Friday, October 11, 2013

Education in Charity and Friendship are the Path of Evangelization

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he provided a list of things that they should not bring with them.  But, among the limited things that he did allow them to bring was each other.  He sent them out two by two.  I've always thought that the reason Jesus did this was to show forth the power of Christian friendship.  "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am."  The effective tool of drawing others into the Kingdom was the love between the two disciples.  When people see how Christians love one another, it attracts them and convinces them.

Some of the Men at the BU Catholic Center Sharing a Meal
In the past couple of years, many things have been written about evangelization in the Catholic Church.  Some provide helpful hints about utilizing social media and population charts.  Others provide "best practices" from other churches.  Some discuss pastoral planning as though it were the key to evangelization.  Some articles and books attempt to provide a "how to" manual.  Some of these things may well be helpful in evangelization, but if we're not careful, we may find ourselves lugging a sack full of books and articles about evangelization instead of being attentive to Christian friendship.

What are we doing to strengthen the bond of charity among ourselves?  It seems that if any true evangelization is going to take place, it will do so because of a growth in charity among believers.  Charity isn't vague.  It is personal.  Evangelization is always personal.  It is about encountering Christ's love, and his love is not theoretical.   The human heart--my heart--desires meaning, desires mercy, desires to experience an infinite love.  But, it does not desire to experience these things in some sort of theoretical way.  The heart longs to be looked upon with a personal gaze; a gaze that loves.  Evangelization is an encounter.  It is not a commercial or a sales pitch.  It is to look upon another with the gaze of Christ.  This gaze introduces something new into the world.  Evangelization depends upon friendship.

Pope Francis is teaching this all over the place.  Despite how it was characterized, Pope Francis didn't decide to forgo the papal apartments because they were too fancy.  He chose to live elsewhere because he wants to be around people.  Pope Francis doesn't just say that "shepherds should take on the smell of the sheep." He actually lives out his words.  He wants to be around people.  There is a danger among bishops and priests that we become isolated from the people.  We can live remote from them.  

As we think about the importance of evangelization, I think we need to think firstly about charity.  How are we growing in charity?  Are bishops close to their priests?  Do they love their priests?  Or, are they remote from their priests?  Do people see an attractive bond that exists between bishops and priests?

Are priests living in fraternal charity together?  Do people look at their priests and see models of friendship?  Do people see priests loving one another and helping one another to live lives of holiness?  

Are priests close to their people or do they live priesthood like a job?  Do priests love their people?  Does the parish priest live among the people?  Does he know his people and visit their homes?  Or, is he remote and treat priesthood like a profession?

Are parishes (and, in my instance, a Newman House) places where people learn how to live Christian friendships?  Do we love the disciple at our side?  Is the way we love one another a point of attraction for others?

This may sound like a harsh criticism (in which I include myself), but perhaps the real problem that we need to address is our lack of charity.  While Pope Francis is busy about reorganizing Vatican departments, his real work seems to be in getting out and being close to people.  When we see a politician kissing a baby or visiting a homeless shelter, the cynic in us thinks, "He's trying to get votes." But, Pope Francis already got his votes and he's not up for re-election.  He, I think, is trying to teach all of us that evangelization is about charity.  

We can pack a few extra books, a couple of mission statements, a website, a google calendar, a pastoral plan, and an extra cloak and call it a day.  But, Jesus didn't tell us to pack all of that.  Instead, he sent us out two by two.  Two by two, we have to love each other, forgive each other, endure each other, and look mercifully upon each other.  Carrying a pack full of "Evangelization Tricks" allows us to think that the power to evangelize comes from us.  When we build our evangelization efforts around loving our fellow disciple, we humbly acknowledge that the power comes not from us, but from Christ.

When we think that Evangelization depends upon our bag of tricks, it is easy to blame the "bag of tricks" when things do not go well.  When we see that evangelization begins with being faithful to the friendship of discipleship, then we see that it is our failure to love that is often the problem.  Focussing too much on data, programs, planning, and skills runs the risk of turning evangelization into something impersonal.  And it is this impersonal approach to Christianity that drives people away.  

Christianity is personal.  Evangelization is personal.  St. Augustine heard St. Ambrose preach.  It was personal.  St. Matthew heard Jesus call him.  It was personal.  Love is personal.  Our wounds are personal.  Our fears are personal.  Our sorrows are personal.  Our injuries are personal.  Our sins are personal.  This is why we need an encounter with a personal savior.  How shall we encounter him?  One place that we surely encounter him is in the love that is shared between his disciples.

When we fail to love each other as Christians, evangelization suffers.  Since the mission of the Church is to go and make disciples, it would seem that the command that we love one another is urgent.  When Pope Francis urges bishops to be close to their priests or when he urges priests to be close to their people, he is doing so because this closeness is a key for the New Evangelization.  Evangelization without love is just another corporation.  Pope Francis is betting on love and he has good reason to do so.  Jesus risked his entire plan on love.  One of the holes in our evangelization efforts might be that we are focussing too much on skills and plans and too little on love and friendship.  Evangelization requires charity and we all need continued education in the life of charity.  It is in friendship with my fellow disciples that I learn how to evangelize because it is in friendship that I learn how to love.

1 comment:

  1. This is right on the money Fr. David. Evangelization begins with relationship. That's the way Jesus did it. That's the way the apostles did it. We miss that so much in the Church today. We make it about programs and great speakers and things like that. Meanwhile, we're not being welcoming.