Just this week, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical called “The Light of Faith” which echoed, among other things, the importance of newly evangelizing the world and its peoples.
I’m not sure about each of you, but I am aware that many American Catholics don’t understand this “new evangelization”, wondering why and how we are to accomplish it, squeamish about the prospect of going door-to-door and preaching the Good News to total strangers (by the way, not necessarily what we mean).
Instead, consider the gift of faith that you first received in Baptism and that you continually receive by the grace of the Sacraments or by your humble, simple prayers offered each day. That gift of faith is a gift from God intended to build us up into His people. And if we are to be “His people”, we see that we are not isolated or alone, but rather each of us enters into a kind of spiritual community, easily witnessed by our gathering together as a parish each Sunday, but more difficult to see when we go forth from here, dispersed into our own elements of the worldâ€¦in our jobs, our homes, among our friends, in our own particular schools, our own individual works, etc. And it is in those often-times more difficult places whereâ€¦
- our faith might be tucked away for fear of ridicule;
- our faith might not challenge the world for fear of offending another;
- our faith might take a backseat so that we don’t have to risk someone identifying us as a Catholic when we’re engaged in sinful behavior.
I am all too aware of these fears, because I struggle with them as wellâ€¦
- it’s difficult to propose faith as a response to anything in a world that doesn’t care about it;
- it’s challenging to propose faith to a culture that allows people to think without logic or reason, and then celebrates their ideas as equal or worthy of consideration, or even masterful;
- it’s nearly impossible to propose faith in a society where the three people who matter most are “me”, “myself”, and “I”â€¦to the extreme detriment of caring for, or even considering â€˜the other’ and their good.
Now that sounds pretty dire, I know. But it’s the world in which we live, isn’t it? And if that’s the case, then the world needs some kind of remedy, some kind of aide to see the errors and to feel invited again into correction, into “the Good”.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul expresses that because he has faith in Jesus Christcrucified and raisedthat faith makes him a new creation. Instead of any other demand (like circumcision) or any work that HE must do, St. Paul is recreated by Godâ€¦Paul is made new when God deposits faith into Paulâ€¦as faith enters into his heart and flows through his whole being. Note well: his whole being is now consumed in Christ, thus, every aspect of his life is now affected properly by faith. His words, his gestures, his writings, his thoughts, his desires, his actionsâ€¦everything now must have the trace of Jesus Christ sewn throughout. So, for example, he can’t separate and compartmentalize the issues of faith away from the issues of the world. He can’t, for example, say his morning prayers and then go out and harm another person; he can’t, on one hand, extol the virtue of justice and then, on the other hand, act cruelly or unjustly toward another. So, St. Paul is one new man because he has now been brought to faith in Christ Jesus, and that new man is rightly and completely saturated by Christ and holiness.
Will he be tempted away from faith? You bet, but he begs others who would wish him ill: “from now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” In other words, Paul wants to bear those marks of faithâ€¦he wants to show Jesus to othersâ€¦he wants to leave his sin behind and live in the peace of Christ with everyone. Even amidst discomfort, fear, ridicule or torture, Paul’s faith now charges him to live according to faithâ€¦always and everywhere.
Now, by extension, because of our own baptism and growth in faith, each one of us, too, is a new creation. Every person who comes into contact with the Holy Trinity in baptism thus receives the gift of faith from God. Each of us, then, is called into the communion of God’s family. And that family begs us for our full participation, our clear witness to faith, our help to build up and protect this growing family. Just like Paul, we too are fully and wholly enflamed with the gift of faith, thus
- we cannot set it aside at one point and pick it up at another;
- we can’t profess it when convenient, but ignore it when difficult;
- we can’t, on the one hand, discard it when its costly, and then, on the other hand, cling to it when we need its comfort, its support, or its truth;
- we can’t “live as I wish” and then expect faith to purchase our ticket into the heavenly kingdom at our death.
What we can do, however, is learn how to trust Him and receive His love, and then live anew in the faith of Christ Jesus. What do I mean by this?
If we are to grow this family of faith and respond to the invitation that God issues to all, then we have to consider:
- what (or WHO) we’re inviting others into;
- how we’re inviting them;
- why we’re inviting them.
We’re inviting them into a living and rewarding faith. We’re sharing with them the relationship that God has built in each one of us who have faith. We’re expressing the fact that “God is our GOODâ€¦and God is ALL GOOD”, â€¦God is the good that everyone seeksâ€¦He is the Good that everyone can findâ€¦and we find Him in His Church.
So, how then, do we invite them? This is the difficult part: we invite as God invitesâ€¦in LOVE. If, for example, I say to another person that if they don’t practice faith they’ll go to hell, that doesn’t sound too inviting, does it? If I come to Church with a scowl, witnesses of my entry won’t want to follow, will they? If I chastise and condemn sinners during the week, this tells others something very clearâ€¦and it’s not very inviting.
This is not to say, that we need to be without sin in order to invite others. But our own humility, our own sorrow when we’re wrong, our own joy about faith and God and virtue, our own patience with ourselves and othersâ€¦all these are kindly and gentle invitations for others to see us for who we are: a sinful people, yes, but nevertheless a people of love, in love with God.
Look at all of the encounters people had with the Lord throughout the Gospels: not onenot a single oneincluded Jesus condemning them. Rather, He always looked at them with love, and encouraged them to follow Him.
Finally, why would we invite others to come to faith? Maybe that’s the wrong question: instead why wouldn’t we invite others to faith? If we’ve discovered â€˜the Good’ in faith, then it’s only natural for us to share that Good News. Look at our Gospel: it’s God who invites, we are simply sent to proclaim Him, to show His truth to the worldâ€¦a world that is oftentimes hostile, but still needy for such a remedy. We can show the world a joy that it lacks, a true and enduring peace that is missing, a forgiveness that it only lightly grasps, and a love that is forever eternal and full.
So like the disciples of our gospel, we too will be sentâ€¦and are sent at the end of each Mass when we’re told to “Go forth, go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” We are sent to proclaim His name, to profess our faith, and to build up the Kingdom of God in our midst.
Thisâ€¦is our New Evangelization.
May God go with you always, as your Guide and your Love.