Last week, I made my periodic pilgrimage to Disney World for a little break before the craziness of the holiday seasons. I love going to Disney — not just because of the presence of so many favorite characters and the thrilling rides, but because Disney puts on a fantastic show. It’s almost flawless in its execution of parades, fireworks, transporting people here and there, and the overall service that the cast members provide.Disney is not so much an “amusement” park as it is an “encounter” park. What they provide for the young and the young-at-heart is an experience that no other industry can give. When you are there, you are immersed in the experience of meeting pirates and princesses, of running missions for Buzz Lightyear, or of going deep into the mines with the Seven Dwarfs. My hotel lobby even smelled like Christmas sugar cookies!
Everywhere I went, I was met by people like me who truly felt as if they were young again, and by children who believed they were princesses because that’s what Disney does. They make the magic happen. Cast members on the streets greeted little girls as “princess” or “your highness,” and the little girls blushed and agreed.
As a pastor and a disciple, I can’t help but agree that this is what we as a Church are called to do. We are called to give people the experience that no other industry or group can – an encounter with Jesus Christ. When we engage in efforts of evangelization, this is what we are looking for. We are seeking to facilitate for those whom we accompany an intimate and real encounter with the Lord. Everyone who comes to us should be reminded that through their Baptism, they are priests, prophets, and kings — not just in some fairy-tale sense, but truly, because their relationship with Christ makes them so.
Disney works very hard to make their experience unique and top-notch. So should we. As disciples gathered in our parishes, we cannot settle for “good enough” or mediocre. Pastors and parishioners ought to put in hard work to make the experience of an encounter with Christ authentic and meaningful. Our churches should be clean and welcoming; our liturgies should be reverent and engaging, with well-prepared music and homilies; our people must live and act as though we know that we are redeemed and filled with dignity that only God can give. We must make our Church the happiest place on earth — a place where dreams come true — and not just any dreams, but God’s dream for us — an intimate encounter with his son that leads us to eternal life.
This is what evangelization is all about, and we owe it our best efforts. When people come to the Church, they should know that they are getting something that they can get nowhere else: the experience of meeting Jesus Christ. That’s an experience that I’d give anything for!