult." Yet she knew next to nothing about religion.

It's the kind of party conversation I sometimes have when I give a truthful answer to "What do you do for a living?" But I've never really figured out just how to explain my faith to my unchurched peers. For them it's just a quirky part of my personality. That's not to say they don't have the same needs that religion fills for me, they'd just never think an institution like Catholicism could fill those needs. As for me, I am often left feeling like I've missed an opportunity to give an account of Catholicism that isn't focused on the media darlings of celibacy, abortion, sex abuse, or homosexuality.


The unchurched and seemingly uninterested masses are certainly not new, which makes it all the more surprising that as a church we are constantly missing the opportunity to reach them. On Christmas Eve this year, I went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and found the massive space absolutely packed--with tourists who probably hadn't darkened a church door since their wedding, if ever. My family was among the few who knew the responses or tried to sing. Receiving puzzled looks in response to my offered hand at the sign of peace, I wondered if anyone had given thought to the fact that most of the people had no idea what was going on. Since, to my horror, the presider had mentioned the "violation of children" in his Christmas Eve homily, I felt certain the answer was no.

But that preaching gaffe at least offered an insight into why our message isn't getting out among the young and trendy and the vacationers who flock to Fifth Avenue: We talk about ourselves too much.

Think about it: On the pages of both secular and Catholic press (including this column), we read a lot about intrachurch fights over things like sex, women's ordination, the role of the laity, papal authority--as if these make up the content of our faith. …

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