Saturday, July 19, 2014

Friendship is Essential for Evangelization

Sts Peter and Paul
During the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking a lot about what our programming at the Newman Center at Boston University will be like in the coming year.  What do we need to alter, add, or toss overboard?  In the midst of this, a friend of mine asked me to begin reading with him a text from Fr. Julian Carron, the head of the ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation.  The text (which I have only begun to read), draws upon Pope Francis' encyclical Evangelii gaudium, and directs us to consider the need to return to "the essential."

I do not know where Carron's text is leading, but this question about what is essential in my life is helpful to me.  It is helpful because Pope Francis says that we need to return to what is essential for the purpose of evangelization.  His point, of course, is that Jesus Christ is essential.  Christ must be what is preached and lived.  But, in a way, this is too easy.  Carron says that we can all come up with that right answer.  We can say to ourselves, "Yes, yes!  Christ is what is essential!"  Then, we can go back to what we were doing.  It makes me recall when I was in grammar school and I discovered that the answers to the algebra problems were all found in the back of the book!  This was like a dream come true.  But, Sister Bernadette would look at such feeble attempts to game the system and would remind us, "I am not a magician.  I am a mathematician."  What did that mean?  It meant that she didn't care if we wrote down the right answer.  She wanted to see HOW we got to the answer.  

Sometimes, in our life, we live our Christianity simply by checking the answers in the back of the book.  "Ah, Christ is the answer.  Yes, let's just keep repeating that."  But, Carron says that there is something dishonest about this.  In our hearts, we know that we haven't done the work.  We might have the answer, but we really aren't living that answer.  The only way we can truly say what is essential in our life is to look at our life and our experience.

As I said, I do not know where Carron's text is leading because I am reading it a few pages at a time.  But this question about what is essential has really struck me.  What is essential in my life?  When I look at my life as a man, as a Catholic, and as a priest, what gives my life consistency?  One thing clearly jumps out to me.  Friendship.  In my experience as a priest, it is Christian friendship that continuously awakens my own humanity and it is this experience that impels me to announce the Gospel to others.  It is in the encounter with real flesh and blood Christians that I am drawn closer to Christ and experience his tender gaze upon me.  This experience makes me love the Church.

I don't want to spend my life trying to get people to join a club or a cause.  Evangelization is not recruitment.  Evangelization is to share the joy of an encounter.  When I was a pastor, I wasn't looking to recruit parishioners.  I was a man who discovered something that continuously amazed me.  I repeatedly discovered anew the joy of encountering Christ in the friendship that we shared together. I was not the head salesman.  I was, however, the head witness.  I was truly moved by the experience of friendship.  This to me became the essential part of our parish's life.

As I think about the Newman Center at Boston University and our mission to evangelize the campus, I think of what is essential.  What is essential is Christ, but that is too easy to say.  I need to look at and be faithful to my own experience.  When I do that, I am reminded that Christian friendship is what is essential.  This is what awakens my humanity and gives consistency to my life.  

What will make me a most effective witness to the Gospel is if I am faithful to my own experience.  And, my experience of the Church is friendship.  This is what moves me and surprises me.  I am moved by a Presence that makes Himself known to me in the friendship of the Church.  Sometimes, evangelizers can sound like used car salesmen.  They are interested in getting numbers and in having a good monthly report.  I don't want that for my life.  Instead, I want to be a witness.  I want to share with others the joy of what moves me.  What moves me is living the friendship of Christ with others.  The young people whom I serve are half my age.  But, the truth of the matter is that I am moved by their friendship.  In what we are living together--in the Sacraments, in prayer, at lunch, over coffee, in Italy, in seriousness, in humor, in debates, and in countless other gestures--I am becoming more fully human and thus more joyful.  It is the love that I discover in and through this communion of the Church that makes me want to be a witness to others.

In the year ahead, no matter what type of programming we develop at the Newman Center, the most important thing for our community to do is to build up our friendship.  This is what is essential.  When I was a pastor, I discovered that the best way to build a parish is to build a friendship. As priests, we are sometimes tempted to think of ourselves as "officials" who "run" the parish.  But my experience is something different.  My experience--both in the parish and at the Newman Center--is that I am effective insofar as I am faithful to the friendship that Christ gives to me in the people whom I am sent to serve.  The more I am moved, the more I witness.  I am moved by the friendship that I encounter among those whom I serve.  This friendship saves me and builds me up.  The friendship of those people encourages me and communicates to me the love of Christ.  Their friendship convinces me of Christ.  Friendship builds up the person.  

As I live among these great young people, I discover the same reality that I lived among my parishioners.  Their friendship builds me up and helps me to live a fuller humanity.  The more we are faithful to our friendship--the more we experience the love of Christ in and through our friendship--the more we are impelled to share the joy that has been placed into our hearts.  This is evangelization.


  1. This is right on.

  2. "Evangelization is to share the joy of an encounter." That has to be one of the best explanations I have ever heard. Simple and at the same time very powerful. thank you father for giving me something to reflect on - and do - today.

    PS. I'm not a student, don't live in MA and am probably as old as you