Monday, November 4, 2019

Why joy, and not the Church’s laws, rules, code of moral conduct and ethics should always be evangelization’s first move.

There are many things one can do wrong when one wants to heed the call to the ‘New Evangelization to Transmit the Faith’ to others.  One of these is by bashing others over the head with the Bible.  Of course this is a metaphorical phrase which includes a heavy emphasis on doctrine and the laws of the Church, or a high insistence on getting liturgical actions ‘just right’.  Don’t get me wrong – I am all for doctrine and Canon Law.  They are both necessary and important, but these cannot be the first things that others see us interested in when carrying out the call to evangelize and to be missionary.  What is far more important as a first step is the establishment and forging of friendship and the conveying of our joy that we have as sons and daughters of God in and through our baptism.  This joy needs to fuel the passion that goes behind our words, demeanor and message.  A useful metaphor would be that no one is likely to enter a restaurant when all they see through the window are patrons inside who are simply not enjoying their food, and leaving the eatery glum and dissatisfied.

But I also know that joy is not something that is taught, but rather something that is caught.  When you need to teach someone to be joyful, it wont be coming from the correct place.  The term ‘organized joy’ is really an oxymoron.  But joy that comes from an experience and an encounter will always be authentic and automatic.  One only needs to see a child’s face light up when she wakes up on Christmas morning or gets told that they are going on a family vacation to understand this.  That child doesn’t need to be taught to smile. It’s coming from within.  

Of course, the joy of Christianity and its promise of eternal life and the joyful news of a family vacation are not the same. One has a joy and promise that is truly lasting whilst the other lingers only as long as one’s has good memory. Effective evangelists need to be people who have truly encountered the Lord in a way that is striking, or at least his truth in a way that is more than merely cerebral.  If one’s heart isn’t stirred, one will naturally have quite a few obstacles in one’s path to carry out the task of evangelization even if one has good intentions.  

Having said that, not every evangelist needs to have a supernatural encounter with the Lord to be effective.  But every evangelist needs to set up his life in order for him to be open to God on a daily and regular basis.   One’s dedicated prayer life is therefore the seedbed of such an encounter.  Daily sitting before the Lord in the Tabernacle or whose presence is in the Monstrance in an Adoration Room is essential for the encounter to be real.  One is, after all, in the presence of the real presence.  In the same way, the priest who doesn’t make prayer his work will hardly make his work his prayer.

When our joy is palpable to the people we meet and talk to about Christ, they will be more open to the words of goodness and truth that doctrine provide.  More and more, I am convinced that the order of evangelization needs to be firstly beauty, secondly goodness and only thirdly truth.  There is so much captivating beauty that the Catholic church has in its rich history. Non-Catholics going to the basilicas and cathedrals in Rome and, even without so much as a guide or docent, have come out admiring the beauty that is within them.  Our smile and the joy on our faces as Catholics need to be seen as extensions of Catholicism’s rich beauty.  

These non-Catholic brothers and sisters of ours need to see a certain je ne sais quoisabout us, especially when we are able to go through life’s sufferings with a calmness that conveys faith in God.  
This joy cannot be predicated on how we feel or on which side of the bed we get up from in the morning.  Like love, our joy needs to be predicated on something that doesn’t fluctuate and vacillate like our mood or the weather.  If so, it makes us no different from those whose beliefs are different from ours, of from people with no belief at all.

St Paul is a prime example of how a true disciple of Christ doesn’t let his circumstances in life determine his joy of being a disciple.  In peace times or in persecution, in fair or foul weather, in freedom or in chains, his inner joy was indeed unshakeable and unmistakable.  Calling upon the intercession of this giant of a saint will always be beneficial to anyone who is serious in answering the call to mission and evanglization.


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