I mentioned the other day in my post, God is a Techie….and I’m Not, that I had been inspired during the Easter season to write but had trouble making the time to do so. This reflection, the product of weeks of pondering, is one of those. Better late than never.
The Gospel on Pentecost Sunday summed up the Easter season quite well with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you , as the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21 NAB). The Gospel readings throughout Easter gave us the opportunity to really get to know Jesus and understand what He expects from us – to go forth spreading the Word by loving one another as He has loved us.
And, throughout Easter, we read from the Acts of the Apostles about how the Apostles did exactly that, proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and spreading the Word of God and His love to anyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, who would listen.
Then, today, on the Feast of St. Barnabas, we hear similar words when Jesus commissions the Twelve, “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Mt 10:7 NAB)
I don’t know about you but I can’t read the Acts of the Apostles without feeling the deep faith they professed. As I read and followed the footsteps of St. Paul, I felt the passion and enthusiasm he had for Christ. I was amazed at the courage he exhibited to bring the faith and the love of God to others in the face of persecution.
I wondered if I could have carried out Christ’s command and truly lived that apostolate? But, more importantly, I wonder if I’m fulfilling my duty (and, it is a duty) as a Christian to personally live it today?
As Catholics, we like to recite a quote, often, but probably erroneously, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and, if necessary, use words.” The message is that we should be like St. Francis who lived the Gospel and that our faith should be obvious in our actions. That’s all true, but unfortunately, it gives us the false impression that we don’t need to actually talk to anyone, to verbally make the Good News known.
But, consider if the Apostles had only demonstrated their faith through their actions without verbally preaching the Gospel? Where would the Church be today? I doubt there would be a Church.
No, as brothers and sisters in Christ, it is our duty to not only live the Gospel, but also preach the Gospel with words. So then, why does it seem to have been so easy for the Apostles to convert hundreds to The Way every day, and why is it so hard for me?
First, I think they were so abundantly graced with the virtues of Love and Fortitude that fear of rejection didn’t even phase them. Their love for, and dedication to, the Lord enabled them to foster supernatural courage. They were on a mission, and fear, if they had any, wasn’t going to stop them.
I know fear is a factor in my personal apostolate. I don’t necessarily fear rejection, rather, I fear damaging relationships with loved ones. I wince at the dichotomy in that statement. If I loved them as Christ would have me love them, I wouldn’t flinch at doing whatever I could to bring them to fully realize His love for them.
This reminds me of a story which, I think, is attributed to the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He spoke of two men, business partners and friends, one Christian and the other atheist. The atheist was on his death bed when his friend asked him if he’d like to be baptized before he passed away. The dying atheist replied, “No. If you care for and love me that much, why did you wait until now to invite me to know your Christ?”
Perhaps my fear is based more on misunderstanding than anything else. If a person to whom I am trying to evangelize has no concept of the eternal love Christ has for us, then they aren’t able to understand my love for them. And, if they don’t understand me, they’ll reject me.
It’s ironic that the person being evangelized may also feel misunderstood and rejected. If, in our attempt to evangelize, we try to impose our beliefs on them without taking the time or effort to meet them where they are and to understand their paradigm, we will most certainly alienate them.
Thus, rather than stand on the street corner and obnoxiously preach through a loud speaker, or go door to door beating people over the head with our faith, how do we reach out to others? I believe the secret is patiently and gently getting to know the other person so that they can hear and feel the love of Christ that is flowing through us, and see our joy of living a Christ life.
But, in today’s culture of electronic communications, it is getting more difficult to build personal relationships and get to know other people. Try as we might, face to face communication is uncomfortably difficult for many people, especially for our younger generation. How do we, then, crack the ice? I think the answer is to care about the other person with a desire to enter into empathetic conversation with the intention of getting to know and understand them. An attempt to understand breeds acceptance. With acceptance comes openness. And with openness comes an attitude of sharing, of giving and receiving.
Why do I believe this? I have seen it practiced by friends who live it intrinsically and who have brought more people closer to Christ than anyone else in our immediate faith community. I know this because they did it to me. It was their friendship, the intentional relationships they built with me when I was an unbeliever, that brought me to know Jesus Christ.
Well, now that I’ve talked my way through this, I need to go back to the idea of fear and ask myself, “Where is the source of fear in taking the simple approach of making and being a friend?”
None that I can see.
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about any fears you have or have had with respect to evangelizing. I hope my talking myself through this helps you, too. God bless you!
“Lord Jesus, as I try to bring others closer to You, help me to remember to open my heart and let You work through me, Your instrument; and that You are in the lead and I’m following You. Lord, You have given me the grace to overcome my fear of evangelizing to others. Now, I pray that You give me the virtues of perseverance to not give up, and patience to not try to evangelize the world all at once. Amen.”
(Overcoming the Fear of Evangelizing was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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