Thursday, March 3, 2016

And when you see what you need to see

I've just been reading Evangelii Nuntiandi for an upcoming class on the subject of evangelization.  There is such beauty, such depth to the words that Pope Paul the VI promulgated for the Church in this encyclical.  The overarching theme seems to be though that evangelization is not just something we preach, not just a word we offer, but something we become.  It constantly reaffirms the notion that our work is incomplete, the liberation of those suffering from temporal oppression is not extant, until we also proclaim the Gospel, until we also introduce them to Jesus Christ himself.  It is not enough to just feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, if we stop there without also giving voice to the message that we ourselves received that brought us to this way of life.

It is not superfluous to recall the following points: to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world - that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life.     
Evangelii Nuntiandi  §26

In the Gospel for tomorrow one of the Scribes comes to Jesus to ask him questions.  We don't know the reason for this man's question.   Could he have been trying to test Jesus to trip him up?  Mayhaps he was simply trying to learn more about this carpenter's son from Nazareth.  No matter what the reason for his questioning what we have to look at is Jesus response.  Jesus is the premier example for us of what it means to be an evangelizer.  It is not just about preaching the Good News as it has been given to us, but also about living it.  Jesus responds that to love God and your neighbor is the summation of all the Law and the Prophets, the two greatest commandments.  The thing is, he backs it up with his life.  He lives out the Gospel, he doesn't just proclaim it.  That is why people flock to him.  They see fruit of his life, they see healings and miracles, they see kindness, they experience God's love.

I think that is why the next interaction is so telling.  The Scribe responds in agreement that Jesus has answered correctly according to his own beliefs.  We do that a lot don't we?  We ask someone a question about their faith then are excited with our own confirmation bias when it agrees with what we already know to be true.  Then Jesus says something that astonishes, something that challenges, something unexpected: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”  He cuts to the heart of the matter.  He offers the most essential component of Christian evangelization, he bears witness in a 'simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ."  Christ is the Kingdom of God.   He offers them himself.  Again as he said to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  

They dared not speak to him and ask more questions.  They were confronted with something that spoke of a higher power, a higher knowledge.  A metaphysics beyond their limited understanding.  This expert of the Law was confronted with the written tablets in flesh, with God himself and he was thrust into silence.  We do not know the outcome of this encounter, but we see a model for us ourselves.  It begins with discussion, with relationship.   Evangelization does not begin with preaching or condemning, but with bringing your uniqueness to that person.  After a relationship is built, after friendship has begun, then comes witness.  Personal testimony.  Paul the VI's encyclical states it in such a beautiful way:

It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual's personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique word that he receives from someone else.
Evangelii Nuntiandi §46
You have been created with unique gifts, talents, and ways of doing things. It is through you that other people become aware of who Christ is.  You who have been evangelized have been called to do the same, it is not a mission for a select few but for the entire Church, for every single person. We must follow our Master's example and point to the true foundation of reality, that which exists beyond the mere temporal realm that we currently experience, to the essence of being itself.  To the Great Soul that exists beyond our human limits, to God himself.  Personal witness is where all of it must begin.  Evangelization must become for us what it was for Christ, not a technique, not a tool to be used to an end, but something that suffuses our very being so much so that it begins to spread out into the environment we have been sent into.  God has planted seeds.  Sometimes that seed is in your heart, to be nourished, cherished and grown.  Sometimes it's in someone else's heart and we need to water, feed and protect it as it grows.   Then again, there are times that the seed is you.

Lent is a time for us to grow in this.  Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving we can begin to draw closer to God.  Just as Hosea encourages the Israelites as they go through their own desert of testing, from the division and fall of the kingdom on through to the Babylonian Captivity.   He encourages them to draw back to God.  To not trust in the armies of the Assyrians to protect them, rather to trust in the Lord to provide for them.  God promises to nourish us and protect us, to make us grow like the greatest of all of the trees.  He wants to take this small seed that we are and turn us into Saints.  Are you ready for that?  Ready to become a missionary in your daily life, pointing to Christ in everything that you do?  Are you ready to make evangelization a part of your very being itself?  Take comfort in these words:

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
“I am like a verdant cypress tree”– 
Because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk

Let Lent be a time in which we allow God to humble us, to take us with Jonah into the belly of the whale, that he might spit us out on the shore of our own lives at the exact place he has been trying to send us all along.  God is calling you to be tall like the cypress tree and to bear much fruit.  It's time for us to stop trying to run in the other direction and to realize that just like those scribes, we "are not far from the Kingdom of God."  All we have to do is open our eyes to the Eucharist, to the Sacraments, to the Church.  Then to join her (the Church) in her mission to evangelize the world.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."