Posted by: Thomas Richard | October 3, 2012

Where are the Half-Way Houses for Catholic Evangelization?

The Catholic Church – in my humble opinion, of course – needs half-way houses.  The “half-way” that I’m talking about is a half-way place between the godless, morality-free, anti-religious secular culture outside of the Faith, and the radically different Sunday celebration of the Catholic faithful in Holy Mass.  We need something in between!  As things are, how can we “invite a friend” to come with us to a Mass?  How can we expect an unbelieving friend who “lives” in the secular culture, who has not a clue about Catholic Tradition and the celebration/sacrifice of the Mass, to walk in cold and understand anything at all of what we do on Sundays?  If not to a Mass, exactly where and how can we invite such a friend to look into the saving Catholic Faith?  We need a half-way house for Catholic evangelization, to help men and women who might want to move out of a lost darkness into His radically different light and life.

Protestants can invite such a friend to their Sunday service, or to their Wednesday Prayer Meeting, and even the most secular-minded non-believer can grasp what is happening and can understand that “the Gospel” is being preached and taught, and lots of hymns are being sung.  They will probably be able to hear and understand “an altar call,” inviting them to entrust their lives to Jesus.  They will probably understand the sermon that is closely connected, commonly, to a story that is explained from the Bible.  They would discern rather easily the challenge being set before them: to accept a Teacher that promises eternal life, or reject Him.  Such a church service lends itself very easily to evangelization: it is obviously, simply and immediately “evangelical” already.

Not so, our Catholic worship services.  We do have easily understood music – although usually not sung with full-throated enthusiasm by the congregation.  We do have Scripture readings – although not always unfolded, explained or discussed.  We do have prayers – although rarely expressed with obvious sincerity, personal conviction or human emotion.  The highly scripted liturgical format is disinviting to strangers who don’t know what to do next, and who can only awkwardly enter it or follow along with it.

Catholic homilies, when they are closely tied to one of the Scripture readings, are typically ten minutes – too brief a time to allow important and foundational truths of the Faith to be adequately developed.   Our homilies – even the best of them –  usually do not allow time for reflection and silence afterward (even though the liturgical norms call for such silence), for hearers to really consider their own lives in the light of God’s Truth.  Our homilies, like our prayers,  are often not presented with conviction or with unction, so as to communicate the life-transforming power that God has infused into His living Word.

Also, our homilies and the entire Mass usually include a great presumption: that everyone listening is a believer, a faithful Catholic!   Studies show a much more problematic reality, which is typically ignored in our homilies: many Catholics do not believe all that the Church teaches!  Many disbelieve even the Real Presence in the Eucharist!  Many do not consider contraception a problem!  Many Catholics support same-sex marriage!  Many Catholics are prepared to re-elect a President who believes not only in same-sex marriage, but even in abortion!

In the face of a great disconnect between “the Catholic Faith” and a typical congregation, homilies in some parishes at least rarely if ever proclaim the radical call to discipleship that many in the pews need to hear.  Many have never heard, but need to hear the challenge to give their minds and hearts to Jesus – to a radical change of life, to a life of discipleship, to a life of total conversion to Christ and fidelity to His Catholic Church.  More likely than not, typical homilies are gentle nudges to presumed believers, that we should trust God a little bit more, and be a little nicer to everyone.  Then, after such a ten-minute talk, the scripted liturgy resumes.  This is no place for evangelization.

Where does an atheist, or an agnostic, or for that matter a confused and unformed Catholic, hear about the Catholic Faith?  Where does a Protestant or a confused Catholic go, to hear the clear and full truth of Christ in Whom we believe?  Where does a young Catholic take his girlfriend to help her understand why he is a Catholic and what he does to worship God and what he believes about marriage and family – if (as is typical) he is unable to articulate it himself?  How does a potential spouse of a poorly catechized Catholic learn about this Church?  Too often our only answer is, “RCIA”.

Yes, I know, RCIA is sometimes made the entire adult formation offering for the parish.  But it is no “halfway” place of true inquiry, discussion and reflection.  RCIA as practiced is typically a scheduled and scripted program, beginning in the Fall and having a set length and terminus at or shortly after Easter.  The “inquiry” phase is typically perfunctory, limited to a few structured meetings, and is swept quickly into the scheduled presentations meant to complete “formation” in the Faith.  There is no true place of open-ended inquiry for seekers who have no pre-existing desire and expectation of becoming Catholic.

So to answer my question, we have no half-way houses for evangelization, and we need them.  We need something, whatever it might be called, and however it might be structured.  We need some way to evangelize, because at the present we are very poorly prepared to do it – and “it”, evangelization, is the mission the Christ gave us.  The Church exists to evangelize, as Paul VI said.  When, in this darkening culture of the modern West, will we begin?


  1. Dear Thomas,

    This need for a “half-way” house for Catholic evangelization is similar to Pope Benedict’s “Court of the Gentiles” initiative. Your idea, however, seems even more “concrete” a proposal. It seems to me that it might be a true blessing in a parish, or on a college campus, or even in someone’s home.

    It is certainly worth praying about and thinking through some details, but with God’s Grace, I could see this way of evangelizing happening. I’d be interested in reading the thoughts of others on this possibility.

  2. Thomas,
    I wanted to wait until I attend a service at our Parish this weekend before commenting. They have something once a month called,” Freedom to Worship.” I believe that is also the name of the band which does the music. It is a two hour worship service beginning with Praise songs, then a time of Eucharistic Adoration, and some laying on the hands. I had the kids with me so I was only able to stay for about a half hour because they got a bit much for me, but it seems this type of service could be used to introduce non-believers or Protestants into the Catholic setting. They do it only once a month though. I believe what you’re speaking about needs to be a weekly event to draw people from outside in.

    Gods Peace!

  3. What an innovative idea! Your comments are so on target about this need for a “half-way house” because there are many “presumptions” among the Catholic community gathering for Mass. The way we dress indicates many times that we are “catching Mass” as one of our itinerary details of the day–on our way to the beach or to a sporting event …. sadly on the Lord’s Day. A joyful welcome is so important to anyone considering the Catholic church.

  4. You’re speaking my language, brother.

    My friends and I are going to do exactly what you’re talking about.

    Thank you for your inspirating vision.

    Fr Anthony Diocese of Peoria, IL

    • Well thank you Fr. Anthony! What a happy surprise to receive and read your response! I will be very interested to hear how it goes for you. May the good Lord bring forth much fruit…

      Please pray, with me, that other parishes also take up something similar. Such a darkness is growing! The world needs Christ our Lord.


  5. Inquiry can be this…if it is done well. Also small groups, such as Alpha, can provide a place for dialogue and questions, as well as returning Catholic groups..

    • Hello Anna – thank you for your comment. I agree that any of the groups you mention could or do offer some time and opportunity for authentic inquiry – but they all operate, in practice, on a schedule. A fixed schedule or calendar is not the best place for true inquiry, which needs to be open-ended in order to allow for true freedom in coming to decision. So it seems to me, anyway. I think a place of true inquiry ought to be that and that alone – not a “step one” of another program.

      I’d much prefer to see a Catholic adaptation of the “Court of the Gentiles”, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

      “I think that today too the Church should open a sort of “Court of the Gentiles” in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands. Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.”

      That quote is expanded upon here:
      on a blog I was experimenting with for a while.


  6. All the Catholic churches (as well as all the protestants) have totally abolished the catechumenate therefore there is truly no-where. It is no longer possible to blame the person with “acedia” and slothful with the talents for he has had no model. Faith will no longer make any sense in the church. It has to make sense mid week. Scriptures have to be brought to life in unheard of ways. Clergy that build up laity are a contradiction in existing terms. Pray that God will bring something to being from absolutely nothing.

    • Hello “devastated” – if you are not exaggerating, the situation in the U.K. sounds to be very grim. It’s not too bright here in the U.S. either! But – prayer is very powerful. God can bring about His will, out of something or out of nothing – “all things are possible” to Him. Persevere, in patience, because truth will win in the end.

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