The Mercy of Evangelization

On this feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we close the Jubilee Year of Mercy with a little discussion of two of the more obscure spiritual works of mercy. Though it may not seem an obvious connection could be made, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops gives some practical advice for carrying out each one that draws only small distinctions between them.

These two spiritual works of mercy invite us to one of the very fundamental behaviors of people who know their Savior: evangelization. This much misunderstood word has less to do with thumping a Bible, standing on a soap box, carrying a poster board with Scripture scrawled upon it or shouting to whomever may pass that “the end is near,” than it has to do with being credible in living out the faith.

It is principally by exercising your own faith in a way that is both modest and unashamed, both understated and clear, and above all else authentic, that we counsel the doubtful and instruct the ignorant. These two acts are accomplished definitively by a gentle evangelization that anyone can do.

Most unfortunately, we hear the word “evangelization” and instantly conjure up images like those mentioned above or, worse yet, of a preacher on television and the bevy of stereotypes associated therewith. In our Catholic tradition, evangelization has a far more subtle tone, befitting the sacred duty from which the Church derives her missionary mandate.

Of course, all Christians are called:

Jesus approached them and said, “All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The common goal of this “missionary mandate” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 849), Christ’s promised presence with the Church, and this Church’s subsequent urgings to counsel those in doubt and instruct the ignorant is nothing other than the uniting of all God’s people within himself.

To this end, the bishops counsel us to:

  • Learn the faith, receive instruction, grow in knowledge of the ins and outs of the faith of the Church and listen to Christ’s wisdom.
  • Volunteer to help with parish religious education programs.
  • When giving advice, keep in mind Christ whose presence brings peace beyond understanding.
  • Bear witness to your faith by the way you live. Go on a mission trip or donate to support someone who is. Exhibit gentleness and genuine care for your peers, acquaintances and strangers. Place others before yourself in small ways – open doors or hold them open for others, smile, warmly greet those you meet, etc. Even small acts of deference reveal the presence of God’s love.
  • Invite someone you know to attend Mass with you. Accompany someone who is struggling in joining a parish group for service or faith formation. Share a book you’ve found useful in similar struggles.

Evangelization is so much more than overt proselytizing. Moreover, it’s likely that we’ll meet with greater success when, rather than being first a religious influence on someone, we are sincerely caring, invested and interested in the good of those struggling to find meaning or direction in life. Bearing witness only truly means something when you take the time to walk alongside someone for a season, instead of proffer mere words.

Finally, I’ll offer this as a means of honoring the Little Way of St. Therese and the great wisdom of St. Theresa of Calcutta, both who urged us all to little deeds done with great love: Cover everything you do in prayer. Pray for your day’s plans. Pray that the Holy Spirit would accompany you through your day. Ask God to cause you to be that beautiful witness in even the smallest deeds, in every word you say.

If all goes well, you will never know how God’s presence in you changed the life of the person working at the convenience store. If you do it right, the Lord will leave a trail of love sown in tiny seeds with each of your footsteps. And to those you already know, there will never be a need to thank you for that time you stepped out in faith, taking the extraordinary moment to invite them to pray or merely mention what Jesus has done in your heart and in your life.

David Dunst

Music Director

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