Sunday, January 18, 2015

When It Comes to Evangelization, Specifics Matter

It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.  John the Baptist had pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God."  Decades later, John the Evangelist remembers the encounter with precise detail.  He remembers that he was with Andrew.  He remembers that it was John the Baptist who pointed him out.  He remembers Andrew going and getting Peter.  He remembers that it was around four o'clock in the afternoon.  In the first reading we heard today at Mass, something very specific happens.  Three times during the night, Samuel thinks that Eli is calling him.  Finally, Eli advises Samuel that if it should happen again, Samuel should say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Eli helped Samuel to hear and respond to God's word.  John the Baptist helped Andrew and John.  Andrew went and got Peter.  God uses us to reach others.  This is evangelization.

This morning, about thirty-five students who have arrived back early from semester break joined me for Mass in our small chapel at the BU Catholic Center.  Usually our Sunday Mass is at the interdenominational chapel, but because we were few in number, we squeezed in together at our small chapel.  As I looked around during Mass, I was touched to see how these young people help one another to encounter Christ.  They are living a friendship together, praying together, helping one another to live a Christian life, and growing together in Christ.  Specificity matters in Christianity.  

God has brought these particular young people together at this particular moment in time.  It is here and now that they are encountering Christ.  Sometimes, there is an attempt to get Catholic people to "transcend" the specificity of their life.  In other words, we hear it said that "It doesn't matter where you go to Mass."  On some level, this is true.  One of the great things about being Catholic is that you can go to Mass at any church in the world and know that it is the same Mass.  And, of course, that's a beautiful thing.  What matters ultimately is the Eucharist.  

But, I think we should be very cautious about being too dismissive of specificity.  God is specific.  He called Abraham--specifically.  He called Moses--specifically.  He led them to a specific promised land.  He became flesh in a specific womb.  He died on a specific Cross.  He used Eli to reach Samuel.  He used John the Baptist to reach Andrew and John, and Andrew to reach Peter.  He encountered them at a specific moment in time--"It was around four o'clock in the afternoon."  Specificity matters in Christianity.  Flesh matters in Christianity.  Time matters.  Matter matters.

Without specificity, Christianity becomes vague and theoretical.  If we don't take specificity seriously, I think we will fail to take evangelization seriously.  Without a true seriousness about specificity, evangelization becomes a notion.  But, when we take the concrete seriously, then evangelization becomes about "the person in front of me," and not some vague idea of "spreading the good news."  Charity is specific. I love this person and this community.  While it is true that every Catholic is part of the universal Church, he became part of the universal Church because he heard the word preached by a specific person.  He was baptized by a specific priest and within a specific community of the universal Church.

Today, I offered Mass with a very specific community.  Like the Twelve whom Jesus specifically chose, he chose these young people to be together in this particular moment and place in their life.  They have to know that Jesus is doing something special among them.  Not in some vague, general way.  No, Jesus is doing something in and through this specific community.  The more they are attached to one another in true Christian charity, the more they will be compelled to share their joy with others.  We experience the love of God in and through specific encounters.  I experience Christ's presence and love through this specific community.  I want them to invite others to be part of our life together.  I want them to ask specific other young people to be part of the Church.  I want them to be points of encounter for other young people on our campus.  

What I want for them is that some day, many decades from now, some Catholic will be looking back upon his life and his conversion, and he will call to mind the name of one of these fellow students, and he will say, "I became Catholic because I met her and she invited me to come with her to the Catholic Center.  It was around four o'clock in the afternoon."  

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