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.


Here’s to you, St. Peter

Today is a feast day for the Chair of St. Peter (I think that’s a churchy way of inviting him to take a break; “Here, Peter, sit down and rest for a few minutes. Luke will keep an eye on the Pearly Gates for a while.”) It used to be the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, but that got moved to the Summer. Don’t ask me why. If you are curious and find out why, reply to this post and tell the rest of us.

I’ve said before that St. Peter is my favorite Apostle. He’s just so…human. Sometimes he was a hot-head, sometimes he was a bonehead, and other times he was just plain scared. When they saw Jesus walking on water, Peter was the one who jumped out of the boat and tried to imitate him. It worked for a few minutes, until his human side took over and he sunk. (Put yourself in his mind. “Wow! I’m doing it! I’m doing it, I’m walking on water! Hey, guys, check this out, I’m walki…wait. What the heck and I doing? This water is deep. What if I trip over a fish? I can’t do thi….glub, glub, glub.”)

Peter was imperfect by most human measures. He wasn’t wealthy; he was a simple fisherman. He wasn’t scholarly. He wasn’t saintly. On more than one occasion, Jesus had to correct him, and when the chips were down, Peter claimed that he had never even met Jesus. But he is the the rock. He is the foundation of the universal church that Jesus came here to form. He was given the power to make rules for both Earth and Heaven. (His first rule was probably, “Okay, from now on, NO walking on water.”) And he is as human as you and I.

So, what does that say about God’s plan for you and I? Can we still argue that we’re too (choose one or more) weak, ignorant, old, young, hotheaded, fearful, doubtful, willful? God made Peter. He chose Peter. God also made you and chose you. So, if he calls you to do his will, how can you say no? Go ahead, step out of the boat. Remember, even if you sink, he will catch you, just like he caught Peter.

St. Peter is my favorite

I like St. Peter, because he reminds me so much of myself: a bonehead. And that gives me hope. If God can use a simple fisherman whose greatest talent seemed to be sticking his foot in his mouth, perhaps God can use me too.

The four gospels are filled with several examples of St. Peter screwing up or saying something foolish. Or, if not foolish, then rash and impetuous. After all, who else gave walking on water a try, just because he saw Jesus doing it? Or which of the other apostles argued with Jesus when Christ told them he was to be crucified? And who thumped his chest at the last supper and vowed that others might run away, but he never would? Let’s face it; St. Peter talked first and thought second.

And yet Peter was Jesus’ chosen one from the earliest times of his ministry. Peter, fast-talking, slow-thinking Peter, was selected to be the cornerstone of Christianity. The rock, upon which we all stand two thousand years later. After receiving the Holy Spirit, it was Peter who first stood up to the authorities, and who led the apostles in the creation of the church. Time and time again in the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter opposing authorities regardless of the consequences, preaching the word of God, and leading his fellow disciples. St. Peter, the man who Jesus once referred to as, “Satan,” became the voice of God on Earth.

If God can do that with a simple fisherman, why would you ever think your life is hopeless? Just as God made Peter, He made you. Just as God had a purpose for Peter, He has a purpose for you. Like Peter, though, we have to accept that we are here to fulfill God’s purpose, not our own. Along with his shortcomings, Peter had the humility to accept that without God, he was nothing. With God, he could do anything.