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May 13, 2009
Effectively sharing the Catholic Gospel
Convert teaches Catholics how to evangelize
By Roxanne King
For those Catholics who want to evangelize but don’t know how to share the essence of Catholicism in a brief encounter, convert Aimee M. Cooper has the answer.
Cooper, a Catholic theology instructor, is a former Protestant who was once involved with a highly successful door-to-door evangelization program. Four years ago, at a Theology on Tap lecture where several in the audience expressed frustration at their inability to share their faith quickly yet clearly, Cooper was inspired to put her former training to use and developed an evangelization program for Catholics.
Originally a 12-week door-to-door training program, through the Denver Archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis Cooper now offers the training program and an eight-week preparatory class based on the underlying theology of the Catholic message called “Understanding the Catholic Gospel.”
“’Understanding the Catholic Gospel’ is preliminary training for door-to-door work,” said Cooper who has a master’s in theology. “But people can use it as a stand-alone class. … It’s for Catholics ourselves; we need to be evangelized first.”
The class emphasizes the history of salvation from the authentic, Catholic Christian perspective, which differs significantly from the Protestant version, the instructor said.
“The Catholic Gospel is based on sacramental theology,” explained Cooper. “In the Eucharist, which we believe is the body and blood of Christ … we experience union with God here on earth, which is both physical and spiritual. It’s sacramental theology—it’s infused grace, which is different from Protestant imputed grace, which is only external.”
Martin Luther, initiator of the Protestant Reformation, reportedly likened Christians to “snow-covered dung heaps,” Cooper said, explaining the snow is God’s grace, which covers the exterior but leaves people unchanged inside. This is opposed to the Catholic Gospel, she said, which asserts God enters humans through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to bring about interior transformation.
“He actually lives and grows in us. We are meant to be changed into Christ in our lifetimes,” Cooper said. “It’s what the early Christians believed in the beginning and what the Church has always believed. The Eucharist was the center of life for the early Christians—they protected it, they celebrated it. It’s what changed them and gave them power to witness, to evangelize, to suffer and be martyrs.”
The Catholic Gospel explains the meaning of life, Cooper said.
“Understanding the Catholic Gospel makes it possible to understand why we are alive at all, what we should be doing and where we are headed,” Cooper asserts on her blog HistoricalChristian.com. “We Catholics need to know … what our story is and how to tell it to others.”
Every baptized Christian is called to evangelize, Cooper said.
“In the early Church it was mainly the apostles and their successors, the bishops, who spread the faith,” Cooper said. “After the barbarian invasions and fall of the Roman civilization, as the Church grew into the Middle Ages, it was primarily the monks and religious orders who went out and evangelized culture and rebuilt Christian civilization.”
Since the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, which saw the rise of science and a “false dichotomy between science and faith,” the world has become increasingly secularized, noted Cooper. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that the lay faithful fulfill their call to evangelize, she said, adding that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are among the recent pontiffs who have urged the Church to evangelize the modern world.
“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes (mission to the nations),” wrote Pope John Paul II, in his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer). “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty—to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
Catholics are responding. Currently offering “Understanding the Catholic Gospel” for the first time online as distance education, Cooper has more than 70 students from the United States, the United Kingdom, Africa, Papua New Guinea and United Arab Emirates.
“This response … just amazes me,” she said.
In 2006, the Protestant evangelical program Cooper once promoted, Evangelism Explosion, trained some 200,000 lay people worldwide and their witness resulted in nearly 5 million conversions to Christianity.
“If they can do that well with partial truth, we can do it 100 times better with the fullness of the truth,” declared Cooper.
Cooper offered several tips for successful door-to-door evangelization:
• Dialogue; never be forceful or coercive. Ask people what they think.
• Use the phrase, “We believe …,” as in the creed. Never say, “This is what you should believe.”
• Speak the truth clearly and let the power of the truth speak for itself.
• Know your faith and live it.
“It’s the witness of your life that gives power to your words,” Cooper stressed. “The Church documents on evangelization talk about this in depth. We are supposed to have words and witness of life, neither is effective enough alone.
“We need to be changed ourselves,” she said. “It’s Christ in us witnessing and evangelizing. On our own we can do nothing; we can do all things through Him, who strengthens us.”