Christ spent three years forming 12 men.
Those men went on to change the world.
Of course, Christ also preached to larger groups such as in the Sermon on the Mount. However, these occurrences are much less common in scripture, and the impact they had on the people is seemingly much less than the impact Christ had on his disciples. That is, we don’t hear about the people He preached to after the episode is over, what influence Jesus had on their souls in these large settings was not enough to merit mention at any other point in scripture.
But we do know what happened to the 12 men Jesus personally formed. They went on to found a Church of over 1 billion people.
In our time there is a renewed emphasis on evangelization, the most common form of which takes place en masse. Groups are continually founded with the best of intentions for impacting the universal Church and spreading the gospel. Efforts to make the Church “cool” or, a somewhat better term, “relevant” to the youth are an increasingly common endeavor undertaken by well-meaning and passionate Catholics.
Yet despite these efforts, we see people continuing to fall away from the Church. We witness people who were in love with God leaving the faith. There is a rise of “Cafeteria Catholics,” those who pick and choose which of the Church’s teaching they will accept and believe, and which they will reject.
Christ spent 3 years forming 12 men.
Jesus did not emphasize His large group interactions. Rather, in close relationship with those 12 men, He lead, instructed, and formed them.
We, the modern Church, now see these men all of the time.
We know them and their stories.
All but 1 of them are saints.
But we never see the crowd from the Sermon on the Mount.
We know that the crowd was affected; it even says so at points in scripture. Yet if such instruction were the best or proper way to save souls, wouldn’t we see Jesus doing more of it?
Wouldn’t we hear about these people later in scripture? Or in the history of the Church?
There may be a place for evangelizing en masse, however, often these endeavors, by the nature of their work, unintentionally shift their focus. By emphasizing the work of missionaries and outreach in an attempt to reach more people, we end up feeding a sort of pride. Edifying those who spread the gospel then places an emphasis on them, rather than on those who are receiving God’s word. This necessarily redirects us from spreading a faith of love to celebrating the individual achievements of someone who impacted a certain number of people, rather than celebrating the return of the 1 lost sheep.
Indeed, impacting large numbers of people is a good and worthy thing. Indeed, large crowds leave, affected by moving words. This also happens in scripture.
Yet, just like in scripture, we don’t tend to see the crowd again.
Just like in scripture, we give a rousing chorus; only to find ourselves facing the same people years later screaming “crucify him!”
In our preaching to large crowds, we’ve planted seeds, but in a garden we know nothing about. Will they be tilled and nourished? Will they be able to grow into solid trees of faith? Or will they fall on good soil only to find that there is no solid root network to sustain them?
Indeed, more and more people are falling away from the Church. More and more people embrace “Cafeteria Catholicism,” more and more Catholic marriages follow the way of secular society in divorce and adultery.
And we continue to preach en masse.
We will never know how those souls could have better embraced or kept the faith. That is the travesty, the danger, of such outreach. The danger that these souls not only fell away, but that we introduced them to the faith, yet gave them no way of holding on to it.
True conversion happens when the heart has an encounter with beauty such that it cannot bear to be away from it again. How can we expect a true conversion of souls when we interact with people as numbers to be effected rather than as individuals to be formed?
It seems that the faith is something meant to be formed in individuals by individuals. In the humble breaking of bread together, in the formation, admonition, mentoring, and leading of 1 person closer to God, just as Jesus did for 12 men over 3 years.
We must step away from the flashy appeal of mass affect and embrace St. Therese’s “Little Way,” recognizing that in making humble relationships, we will change the face of the Church and the World as we know it.