Saturday, February 15, 2014

Evangelization: Witnessing, Not Selling

To spend each day with witnesses is what I need in my life.  Although every Christian is called to be a witness, every Christian also needs witnesses.  In my life as a priest, Jesus surrounds me with a cloud of witnesses.  I may have more theological knowledge than some of them.  I may have more life experience than some of them. But, they are witnesses of Christ to me.

This is one of the beautiful gifts of priesthood; to be constantly surrounded by witnesses.  I spent the past two days encountering witnesses to Christ.  Most of these witnesses are the young people whom I am called to serve.  When I see them loving each other as true friends in Christ; when I see them praying the Rosary together, planning a retreat together, going on a Friday night to an evening of prayer or to an evening of Catholic education, spending their Saturday preparing a retreat or serving those with special needs--in these moments, I am educated.  This is their witness to me.
Sometimes Catholic organizations sound more like they are advertising and less like they're evangelizing.  They use language and methods that sound like they were stolen from Dilbert. This approach risks turning the work of evangelization into a merely human endeavor to increase membership, rather than a supernatural initiative to introduce people into Trinitarian Communion.  Jesus doesn't need better sales people.  He needs witnesses.  Evangelization is not about coming up with better and more attractive sales pitches.  It is about forming better witnesses.  It is about people who have encountered Christ and who have been moved by him.  It is about people living the Christian event.

Blessed John Paul II was an evangelizer because he witnessed to Christ.  Young people heeded his message not because he was a good salesman, but because he was a faithful witness who himself could be moved by the very young people to whom he preached.  As a Church, we make a big mistake when we play it safe and adopt the language of corporations.  At this moment in the Church's life, we need men and women like Sts. Francis, Dominic, Theresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II.  These witnesses did not play it safe.

This morning, I had Mass with the retreat team of BU students who are preparing for next week's retreat.  In the first reading, we heard of how Jeroboam set up idols, created his own priesthood, and set up new places of worship.  His plan led to his destruction.  Too often in our life, we can think that it is our plans and projects that will bring about a successful evangelization.  But, this can lead to us being like Jeroboam.  Instead of listening to Christ and obeying him, we try to do it on our own.  We adopt our own strategies.

In contrast, the Gospel today reveals to us where things really begin.  They begin in the heart of Christ who is moved with mercy for the people.  He knows that they are hungry and does not want them to collapse along the way.  He allows his disciples to participate in this act of mercy by allowing them to offer their limited supply of bread and fish.  Christ then takes this offering, multiplies it, and feeds the crowd.  Evangelization always begins not with us, but with Christ.  Then, we are invited to offer our limited gifts and allow Christ to use them for the sake of others.

Evangelization is always a surprise.  If our strategies do not arise out of a sense of wonder and in obedience to an encounter, then I think it is a good sign that these strategies are not true evangelization.  Evangelization makes us wonder, "How is this possible?"  Evangelization is always the experience of a few loaves and a few fish feeding four thousand.  For me, I look at these young people and wonder, "How is this possible?"  How can these young people have so much Faith, be so committed to Christ, be so devoted to the Sacraments, pray so beautifully?  When you think of the world in which they live and the secularism that dominates the culture, how is this possible?  This is a miracle.

Like the people in the Gospel today, I need to be fed.  I need to be fed by the mercy of Christ.  This mercy reaches me by passing through his witnesses.  It is a tenderness and mercy that moves me. and surprises me.  Slogans and advertisements will not sustain me for the long journey. In fact, these things can wear us down. I need witnesses.  The world needs witnesses to Christ.  In a culture where there is so much opposition to the message of the Gospel, it can be tempting to take the path of Jeroboam who attempted to create his own method.  But, this is not the right path.  The right path is the path of Christ.  It is a path that always begins in his heart, passes through witnesses, and provides everything we need to complete the journey.  I am grateful that Christ continues to communicate his tenderness toward me through the witness of others.  In this way, I am evangelized and am moved to witness this to others.

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