16 February 2013

Get out there and evangelize!

Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus makes it sound so easy, doesn't he? Spend your time among sinners b/c the righteous do not need to repent. It is no difficult thing to spend our time among sinners. We do it everyday. And—if we're honest—we're usually with them as one of them. Easy. However, spending time among sinners becomes difficult when we realize that as followers of Christ we're not spending our own time but his. We're on his clock, his dime. From the moment we're baptized, we are wholly owned—if not always operated—by Christ. Our contract with Christ contains no provisions for holidays, lunch breaks, vacations, or sick days. No overtime pay or workman's comp. Our time is his time. And he has given us one job to complete: go out there and bring sinners in here. To do that we have to go where the sinners are. There is simply no way for us to get his work done if we refuse to go out into the world and proclaim God's freely given mercy to sinners. Most of us have no trouble with the Going Out There part of the job. It's the Bringing Sinners Back Here part that causes us trouble. Why is that? Why do Catholics have difficulty with evangelizing the world? 

First, let's think about what it means to evangelize. That word—evangelize—gives us pause b/c it sounds Protestant. Evangelist. Evangelical. That's Baptist; that's fundamentalist. We get images of hair-sprayed tent preachers waving a Bible around, hollering about damnation and those idol-worshiping, fish-eatin' Cathlicks. Or the slick used-car salesmen on TV, selling Jesus for a small love donation. These are distortions. Our modern English word “evangel” derives from the Greek. Take the “eu” and add “angelos” and you get “good news messenger.” We refer to the four gospel writers as the Four Evangelists, the four Messengers of the Good News. Every baptized Christian is an evangelist, a person re-born into Christ for the sole purpose of proclaiming in word and deed that the Word became flesh and died and rose again so that sinners might live. We cannot allow uncomfortable cultural stereotypes and our personal distaste for making public our “private faith” to dissuade us for doing the job we've been hired to do. Personal piety, private prayer, the interior life of holiness are all vital to a Catholic's progress toward perfection. But in the world, out there, there is no substitute for calling sinners to repentance. 

So, what are we talking about here? Street preaching? Door-to-door leafleting? According to our gifts, we are called to bring the Good News to the world. For the lay faithful, this means being Christ where you work, play, and live. It means following Christ into your ordinary, everyday life and doing what he did right there in the middle of what you're doing at that moment. You will find yourself among sinners. What does Christ do with sinners? He eats and drinks with them. Not to signal his approval of their disobedience, nor to offer them political cover for their public face. Jesus sits in public with the filthiest of the unclean—traitorous tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers—so that he can be for them a living sign of his Father's mercy, and so that he can call them to repentance. We don't have to holler and wag fingers at sinners. We just have to live as Christ lived. We just have to spend our time as his time and stand against the seemingly overwhelming pressure to submit to this world's temptations. Go out there and live your life as Christ lived his, drawing everyone away from the sinners' feast and into the banquet hall of the Lord. 

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