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The Religiously Unaffiliated

As the first step of evangelization we must seek to keep [the quest for God] alive; we must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives. We must make sure that they are open to this question and to the yearning concealed within it.”   -Pope Benedict XVI, December 2009

The key to keeping the question of God alive in the public square is that each of us let it be known that we are Catholic and then live a life that bears witness to the goodness of this fact.  The Catholic must radiate in the public square the fundamental human values:  respect for and attention to the person, mercy, sacrifice, generosity, love, joy, etc… This alone will do more than any elegant argument in favor of God’s existence. Then, and only then, is it possible to also engage others in the question of God’s existence and his relevance to daily life and life as a whole.

Remember that, as Vatican II reminded us, it belongs particularly to the laity to bring Christ to the secular sphere.  Our homes, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and relationships are, in a sense, the mission field of the laity – our particular domain. 

The Need for a Courtyard of the Gentiles

The “Courtyard of the Gentiles” in the context of evangelization is a metaphor offered to us by Pope Benedict XVI to shed light upon the Church’s mission to those who do not believe in God or who find the question of God irrelevant to life.  The image was first put forward during the Holy Father’s visit to the Czech Republic and was later taken up in the Lineamenta, the document preparing for the October 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization.  The Holy Father stated:

“Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is 56: 7; Mk 11: 17). Jesus was thinking of the so-called ‘Courtyard of the Gentiles’ which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved… I think that today, too, the Church should open a sort of “Courtyard 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.”  -Lineamenta 5

A few key points can be drawn out from the Pope’s words to help us in discerning the authentic meaning of this metaphor and how it should govern and shape our evangelization among those who profess no faith in God.  Please click on the reflection points below to read more and find questions for reflection.  We want to ask ourselves  what this metaphor means for the Catholic Church and what a Catholic “Courtyard of the Gentiles” could look like.  Please use the contact information below to share your thoughts and ideas with us!

  1. The Courtyard of the Gentiles was part of the Temple
  2. It was the place where Gentiles could come to pray to the one God
  3. They came because they were “dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths
  4. It was a place where man could “latch on” to God

Tips & Ideas

Public Witnesses of Faith Guidebook
Tips and ideas for keeping the question of God alive in the
public square.

Below are some simple ways to keep the question of God alive in the public arena:

  • In the workplace, keep on your desk a holy card, Crucifix, or small statue that gives witness to your Catholic faith.  Be prepared to answer questions about what you believe and why the image is on your desk.
  • When family or friends ask “How was your weekend?”, be sure to include in your response that you went to Mass on Sunday and possibly throw in a remark about how something in the homily helped you, or how praying at Mass helps you get ready for the week ahead.
  • In conversations, be forthright about your involvement in Church activities, groups, etc…
  • Tell people you are praying for them, or for a particular intention they have.
  • Share stories about how your faith has directly impacted your life, decision-making, etc…
  • Help people consider the deeper meaning behind the things that are happening in their lives.  Gently ask questions like, “How do you think God is leading you in this situation?”, “Do you have a sense of why God allowed that to happen?”, “Have you prayed about it?”, etc…
  • Help people see and understand God’s action in their lives by offering feedback like, “Wow, God really took care of you!”, “Sounds like God put you in the right place at the right time.”, “Seems like God definitely has a plan for you.”, etc…
  • Help dispel common misunderstandings about the Catholic faith, for example, the myth that faith and science are incompatible.  Be well-informed about the Church’s teachings on faith and reason and the Church’s tremendous contributions to science throughout her 2000-year history.  Challenge comments that suggest that faith is irrational, for the uneducated or gullible, or closed to science.