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Making Disciples of “All Nations” (Part 3)

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

What is evangelization, who is called to be part of it, and what wisdom does Saint Augustine offer us? This series reflects on the New Evangelization and Augustinian Spirituality.

The second boundary I propose is psychological. The Second Vatican Council acknowledged the emergence of information from history, science, and philosophy that demand “new theological investigations” in order to reevaluate how to communicate the faith and deploy adequate pastoral care in the modern world. Even since the Second Vatican Council, the amount of knowledge the world has gained with respect to mental illnesses such as addiction and even emotional intelligence among many other areas has been significant. Mental Health First Aid training is growing in popularity among those preparing for ministry to help ministers recognize and prepare for encounters with people who suffer from a number of mental health ailments ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia.

Further, the Church must consider the life stage of the people they are trying to reach, specifically the stage of psychological and/or psychosocial development that a particular demographic finds themselves in.  There are many theories and academic disciplines that cover this area and I am not qualified to speak much on this topic.  Further, my experience has been that research on the relationship between the stages of psychological and psychosocial development and spirituality is limited.   Here I mention it only as one of the many factors to be considered in this boundary.  For example, regardless of which psychological theory is applied, one can generally conclude that someone in their 20s will naturally have a need for identity development and validation in order to support healthy ego development; whereas someone in their 30s and 40s will have a need to integrate their spirituality into their chosen life path and profession; while someone in their 60s and 70s will need to experience validation of their life experience and opportunity to share their acquired wisdom with those of younger generations.  

To add to the complexity of this boundary, research into Emotional Intelligence and Personality Theory can shed fresh more insights into how people of different personality types pray, process mystery, and even react to liturgy.  For example, someone who registers as a sensate on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator is much more likely to find inspiration in the sights, sounds, and smells conducive to the mood of the message in the “here and now.”  Conversely, someone who registers as a strong intuitive type would likely be less focused on sights, sounds, and smells of the here and now in the liturgy and more on how the environment and message of the homily/reflection connects with the bigger picture of the faith and their future (or whatever else is on their mind).  Those who are sensates would notice more on what is currently happening or what has happened and might quickly become bored with discussion on theoretical and abstract concepts; whereas those who register more strongly on the intuitive scale would get bored quickly and gloss over details of the here and now and become more interested in discussion about metaphor and what things symbolize with respect to the future.  

Again, this is an overly simplistic generalization, especially given that most people have a mixture of sensate and intuitive tendences.  This therefore doesn’t cover the full scope of emotional intelligence or personality theories such as the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram. Neither can cover the full scope of the human person, for everyone is unique. They are offered here as examples of the complexity involved in crossing this barrier.

The question becomes how to incorporate these findings into the norms and pastoral practices of the Church in order to reach people who otherwise would not be able to reach the Church?  Further, who is better positioned to participate in these “theological investigations” than the very people who work with, live with, and in many cases professionally interact with people who are the subjects of this new knowledge?  To what degree are the lay members of the parish integrated into planning how the Church ministers with the various groups of people?  To what degree are such planning efforts composed of a mixture of personality types?  Do we have both sensate and intuitive types in our liturgy planning meetings?  

A quick Google search or just about any modern book containing case studies on organizational leadership will show you how secular institutions, especially companies in the Top 500 are using these very same considerations as an essential ingredient behind their competitive strategies for optimizing their workforces, capturing new market segments, and product lifecycle management.  However, are the methods modern companies use to capture the hearts of consumers in any way related to the methods the Church uses to win hearts for Christ?  Are the methods modern companies use to motivate employees to innovate related in any way to how the Church motivates its faithful to respond to the unique needs of those the Church is called to serve?  

I propose they are not the same, as Christ and our faith are not a product for consumer purchase. However, they are not unrelated to the Church’s mission of evangelization. They have a lot to teach us as we attempt to interpret here in 2020 what John Paul XXIII declared at the convocation of the Second Vatican Council as the need for the Church to read the “signs of the times” so that it can first learn from it before deciding how respond to it.[1] They demonstrate how history, science, and philosophy demand “new theological investigations” in order to reevaluate how to communicate the faith and deploy adequate pastoral care in the modern world. For an excellent book on this perspective, I recommend reading Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Michael White and Tom Corcoran.

Are there other opportunities at the local parish level for the laity to be the “leaven” within their neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces by leading the Church across such psychological boundaries?

[1] Humanae Salutis (

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