Evangelization and Faith

This post is reprinted from the Nov. 11 parish bulletin

I sit writing at that peculiar moment in history at which the polls are starting to close on election night, and yet the results remain unknown. Therefore my topic will be about something other than the election – but maybe that’s for the best.

This afternoon our volunteers from the parish went to the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul to participate in a program called Loaves and Fishes: they prepared and served dinner for people who are in need of our assistance. Some are homeless, but most are people who would run short of funds to prepare adequate meals for themselves at home. St. Peter’s parishioners and some friends of the parish go there every other month in the odd-numbered months to serve the evening meal. In the even-numbered months our parish goes to serve the noon meal at Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis. In each month, the food is ordered by the volunteer leaders and paid for through our parish operating budget. The ingredients are delivered directly to the site, so the items are waiting for our volunteers when they arrive. In the week before the meal the leaders contact volunteers to assemble a large enough crew, so a lot of organizational work is done from the volunteers’ homes. When the day of the meal arrives, it’s really something to see what experts the regular volunteers are in preparing meals for hundreds! On this rainy, dark, and cold day the Dorothy Day Center drew well over 200 people to dinner – so many, in fact, that most of the food was gone at the end of the meal. The people who come to dine are almost always very polite and express their thanks many times. All I did was pour cups of milk as I walked with several others around the room, but the people were quite grateful. Sometimes they reacted positively to seeing a priest. At one table a conversation about sacramental confession arose among the patrons, as one who was Catholic spoke up for his faith when others questioned it. The small amount of time I have spent at these two locations has always been rewarding. If you are interested in learning more about reaching out in this way, just contact the parish office or pay special attention in January when we will all learn more about stewardship opportunities.

Perhaps you are aware that we have begun the Year of Faith. The glossary found in the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines faith this way: “Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed….” So not only is faith a gift from God; it is also a human act. In faith we actually decide to believe what God has revealed. That is our response to him.

 Ours is an age of doubt. Even as people search for the truth, many among us seem to have an automatic response of skepticism to the claims of Christianity. People are accustomed to deciding for themselves what is true, so they think there is one truth for me, and perhaps another truth for you. No wonder it’s difficult today for people to embrace the faith wholeheartedly! We are being invited to make this a year of special emphasis on faith and on that natural outgrowth of faith: the spread of the Gospel. When we believe, we want others to know what we know, to feel the excitement we feel. A month ago I mentioned that Archbishop Nienstedt had published “I Believed Therefore I Spoke”: A Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. In it, he urges each one of us to become part of the New Evangelization. He sets this in context by saying that two years ago we engaged in a long discussion about restructuring our parishes, and the resulting plan was not primarily about “the downsizing of parishes or simple financial survival. Rather the chief goal lay in strengthening and re-focusing our resources” in order to proclaim the Gospel.

Archbishop Nienstedt encourages us to see faith as the result of an encounter with Jesus. As the life of St. Paul was totally changed by his encounter with Jesus, so we must have “a real relationship with a living person” as he did. Our encounter is not likely to be as dramatic, but we still ought to be able to say with St. Paul that Jesus is “the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Archbishop acknowledges that Catholic people have often focused more on the content of the faith more than on having a personal relationship with Christ. (I would add that other Christian communities are sometimes seen as attractive precisely because they emphasize a relationship with Jesus that might very well exist apart from doctrine.) So Archbishop Nienstedt draws attention to how we as Catholic people can strengthen our personal relationship with Jesus. Our personal prayer and the reading of Scripture can lead us to experience Christ’s love. The liturgy can certainly lead us to this experience as we unite our lives to the offering on the altar, as we receive Communion, and as we are reconciled to God in the confessional. This relationship is personal, but it’s not meant to be private. We ought to be able to tell others about our experience of Christ’s love. This is evangelization.

To be continued …


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