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Getting the message

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The election is over and the underestimated underdog has unexpectedly come out on top. Now that the results are in, there will be plenty of pundits prepared to provide us with a continuous stream of election dissection. It’s what they live for, and what puts food on their tables.

Although I’m generally more concerned with the salvation of souls than the victories of candidates, I think there’s a lot we -- the Church -- can learn from the Massachusetts senate race in terms of tools for evangelization.

First, we should not rely on institutional strength, or identity. A high percentage of Massachusetts citizens consider themselves Democrats. But when they don’t put their vote behind that label, the Democratic candidate doesn’t win an election. Likewise, lots of people identify themselves as Catholics. But that identification seems to surface mostly at weddings and funerals, Christmas and Easter. It isn’t that these people aren’t Catholics. It’s that they really don’t know that being Catholic means living a life of faith 24/7. Even if they do know that, they may not know how to go about it, or why they should.

Second, there is no substitute for personal contact. The Brown campaign knew it was fighting an uphill battle in terms of party and political “machinery.” The only real tool he had was old-fashioned meet and greet, handshake politics. That is, Brown went to where the people were, met them face to face, and asked them to consider supporting what he stood for. Pamphlets, programs, films, speakers, and books may be a way to gather people together as a Church. But there is nothing that can reach person better than another person. We don’t need to be pushy or demanding. But we do need to let people know that we’re playing for Team Jesus, and ask them to consider joining us.

Third, people want to say “yes” to someone, not just “no” to something. The Brown campaign, for the most part, kept its message positive. A good deal of that came from the candidate’s upbeat disposition. He believed he had something to offer, something worth offering. We Christians often make the mistake of telling people the bad news about sin more than the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. We focus on actions right and wrong rather than on the direction of a person’s life. That is, we ask people to change how they live their lives before introducing them to the God who makes that change not only possible, but desirable. Joy, by the way, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we are lacking joy, there is something missing from how we live our faith.

Fourth, clarity and simplicity carries the day. Political nuances and the more complicated aspects of pending legislation don’t motivate anyone. In the end, a clear and simple message is the only one that’s really heard. Most of us don’t need to explain the finer points of Trinitarian theology or the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. We do, however, need to be able to articulate who Jesus is and what He has done for us. And, we need to communicate that God wants to do these things and more for anyone who comes to Him.

Fifth, arrogance or elitism will sink you. There is no perfect candidate and no perfect electorate. Scott Brown did not succeed because he was the strongest and most qualified candidate in the Commonwealth. He succeeded because he connected to people, and communicated that he saw himself as one of them. Sadly, as a Church we are often aloof. We keep our distance from those who don’t share our faith and morals, and tend to communicate an air of “I’m better than you poor sinners.” Jesus teaches us all the value of humility. He welcomed all. No one will come to Christ if those who belong to him aren’t much like him.

Sixth, take no one for granted. The Coakley campaign counted traditional supporters as a given. The Brown campaign refused to number any individual or group among its supporters -- or its opposition. Active Catholics seem frequently disappointed by the positions many of our fellow Catholics advocate on issues that involve core Church teachings. But we also seem all too willing to write off people whom we expect will oppose what we believe. We fail to bring them the message of Jesus Christ, and his invitation to faith.

In short, perhaps this historic and unprecedented election provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we Catholic Christians can be more effective communicators of the Gospel. Still, in the end, the work is bigger than any of us because it does not belong to any of us. The U.S. Senate seat does, in fact, belong to the people of Massachusetts. Salvation belongs to Jesus Christ. Evangelism is his work, his mission, and his purpose. Because he loves us, he shares it all with us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.

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