Saturday, January 24, 2015

Evangelization Soup

Someone once told me that his pastor would always say to the parishioners, "Look, this is not my parish.  It's your parish.  I'm leaving here in a few years."  That was his way of trying to get people to take responsibility.  I understand that he was simply trying to motivate people, but his experience and mine are completely different.  For me, priesthood has to be lived from the inside of an experience.  The priest is not the one responsible for "creating" an experience or an encounter.  For me, when I'm passionate about something it is because it is mine, something that I'm living, something that moves me.  Evangelization is a response to an experience that I am presently living, something that is happening to me.  It is not something that I create.

Earlier this week, I was just totally dragging.  After a few days, I went to the doctor and came home with a case of pneumonia, but I'm feeling much better now that the antibiotics are doing their thing.  During the week, however, I was remembering that when I was a pastor, a few sneezes would result in a long procession of wonderful women from the parish arriving in my kitchen with containers of homemade soup.  Doubtful of my cooking abilities, they often attached very detailed instructions that contained everything except a diagram of how to find the stove.  "Father Barnes, if you put this in the microwave, be sure to take the aluminum foil off first.  You CANNOT put aluminum foil in the microwave."  Each of those containers of soup was an expression of an affection, a bond, a relationship, an event that I was living from the inside.  It deepened in me my affection for those people--not just those individuals, but the whole community.

When you are working with college students, there is no soup line!  (I'm actually grateful for that.  Pop Tart Soup just doesn't sound all that appetizing to me).  This week reminded me again, however, that I live the encounter with Christ from the inside. There were all of these small moments of charity on the part of others in our Catholic Center community (and in the rectory where I live) when I encountered the love of God.  

They were little things; like when I came home from work one day this week and bumped into the pastor of the rectory where I live.  The day before, he told me that I should not go to work and should rest.  But, I didn't listen.  When I bumped into him on the stairs,  I felt like I was in high school and got caught sneaking in during the middle of the night. The next day, I stayed in bed.  I'm grateful for that kind of fraternal charity.  People at the Catholic Center going out of their way to give me a ride to the doctor's. Charity.  Staff members picking up my slack.  Charity.  Priest friends and lay friends who just checked in.  Charity.  All small things, but it is these small things that build an attachment.  Without affection, without charity, without friendship, parishes, communities, and presybyterates lack humanity.  People (like me) are looking for something that will answer the great desires of the human heart. When we see and encounter the true humanity that is offered through the life of the friendship of the Church, this draws us in and attaches us.  It is particularly edifying to encounter this type of love among young people.

Recently, one of the college students said to me, "You know what I really like that we do at the Catholic Center?  I like how a big group goes out for lunch after Sunday Mass together.  I like it because it is not an 'official' event or something that we plan.  It just happens."  Music to my ears.  This is not something manufactured or obligatory.  It is an attachment.  It is the result of an affection that these students have for one another.  That weekly lunch that "just happens" is for me a sign of true life.  It is something that arose organically among the students.  It often consists of many of the same students and staff, but it is always open to others.  It is attractive because one sees that a friendship exists at that table in the dining hall.

After a week of being sick, I'm convinced all over again that one--often overlooked--key to evangelization is friendship.  The human heart desires to be loved and to love. In the friendship of the Church, one encounters a love--an affection--that awakens a new humanity within the person.  When we are faithful to this friendship, we are re-evangelizing one another.  We are sharing with one another all over again the good news of God's love.  I need this re-evangelization daily.  I need to encounter the good news of God's love daily.  When I am evangelized by the love of those with whom Christ has placed me, it draws me closer to them.  This friendship becomes attractive to others because it corresponds to what every heart desires.

Throughout the Church we are telling people that they have to get out there and evangelize.  At the same time, we have to make certain that those people are living the Christian Event from the inside. If they aren't living the friendship of the Church themselves--if they are not living a friendship that awakens their heart and deepens their own humanity--then there's no way they can go and evangelize anybody.  In order to move others, we ourselves have to be moved.  We need to continually awaken within one another the realization that we have been chosen and are living something that is truly great.  The way to do this?  Live our friendship together in charity.   

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