Friday, February 8, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’ve never really considered myself to be a "cutting edge" kind of guy. However, someone at my former parish once shared with me that I was considered to be something of an innovator, because I tried to make it a point, during the announcements at the end of Mass, to welcome all of the newcomers and visitors to our church. The person who told me this has no objections to what I do; she simply told me that this isn’t something most Catholics are used to hearing. However, maybe we need to become used to it. I say this because our Church today very much stresses the need for evangelization- which, simply put, is the sharing of our faith with the world around us. Inviting newcomers to our parish and welcoming them when they come is a simple but important way we can do this.

I speak of evangelization because today’s Scripture readings speak of it. For instance, we heard how the prophet Isaiah answered the call to be sent forth as God’s spokesperson. We heard also St. Paul write to the Corinthians about the evangelistic efforts of the apostles. "We preached," Paul wrote, "and so you believed." And in the in the gospel, we heard Jesus commission his apostles to be evangelists, or as he put it, "fishers of men."

This is a commission, however, that Jesus makes not just to the apostles, but to all of us. He calls us to witness to our faith, that the faith might be witnessed by others. Not something we’re necessarily used to doing. Traditionally, Catholics have thought of evangelism as a Protestant thing, and maybe we’ve experienced some distasteful examples of it. We can be afraid of wearing our faith on our sleeves, so to speak, or of imposing our faith on others. And while we are usually glad to say that we’re Catholics, we often have a hard time sharing our faith in the Lord. So how might we become the evangelists that our Lord calls us to be?

One way we can help spread the faith is through prayer. For instance, I’ll bet every one of us knows someone who really needs God in their life right now. We need to regularly pray for these people.

I recall a story that a seminary classmate of mine once told. Earlier in his life he had wanted nothing to do with Christianity. He worked as a grocer in a small English village, and he had a reputation as an angry and unkind person. So three women who were regular customers decided that they would make it a point of praying for him every day. Some time later, my classmate found himself taking a walk on a Sunday morning. He heard the village church bell ringing, and something inside him told him he needed to go. With some apprehension, we went in and took a seat in a pew. All of a sudden he heard women’s voices whispering behind him: "It’s him! He came!" It was the three women who had been praying for him, overjoyed that their prayers had been answered.

As I drive to St. Hugh’s every Sunday morning, I try to make it a point to pray that God will send newcomers to us that day. What would happen at our parish if we all made that prayer? We’ll never know unless we try.

Beyond prayer, evangelization also involves witnessing to our faith by our deeds, decisions, and the overall manner in which we conduct our lives. Being peacemakers and agents of forgiveness, and by being compassionately and actively concerned for the needs and welfare of others is a powerful and compelling testimony to our faith. As one ancient Christian writer said when asked why so many people back then were becoming Christian, he said, "People see how much Christians love each other!"

In addition to demonstrating our faith, evangelization also involves speaking of our faith with others- gently, respectfully, never coercively, and always with an appreciation of how God may be working in the other person’s life. We don’t need to be great scholars to do this. I recall one time as a very new priest when a young man asked me in a restaurant how I could believe in God. Over a plate of nachos I described some of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God- while the young man’s eyes glazed over. Looking back, I don’t think my approach was very effective.

Don’t get me wrong- philosophical answers are important, and our faith provides them. We should try to know as much about our faith as possible- for our benefit, and so we can give an accurate account of it to others. What’s just as important, however, and what I think most people in our culture are eager to hear, is our experience of faith. They want to know: How has our faith helped us? How does it shape the way we see and respond to the world around us? How has God entered into our lives and made us into the people we are today? They even want to hear about the challenges and doubts that we may have contended with- because they often struggle with those same things as well.

The place to start doing this is at home with your family or your closest friends. Talk about the Scripture readings from Mass or the homily on your Sunday drive home. Discuss how your faith perspective shapes your understanding of current events. Read a Catholic book together and talk about it with each other. Sharing faith with those closest to you can deepen your faith and prepare you to more easily share your faith with others.

Can it be a little frightening to do this? Yes, maybe we’ll be rejected or ridiculed. Maybe we won’t think we’ll do a very good job. But that shouldn’t stop us. Jesus says to us as he said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men."

(My book of daily meditations for Lent is now available from Ave Maria Press: It is available also at Amazon: )

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