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.


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.

Simple: pass it on

I was not a very well-behaved parent in church. When our five children were young enough that we all lived together and went to mass together, I used to amuse them (and myself) by poking the child next to me and whispering,”Pass it on.” It always worked; I could tell by the glare I got from my wife at the other end of the line. The message got through.

Today’s Scripture readings are like that childish game. God gives us a loving poke in the side, reminding us that our sins were forgiven by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. His expectation is that we will give ourselves in love to the person next to us, who is expected to love the next neighbor in line, and so on around the world. In the Gospel, Jesus suggests to his dinner host that next time, rather than inviting friends and family, he should invite poor people who have no way of repaying him. No way, that is, except to offer themselves in love to the next person they see. It’s the perfect form of evangelization, and it can transform the whole world. Pass it on.