Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Evangelize Begins with Being Moved By Another

With Assisi in the Background, Making Our Way to the Church of the Portiuncula
In the Book of Judges we read how the Lord commanded Gideon to shrink the number of his troops before waging battle.  The Lord warned that if Gideon were to march into battle with too many troops, the Israelites might think that the victory was attained through their own achievement.  Instead, just 300 Israelite soldiers waged a successful battle against the Medianites.  The glory belonged entirely to God.

When I began this blog, I did so in order to share a little bit about what it is like to be a priest and to do my part in advancing the New Evangelization.  I am just back from spending a beautiful two weeks traveling around Italy with a couple of people whom I met through my assignment at Boston University and who kindly invited me along.  Like other times that I've travelled with parish families on vacation, the beauty of this trip, the experience of prayer and of friendship, and the joy of living discipleship together clarified something to me about the New Evangelization.

The New Evangelization belongs to Christ.  It is by his power that the Gospel advances.  My job--the job of every disciple--is to witness to the power of Christ in their life.  In recent months, I've grown increasingly concerned about an approach to evangelization that seems to rely almost completely on a corporate/business model.  It's vocabulary (and thus, its methods) is dominated by terms like, "market share, statistics, value statements, mission statements, flow charts, policies, and procedures."  There has been an almost wholesale catapulting of traditional ecclesial, evangelical, and theological terminology in favor of a corporate/business model.  Sometimes, it has the feel of theological language being attached to the corporate language as an afterthought.

In comparison to this model, I would point out the value of such books as "Forming Intentional Disciples" and the Facebook forum by the same name.  On this page, one can find great statistics about religious practices, helpful discussions about various programs, and sincere attempts to understand data.  But, in the final analysis, Sherry Weddell--the author--and those who participate in her forum do not fall under the delusion that the New Evangelization will be the result of understanding data and building programs and procedures based upon data.  In the final analysis, as the title of the book makes clear, the New Evangelization is about "Forming Intentional Disciples."  It is about following Christ.

So, what does any of this have to do with Gideon, the Medianites, this blog, and my trip to Italy?  I think one of the significant problems with the corporation model of evangelization (that is detached from any theological anchor) is that it gives the impression--perhaps unintentionally--that victory will be the result of our planning and strategizing.  This model can sometimes skip over discipleship and rely simply upon professionalism.  We are training people to "do things," but we are not forming them first (and consistently) as disciples of Christ.  

When I was kneeling next to my travel mates at the tomb of St. Francis, I thought to myself, "This is so awesome.  What a great gift it is to be here and to pray together."  St. Francis changed the world by being a faithful disciple.  The Church was rebuilt by a radical following of Christ.  It was rebuilt by the witness of his life and those of his company.

I have little doubt that the corporation model of evangelization is unsustainable.  Detached from any substantive theological foundation, it will suffocate under its own weight.  But for those who want to propose an alternative form of evangelization, we must be cautious that we do not make the same fatal mistake of relying upon our own cleverness and the persuasiveness of our our argumentation.  That would be equally as disastrous.  That would be to think that success is dependent simply upon ourselves.  Sometimes, in my zeal to propose an alternative to the corporation model, I find myself resorting to self-reliance rather than to relying upon a simple witness to Christ.

We must continually propose the beauty of Christ and witness to the work of Christ in our life and in the life of our communion together.  Christ is attractive.  Following Christ is to be happy.  Living in the communion of the Church is beautiful.  The witness of a holy life draws others.  The joy of the Gospel is not something manufactured but something that is received.

Sometimes, when I write about evangelization, I do so in the hopes of moving the ball--even slightly--in a different direction.  But, Gideon, St. Francis, and Italy reminded me of something.  The best way to move the ball is simply to be moved by Christ and to witness to this movement in my own life.  What moves me in my life is witnessing how Christ lives and works in the lives of those whom I encounter.  This is what convinces me of Christ and makes me desire to follow him more.  What convinces me of Christ is not my own successes, my own virtues, or the success of my own pastoral strategies.  What convinces me of Christ is the tenderness and mercy of his gaze on my life.  It is a tenderness and mercy that comes to me through the friendship of the companions whom Christ places in my life and through the Sacraments.  If this is what convinces me, then I ought to trust that this is what Christ will use to move others.

I just spent two weeks in Italy eating great food, drinking good wine, visiting and praying at various shrines and holy places, and experiencing the loving gaze of Christ on me through the friendship and companionship of those who travelled with me.  It was a beautiful experience of what it means to live the Catholic life.  Gideon had his 300 soldiers and that was enough.  Francis had a few brothers and that was enough.  I had some pasta, gelato, wine, and some shrines all lived in the companionship and friendship of other disciples.  That's my witness. And, I trust, it's enough.


  1. Beautiful post. Thank you.

    "The joy of the Gospel is not something manufactured but something that is received."

    Fr. Mark