Quiet Evangelization

The topic of evangelization has always made me squirm. Jesus told us quite clearly to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (MT 28:19) Jesus’ words and the work of the Catholic Church for centuries is clearly-focused on taking the Good News to all corners of the world. Our work isn’t done until everyone has been given an opportunity to join the Body of Christ, and it’s my job to present those opportunities.

But for a quiet little bookworm like me, that’s scary. The idea of trying to win over an atheist or any non-believer is intimidating; in large part because I don’t feel equipped with “the answers.” What if they ask me something hard, like the definition of Consubstantial, or the Biblical origin of Mary’s virginity? I can’t even recite the Ten Commandments in the correct order.

And there’s the whole 21st Century Political Correctness thing. We have imposed a gag order on ourselves in the name of civility. We don’t talk about religion or politics in polite company. It is a modern rule that we have to avoid saying something that someone might be uncomfortable hearing. (This topic is a whole conversation in itself that we’ll get to another time.)

Once again, my favorite Apostle has come to my rescue. In last Sunday’s second reading, St. Peter tells us that evangelization should be a modest, humble experience. One of my most beloved lines in the Bible comes from the First Book of Peter. In Chapter 3, he tells us that we should “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” but that we should also “Do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” The whole book is a good, short read on the topic of humble evangelization.

I don’t have to stand on a soapbox at the corner of Main Street, singing the praises of God. But I do have to live a good life; I do have to love everyone around me (friend and foe). I have to be kind to such an extreme degree that people may think I’m some sort of weirdo, but I don’t have to shout about it. I just need to do it. And if anyone asks, I have to give credit where credit is due: Jesus made me do it.

Perhaps as important as all of that, I also need to spend time in prayer so that I have the explanation if someone asks for it. Could I answer the question right now if someone asked me? Why am I absolutely, rock-solid, no doubt, Hallelujah!-convinced that Jesus is God’s only “begotten” son and that we all have a share in the eternal kingdom? Perhaps that’s an even more difficult task.

Let’s talk some more about this next week.

Inspiration vs. Perseverance

Is it better to look for glorious inspiration or to keep your head down and just slog through your day? Do we seek to be inspired by God in his creation; by looking for our own special message in today’s scripture readings? Or do we put on the cloak of humility, saying our prayers, doing good deeds, and trusting that it will all turn out okay?

Today’s a good day for this topic. I woke up this morning in a slogging kind of mood. I didn’t sleep well and a full calendar faces me; lots of little bits and pieces of life to contend with. My mind is filled with the mundane. It’s certainly not the sort of morning that inspires me to sing with joy at God’s creation.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not facing a parole board, bankruptcy court, or a grim-faced oncologist today. In fact, it will probably be a just fine day as days go. The challenge is not from without, it’s from within (as always). I’m possessed by the demon named Mr. Grumpy Pants. (I know, demonic possession is no laughing matter. Get over it; it’s Monday.) I am just not feeling the Glory of God surrounding me, lifting me up, etc., etc.

So what’s a soul to do? The rain cloud over my personal space isn’t even dark enough to be called spiritual dryness. More like spiritual clamminess; not dry, not wet, just blah. How does one cope when life is too good to be a martyr and too dull to be an evangelical?

By putting one spiritual step in front of the other. By following our spiritual habits, even though there doesn’t seem to be much “spirit” in them. If Mother Teresa could keep smiling for decades while inside she was feeling totally empty, I think I can face the Monday morning blues. The Short Saint from Calcutta radiated goodness and never forgot her slogan to “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Maybe I can do at least a fraction of that much.

So here goes. Happy Monday. (gmrfble, mumble, snarl, mmmfggt.) 🙂

Following Jesus home

In Chapter 5 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus drives a legion of demons out of a man. Overjoyed, the man begs to go along with Jesus, to drop everything and follow him like the Apostles did. Instead, Jesus tells him no, “Go home to your own people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Sometimes our missionary journey is to our own dinner table or family room.

My personal Catholic journey didn’t start in a church. Well, I guess technically and formally it did. I was baptized in a church and received the sacraments there. But my true understanding of Jesus and the seeds that sprouted into a loving relationship with him began at our family dinner table. My parents were devout, old-fashioned Catholics. During the 1950s they were part of a Catholic youth movement and in their retirement years they were frequent attendees of Catholic retreats. But most of all, my parents loved to talk. Our dinner table was almost always a lively place of conversation. And often that conversation was about religion. Because of their upbringing, both Mom and Dad had a pretty fair grasp of the details of Catholicism and they were also willing to express their opinions and to listen to mine. (They also didn’t hesitate to disagree with me when my opinion was on the flakey side).

Whenever you talk to a person who is passionate about their topic, it is often the passion, rather than any specific fact or statement of opinion that sways you to their point of view. And my parents were passionate about Christianity in general and Catholicism specifically. Looking back it is clear that their passion laid the foundation for my own faith.

My parents were not famous. They were not grand orators, or studied authors or theologians. It’s doubtful that they are on the Vatican’s short list for Canonization. They were simply two people who loved Jesus and who loved their children. They passed on their love.

St. Philip Neri and Happiness

Today is the feast day of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip was an evangelist, some call him a “re-evangelist,” who lived in Rome in the 1500’s during a time that the Church is not terribly proud to recall. The Church was in need of some urgent housecleaning. The humans-and-God partnership that is the Church had slid toward the human side. We all know what happens when we put humans in charge of spiritual leadership. The 16th Century was a time of scandal, intrigue and generally a very poor time for the Church, particularly the Church in Rome.

And then Philip came bouncing along. He was born up the road in Florence but followed God’s calling to Rome where he founded the Congregation of the Oratorians, a hospital and a confraternity of laypersons. Philip attracted people by his wit. He once shaved half his beard as an act of humility. He would wander around Rome engaging people in conversation that led to spiritual conversions for many. His openness, cheerfulness, and self-deprecating sense of humor drew people to him, and from him to God.

A web site dedicated to St. Philip quotes him saying, “The cheerful are much easier to guide in the spiritual life than the melancholy.”

I’m not suggesting that you shave half your head (but feel free to do so if the spirit moves you in that direction) but be lighthearted today. Remember St. Philip Neri and remember that there are so many things worrying people today the sight of a smile is like an oasis in the desert. God’s children need to be smiled at now and then. Be lights of the world, but be lighthearted lights.