During the past few weeks as I've talked with various students, alumni, interns, FOCUS Missionaries, and people attached to the BU Newman House, I've been really struck by their ability to talk about their xperience of encountering Christ and their great desire to continue on the path to holiness. Their lingo, path, and idiom is shaped somewhat differently than my own, but that is not an obstruction. They're living Christianity with a certain intensity and joy. They are surprised by what Christ has done in their life and they are fully anticipating the next surprise he has in store for them.
For them, Christ is not an abstraction, but rather a presence that they have encountered. They speak with gratitude about those whom they have met along the path of their life who have helped them meet Christ and who have helped them to follow Christ. This is what is missing in so many of our parishes. We have been trained to speak in generalities and without any specificity. Christianity is spoken of and lived as though Christ didn't matter. Or better put, we speak of Christianity as though Christ did not become flesh. "I'm a good person." "I like my faith. It helps me be a good person." "I'm a Catholic because I think it is important to have some religion." People are more passionate about being Vegans than they are about being a Christian! If you speak to a Vegan or a member of the NRA and ask them why they belong to that category of people, you better hang on because you are in for a ride! But, ask many Catholics why they are Catholic and they say stuff like, "Well, I think despite everything that's wrong with the Catholic Church, it is still kind of like the right religion for me."
This week, I was evangelized. In various situations, listening to young people share their experience of Faith, I was moved and strengthened in my own Faith. They weren't preaching or anything like that. They were just sharing in a very natural way how the Lord has been working in their life. I need this in my life. I need to hear people talk about Christ and what Christ is doing in their life. It doesn't have to be showy or miraculous. I just need to hear that Jesus is changing their life day by day, step by step. This type of witnessing is so convincing!
The renewal of the Church, the renewal of the Church in the United States, the renewal of each diocese, the renewal of each parish and ecclesial institution, is going to happen through the renewal of each individual heart. Certainly we ought to strengthen these institutions so that they can be effective vehicles for the New Evanagelization, but there is something prior to all of this. The priority must be the human heart. The priority must be individuals meeting Christ and sharing the joy of Christ with others. When I see others moved by His Presence, I am also moved. In the Gospels, people were moved to follow Christ. And when others saw these crowds of people following Christ, they too were moved to follow him. Perhaps, they were just curious. "Why are all of those people--my friends, family, and strangers--all following that guy around. They were struck by this movement. Then, they decided that they too would join in and see what this was all about. Ultimately, each would have to decide whether he or she would stay or go away. But, what drew them in was the presence and joy of the others. Either that presence and joy convinces me to stay, or I go away.
There is something weak in us. I do not wake up every day convinced. Some days I do. Some days, I need a witness in my life. I need somebody who through their joy and their presence reminds me that Christ is not some idea that I came up with. No, he is a presence who brings man true freedom and true life. I need to be surrounded by others who tell me about what Christ is doing in their real experience. I need to see their joy and their conviction. This makes me want to stay with them and continue on the path of Christ. I need to be in that crowd and hear people answering the question, "So, how did you meet this crowd?" And, "Why do you stay in this crowd?"
In order to be real instruments of Evangelization, these crowds must consist of people whose hearts have been moved by Christ. They have to be people who truly have encountered Christ and whose hearts have truly and really been touched by him. They have to be people who have encountered Christ and can speak about that encounter.
Evangelization is always about one human heart. That heart is longing to hear that he is infinitely loved. That heart is longing to hear that she can find forgiveness. That heart is longing to hear that he can begin again. That heart is longing to hear there is a reason she exists and that there is a plan for her life.
That heart needs a witness.