Sunday, August 28, 2016

Evangelization: Being Moved by What Christ Does

Pre-Seminary Lunch
Whether I care for the particular politician or not, I really dislike the hyped up, overly enthusiastic cheers and applause that mark most political speeches. Most speeches given by almost every political figure these days are boring or pedantic. Unfortunately, what they lack in eloquence they do not make up for by conviction, depth, or substance. The cheers and the applause that erupt at their every banal utterance doesn't make one forget that the speaker is saying absolutely nothing. In fact, it draws greater attention to the void.

Lest it seem that politicians are being treated unfairly in this, I feel this is even more the case when it comes to Catholic things. Nothing is more cringe worthy than artificial enthusiasm at church. I think we make a mistake as Catholics when we try to fake enthusiasm. It seems to me that fake enthusiasm is often directed at promoting what we are doing. It tries to make us look good. It's tempting--especially for priests--to feel the need to be the enthusiastic cheerleaders for our parish events; trying to convince people that this year's parish picnic will be the greatest extravaganza since the last World Fair.  Far more convincing, in my opinion, is the joy that comes from being moved by what God is doing.

The other day, I had lunch with a couple of men from the BU Catholic Center, one of whom is starting seminary this week. I have to admit, it brings me a ton of joy that both in my parish ministry and in my Campus Ministry, a lot of men have entered the seminary. What provides me the most joy about it, however, is that I have had the privilege of witnessing it. It's a blessing, but it's not the result of some program that I invented. We pray for vocations. We talk about vocations. We don't make vocations. I'd like to think that my contribution to these vocations (besides praying for them) is simply my joy at seeing God's hand at work in the life of another. I am genuinely enthused when I witness Christ calling to someone, "Come and follow me."

At the end of the summer, there is a two week period at BU when summer classes have ended and everything is quiet. Since very few students are on campus, we do not have the regularly scheduled Sunday Mass for those two weeks. Last night, I got a text from one recent graduate asking me if I was planning on offering Mass in the small Catholic Center Chapel today. I don't know why, but that text itself made me joyful. We agreed on a time and then I posted on social media that I'd be around for a Noon Mass. At Noon, about twenty of us had Mass together. Getting a text from a young person about Mass, posting Mass on social media, and twenty kids showing up all brings me joy. In fact, as I looked around during Mass, I caught myself smiling a few times. God is doing something in the lives of these young people. It makes me joyful.

When it comes to evangelization, I think we are most effective when we ourselves are moved by what God is doing in the lives of ourselves, our people, our parishes, and our communities. We can't move other people unless we are convincingly moved ourselves. Fake enthusiasm actually smothers true evangelization. It makes it seem like we are trying to get people excited about something that is really boring. It makes it look like we are trying too hard and are being manipulative. Being authentically moved and awed by what God is doing in the midst of his people, however, attracts others. Being moved by the way a community loves one another, serves others, forms its members, and worships together becomes a catalyst for drawing others into the life of that community. Being authentically moved is a key for true evangelization. Evangelization is not advertising. Evangelization is encountering the power of God and bearing witness to the joy that comes from that encounter.

Today at Mass, as I looked at the people gathered there, I had that overwhelming sense that "God is doing something among these people." It's not because we are all geniuses, experts, or strategists. It is because we recognize that Jesus has come into our lives, drawn us into his friendship, and is doing something among us. When we live out of this experience--out of the experience of being unworthily drawn into the joy of Christ's companionship--it is then that we become true evangelizers and not merely advertisers. We move others only when we ourselves have been moved.

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