The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for September, 2012

For the Common Good

I recently heard a presentation by William B. May, the chairman of Catholics for the Common Good, an organization dedicated to the evangelization of culture.  Among other things, they are actively involved in promoting marriage and family.  That was what the presentation was all about.

This group is doing important work and deserves your attention and support.  A book will be published soon (entitled Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a guide for effective dialogue) with all the details about the proper way to promote marriage in our society.

They do not get embroiled in arguments over the morality of “same-sex marriage,” refusing even to use the term “marriage” for anything except, well, marriage!  They also don’t, for the sake of political debates on the subject, use religious language or appeal to the Catholic faith (though there is, of course, a place for this).  All they do is present facts that can be verified in debates with secular opponents.  The goal in explaining the necessity of true marriage for the good of society (besides all the obvious good it is in itself) is to prevent the redefinition of marriage that many are trying to get enshrined in law.  The point is that marriage cannot be redefined and still be marriage.  They have to call it something else.  So once you know what marriage really is, the “gay” issue simply drops out.  N/A.

The basic fact is that marriage is a family-centric institution, “the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. That is what marriage is; that is what marriage does.”  What is nowadays being presented as a definition of marriage, which allows for different types of lifestyles and relationships is this: “marriage is merely the public recognition of a committed relationship between loving adults.”

Catholics for the Common Good (CCG) chooses to look at marriage from the perspective of the children and their rights.  Some questions they ask: “Does a child have a fundamental human right to know and, as far as possible be cared for, by his or her mother and father?  Does anyone have a right to create children with the intention of depriving them of their moms, dads, or both?  Considering the consequences of marriage breakdown re: poverty and other social conditions, does government and other institutions have an obligation to promote marriage?”

Evidently the government answers “no” to the last one.  A US Justice Department legal brief contains this: “The government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests in ‘creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents.’”

All the CCG wants to do is get people to look at the reality of what marriage is, and not merely use popular opinion or subjective criteria for redefining something that has only one possible definition.

Children have a right to be born into a real family.  CCG puts the reality this way: “A man and a woman first choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other in marriage.  This prepares them to receive life as a gift, because marriage starts the circle of irreplaceability that we call the family.”  Parents are not interchangeable; the family is a natural community, not a voluntary or arbitrary one.

They give a lot of statistics that demonstrate how society functions much better when marriages are healthy and children are raised by their own (married) parents.  I’m just skimming a few points from the top here, but a careful reading of their literature shows that their position is well-reasoned and that anything but the promotion of true marriage and its benefits spells disaster for society.  They also offer information for pastoral approaches and the spiritual and theological dimensions, but these generally can’t be effectively used when arguing the case in the public square, where legislative and judicial issues are being debated.

So I recommend you look over their site and arm yourself with the facts, with reasonable arguments (you can obtain tracts with the basic points clearly explained).  Anecdotal evidence and political slogans and emotional tirades just muddy the issue, which should be based on fact and principle.  The effort to maintain and promote marriage will only succeed when people can see the truth clearly and realize what countless people have known for millennia: “Marriage is the only institution that unites children with their moms and dads.” No alternative arrangement does this, and no other arrangement can adequately benefit parents, children, and society.

[Please pray that California governor Jerry Brown will veto a bill that has passed both houses, which will allow the possibility of a child having three legal parents (he has to decide this week, but his record isn’t encouraging; he just signed into law a bill making contraceptives easier to obtain: “It allows registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives to dispense the pill, patches and rings”).  The three-parent bill is just another way of promoting the gay agenda and further disfiguring the meaning of holy matrimony.  If this is signed into law, it will set a precedent for other states, and the moral chaos will only get deeper.  For a clear and insightful article on this issue, click here.]

Spiritual Surgery for Discipleship

[This is a homily from the year 2002 for the “Sunday after the Holy Cross,” which was yesterday.  You probably have noticed I’ve been posting ancient homilies lately.  I don’t seem to have the time or the wits to compose new stuff lately. Not sure how this bodes for the future of MATN.  Stay tuned for updates and breaking news…]

Today we will look at Christ as the wisdom of God in his word, in the wisdom of the teaching that He gives us today—a teaching that is very central to the Christian life (Mk 8:34 – 9:1).   It’s so central that almost everyone rejects it!  But we have to see why it’s important to accept it.

Christ is the divine physician.  The Cross is the surgeon’s scalpel, so to speak, that has to cut out the spiritual disease in our souls.  If we had some tumor developing in our body and we went to a doctor, he might say, “Well, I can take care of this for you.  It’s very simple: all I have to do is cut you open and take it out—but, unfortunately, it’s going to hurt.  And you can either accept the pain of the surgery and be healed, or you can let that tumor grow in you and fester and slowly eat your insides out and kill you.”  It’s a similar thing with the spiritual life.  We can let Christ do the spiritual surgery on us: we can follow his word and accept the Cross and accept the discipline and pain of real repentance and conversion, or we can just set it aside and let our souls get worse and worse until we’re totally corrupt inside and then we die and go to Hell. I think the choice that we want is the one where healing and salvation come.

The Lord says, “If anyone wants to follow Me”—see, his teaching is not just for the elite, some special group of saints.  He says: If anyone wants to follow Me, this is what you have to do: deny yourself, take up your cross, and then walk in my footsteps.

That’s a hard teaching, because we don’t like to deny ourselves; we don’t like the whole image of taking up the cross, bearing a burden, doing something that’s difficult and demanding, but He says that’s the price.  If you want it, then this is what it takes.  He explains a little bit further what He means by “denying ourselves,” for there’s obviously a certain discipline involved.  You can’t be a “disciple” without discipline—that’s what the word means.  So we have to accept the discipline that comes from following Jesus.

He says, “If anyone would save his life, he will lose it; but if you lose it for My sake and that of the Gospel, you will save it.”   So, how is it that we save our lives, only to lose them?  There are many ways that we can do this.  It’s not always some great and momentous decision to decide for or against Christ.  There are all kinds of little ways we show in our lives that we’re more interested in saving this life, and which has the effect of forfeiting and losing the next.

One thing that some people create today is a kind of a cult of beauty and youth, which they go to great lengths to save, to preserve.  There are all kinds of cosmetic surgeries available to reduce bellies, enlarge breasts, reshape buttocks, and tighten up faces.  I hear that even some men are doing this, too—trying to get rid of their jowls and extra chins.  People have to realize that they can’t save it forever.  You can’t keep your youthful beauty.  You’re going to lose it.  You’re going to sag, you’re going to wrinkle, you’re going to get all spotty and lumpy, and your hair and your teeth are going to fall out, so get used to it, OK?

You’ll see that people go to great expense and suffer a lot of pain in order to try to preserve that physical beauty and form a little bit longer.  But ask them to pray for a couple of hours, ask them to fast for a day: “No, no!  That’s too hard!  That’s impossible!  Who can do stuff like that?”   Yet they’ll suffer for those other things, for a different reason.

There are other ways people try to “save their lives.”  People will spend all their time and energy and effort trying to secure a lot of money, or amass possessions, thinking that this will be some sort of security, when it isn’t.  The stock market crashes, and everything you worked for all your life is shot: all your bank accounts are gone.  Somebody drops a cigarette butt in your back yard on a dry summer day and that’s it—your house and everything you worked so hard for goes up in smoke.  These things don’t last, and that’s what the Lord is trying to tell us: if you focus on the kind of things that don’t last, you’re going to lose what’s most important.

That doesn’t mean that you’re not supposed to take reasonable care of yourself or provide for your family and that kind of thing.  Of course that has to be done—but that can’t be the overriding obsession of your life to the exclusion of the inner values, the more important spiritual values: the life of the soul.

So you have to be detached enough from that stuff so that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether you have it or not, because what you do have is the important, lasting heavenly treasure in your heart, where Christ dwells, and that’s going to survive even death.  That’s what He wants us to focus on, so we need to have that sort of detachment from the ephemeral things.  Otherwise, our life is going to be nothing more than just limping down the road to the cemetery where we can be put out of our misery—and trying to grab a little comfort along the way.  Well, that’s no life.  Christ said He came to give us the fullness of life.  The same person who said, “I came that you can have a full life,” is the same person who said, “take up your cross and deny yourself.”  So there’s something about denying yourself and taking up your cross that leads to the fullness of life!  But people don’t want to accept that: that such is the way to life, the way to true inner values that the Gospel is trying to communicate to us.  Jesus didn’t come just to say, “Here, I’ve got a whole new set of rules for you, to make your life miserable.”  He said He wants us to be happy, but He knows what happiness consists of, and He knows that a lot of people are looking for happiness in the wrong places.

One of the ways we sabotage ourselves by trying to preserve our life just to lose it, is by living out of what one author calls “unconscious emotional programs for happiness.”  Very early in our lives, through our experiences, we start to learn about what we need to do to “survive”: to avoid pain and to bring us some measure of happiness or pleasure.  We often learn these lessons in some distorted sort of way, and we never really correct them. So we go through life with this unconscious program going in our minds, that “if only I had this, I’d be happy; if only I can avoid that, I’ll be happy.”  But the problem is, we don’t get out of that, we don’t grow up, and we live our whole lives with these misleading ideas floating through our heads, trying to seek happiness in futile ways.

These unconscious emotional programs for happiness just don’t work, and they only lead us to unhappiness, to unfulfillment, to despair, to looking everywhere except the place we’re supposed to look for true happiness, because we have to unlearn a lot of the lessons that we learned or that were forced upon us through our life experience in our youth, and we have to start looking at things in a different way.

What Christ is talking about here in denying yourself, taking up your cross, losing your life—all that is a way of talking about repentance.  Now, repentance is not just confessing your sins; that’s one aspect of it, but it’s much more than that.  Repentance is a key term in the New Testament.  It is the first word that Jesus used when He began his public ministry: “Repent!”  What was He saying?  Just confess your sins?  That’s part of it; that’s not the whole thing.  The word “repentance” is metanoia in Greek.  It means a change of mind, a change of heart.  It’s literally a change of nous, which means, not just change of mind or intellect, but a change in the higher capacity of mind or intellect that can perceive the things of the spirit.  That’s why nous is sometimes translated as “spirit” or “heart,” because it refers to that higher faculty within us, which is the center from which not only our thoughts but our spiritual perception is located.  So it has to do with our whole world-view, and the way we look at ourselves and the way we look at God and the way we look at everything in our life.  Jesus said, you have to change that!

That is our life’s work.  We have a prayer that we say every day in the Liturgy:  “…that we may live the rest of our lives in peace and repentance…” You might think, “Well, I’ve already repented of my sins; I’m doing pretty good now.  Why do I have to keep repenting and repenting and repenting?”  Well, aside from the fact that we usually keep on sinning and sinning and sinning, we have to keep working on that interior change.  We have not yet come to the point where we see things as clearly and fully and correctly as we should: where we see and perceive and feel and respond to God and to other people and to the whole of reality the way we were meant to in the beginning, when we were created in the image of God, created to see the world with godly eyes.

It’s an ongoing work, and all the spiritual practices that we have, whether it’s fasting or vigils or prayers, all of that is in service of metanoia, in service of repentance, in service of changing our inner life, our perception, and our relation with God and the world, so that we become more like God, so that we come to the point that St. Paul came to when he said, “I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” That’s the whole point: why are we denying ourselves?  Deny yourself so that Christ can take up abode in your heart and can live within you! 

This is the doctrine of the Cross.  It’s not just something negative, saying, “don’t do this, and you’ll be OK.”  It’s a whole program of life.  First of all, recognizing the obstacles—those unconscious motivations and “programs for happiness” that are bankrupt.  There are other things we have to get out of the way too, our sins or unhealthy habits or anything else that we have that keeps us from progressing.  But the goal is a positive one: it’s that union with Christ and that transformation of the way we think and feel and see the world and relate to God and to each other.

We know that we as human beings are limited and weak and at a disadvantage in many ways.   Physically, we’re subject to illness and disease and death.  Mentally, we’re subject to confusion or depression or any sort of mental disorder.  Spiritually, we’re subject to moral lapses, to spiritual blindness, to self-centeredness, to sin.  All these things are there, and that’s why Christ comes as a divine physician, saying: With the Cross we’re going to do a little surgery, and we’re going to heal you of all that stuff.

It’s a process—often a painful process—but it’s always worth it. We must then give our lives to it, to the whole work of metanoia, of conversion, of repentance, so that we can overcome those obstacles, let Him do that divine therapy within us, and then we come to that point of “No longer I, but Christ”: that’s the goal of our life.

Once we’re there, we can say with St. Simeon: “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace!” Because then we’ll have come to the point of union with Christ, and all that remains for us after that is to step over the threshold into that heavenly Paradise where He’s going to say, “See?  I told you what I was preparing for you!  Aren’t you glad that you denied yourself, that you took the risk, made the effort, believed that this was all true?   Aren’t you glad now?   Come in, and share your Master’s joy!”

Drawing All to Himself through the Cross

[This is a homily I gave ten years ago on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we will celebrate on September 14.]

The Church has something in common with Pontius Pilate—not a whole lot, I hope, but at least one thing, because today the Church says the same thing that Pontius Pilate said to the Jews: “Behold your King!” Today we’re celebrating Christ exalted as the King of all creation.  Of course He has an unusual sort of throne, which is the Cross, and that is the means and the reason for his exaltation, for his glorification.  We see in the liturgical texts the great multitude of praises and descriptions of all of the graces and good things that come to us through the Cross.  The Cross heals the sick, and raises the dead, and releases us from the bondage of the enemy, and casts out evil spirits, and protects us and blesses us, and everything you can think of that is good.

Given that, why, then, do so many people flee from the Cross—in fear, in dread, in revulsion at the very mention or the very sight of it?  Now, I can understand that dread if you’re a devil-worshipper or something, but I think present company is excluded from that category.  Why is it, then?  I think that the blame lies with a certain way of thinking that always associates everything horrible with the Cross: if you’re sick and in excruciating pain, well, “that’s the Cross”; if you’ve gone bankrupt and your family has left you, “that’s the Cross”; whatever disaster befalls you, “that’s the Cross.”   Well, I would flee from that, too, and anybody with any sense in their head would as well.  But the Cross is not the cause of all these bad things; it’s not to be identified solely with pain, and suffering, and misery, and tragedy.  The Cross is our strength in the midst of it.  The Cross is something that gives meaning to suffering and tragedy.  The Cross gives us hope in the midst of all of these bad things.  The Cross is there as a sign that negative, painful experiences of life are not the last word: they don’t define the meaning of life, there’s something beyond that.  The evil, the darkness, the pain can be transformed, and the power of the Cross is what does it.

We should also look on the other side of the Cross.  How many people, for example, just come out of the confessional and are freed from their sins, and say, “Oh!  That was the Cross! That was the power of the Cross.”  How many people, when they’re delivered from some tragedy or evil encounter or something like that, say, “That was the power of the Cross!”  How many people, when they receive any blessing whatever that proceeds from the infinite love and compassion of Christ, say “That’s the Cross!”   Usually we do not.  We have to look at that dimension of the Cross, too, that the blessings, the gifts of God, come to us through the mystery of the Cross.  Today we’re celebrating the joy, the glory, the goodness that flow from the Cross.  That’s something that the Church needs to revive in her understanding and practical application of this mystery.

Christ, having been exalted on the Cross, having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven in glory, does He still have any Cross to bear?  After all, we heard in the gospel that, at the last moment of his life, He said: “It is finished!” and then He died.  So, He did the work, and He was done.  I think if I had done it, I would have added, “I’m outta here!” and never come back to suffer like that again!  But Christ—thank God it was Christ who is Christ, and not me—thank God that He sticks with us.  Even though He’s gone from the flesh and the suffering, there’s still something that He suffers, so to speak.  Pascal says that Christ is in agony until the end of the world.  You can take that how you want, but there is something that is true about it, and I think that the Cross that Jesus still suffers, is simply the fact that we don’t accept the Cross—that so many people do not accept and believe in what He has done and suffered to save us.  He came to give us eternal life, and most people, it seems, or many people, just couldn’t care less.

Jesus says: here I am, I’ve come to you, I’ve become one of you, I’ve given you my Father’s wisdom and the revelation of how to live life.  I’ve suffered for you, I’ve sacrificed myself for you to save you from your sins; I’ve taken them on myself”—and we just walk by and say, “Who cares?” and go on with our business and with our life outside of Him, pursuing our own desires or lusts or whatever, and the world just goes on and on, no one paying attention to what Christ has done for us.

That’s his Cross still; that’s what He’s suffering.  He’s suffering from our continued rejection of the gift that He has offered to us, and that’s one reason why we have the service of the lifting up, the exaltation, of the Cross. It’s because of our acceptance of the Cross in the face of the world’s rejection of it, and our desire to make that acceptance more widespread in the world, that we symbolically and mystically raise the cross in prayer and worship.  The things we do as acts of worship and prayer have their effect on the whole mystical body of Christ and the whole creation—because if we connect with Christ, then we connect to the whole universe, because Christ fills everything, everywhere, just as it says in Scripture.  So, when we acknowledge this, accept it, receive it and glorify Christ in our worship, and implore his mercy upon the world, then something happens, something changes.  The awakening of hearts begins—and that needs to happen, it needs to grow and continue more and more; therefore we don’t do it just once, we do it every year.  But we have to do it every day in our own lives and in our hearts.

So we make a big thing of this: praying “Lord, have mercy” 500 times.  People may say, “Well isn’t once enough?  Didn’t He hear you the first time?”  It’s true that if He didn’t hear us the first time, He’s not going to hear us the other 499 times either.  It’s not a matter of getting his attention by saying “Lord, have mercy” so many times.  The benefit is mainly for us, and it’s the same principle that underlies the Jesus Prayer, or the unceasing prayer that we’re called to live in.

We don’t just say, “Lord, have mercy,” and that’s it for today; we are called to live, to breathe, in the name of Jesus, to let that call to Him, that cry for mercy, that invoking of his Name, feed our pulse, our lifeblood, our whole rhythm of life, our thinking, our acting.  It’s all immersed in that constant flow of “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy…”  That’s our whole life, and as we enter into that and live in it, we begin to fulfill the prophecy of Christ, who said (as we heard in the gospel at Matins):  “When I am lifted up”—that is, on the Cross—“when I am lifted up, I will draw everyone, everything to Myself.” This is what’s happening: we’re entering that life-stream, that magnetic attraction, coming from the Heart of Christ.  When we enter into prayer, constant prayer and worship, exalting and accepting this gift that He has given to us, we become part of that whole mystery of grace flowing from the Heart of Christ and drawing everything back to Him.  As we are transformed, we become transparent to the grace of God and we contribute to the transfiguration of the whole creation and of every human heart and soul that needs to have the veil lifted to see what Christ has done, to see that mystery at work in the world and in their own lives.

So we come to the Cross today as to this ever-flowing fountain or wellspring of eternal life, grace, and every good thing, and we exalt Him, we worship Him and we implore Him with this unceasing “Lord, have mercy!” to let that grace of his cover the whole world.  The more that we do that, the more we ourselves will enter into that experience of Christ as the power of God, the wisdom of God, and we will share in his own ministry of bringing everything in.  And it is true that there is a cost to that: we are going to experience difficulties and sufferings along the way—but, because of the Cross, we know that Christ will be with us in the midst of them; we know that the victory is won; we know that the reward is already waiting for us, and we just have to approach and receive, but we can’t do that without preparation or effort.   We may think it should be easy, we just go to Christ and receive a gift and walk away—but we can’t, because we can’t receive anything until we’re disposed to receive it.  We can’t recognize the gift, we can’t make use of the gift, until we’ve already given ourselves as a gift to Christ and prepared ourselves and made it possible to grasp and experience the gift that He’s given us.

So that’s where our part comes in: it’s preparing ourselves to receive the gift.  And then, as our life continues, we will be transformed by the same Cross that has transformed the whole world mystically: it’s not entirely manifest yet—obviously, we don’t see the whole world worshipping Christ—but the power, the grace, the dynamism is in the world through the Holy Mysteries we celebrate, and through us, insofar as we choose to unite to Christ and with Him and for Him, and pray and implore his mercy that everything and everyone be drawn unto Him—for the glorification of all.

Evangelize Yourself First (Part 2)

So, back to the Letter to the Romans, here are some basic things St Paul tells us to do, if we are going to prepare ourselves to be faithful and convincing witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and the Church.

“Reject what is evil and embrace what is good.” It is clear the certain things are true and others are false; some things are right and others are wrong.  It’s not a matter of personal preference or majority vote.  People can find trendy opinions anywhere; but in the Church they should be able to expect the unvarnished truth

“Love one another and show honor to your brothers and sisters.” Paul also says to speak the truth in love.  If we have the truth but are arrogant and unloving about it, we will not attract souls to the Catholic faith. The witness of love opens the door for the witness of truth. Archbishop Mueller, the new head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: “We cannot proclaim the gospel to them if we don’t love them and don’t see that each one of them is a mystery [of] the image and likeness of God.”

So even though God desires the salvation of all, evangelization is not primarily a numbers game.  God saves souls one at a time, and we should take our time with each soul.  The more genuine, deep, and mature a conversion is, the more fruit it will bear.  Remember the parable of the sower.  The shallow believers and those distracted by worldly pleasures, don’t bear fruit.  A Church with a smaller number of mature and committed believers will do much more for the Kingdom of God than one with a large number of superficial or lukewarm believers…

The US bishops, in a document on the New Evangelization, say this: “The New Evangelization does not seek to invite people to experience only one moment of conversion, but rather to experience the gradual and lifelong process of conversion: to draw all people into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to develop a mature conscience… and to integrate one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life.”

There is someone who can teach us these things and actually help make them happen.  This person is probably the best evangelizer the world has ever known, having brought to Christ and his Church far more people than anyone else.  In less than 20 years, and in just one relatively small area of the world, this evangelizer made over 9 million converts. Her name is Mary, and she happens to be the Queen of Heaven, which is probably why she was so successful.  She has made a lot more than nine million converts over the centuries, but I’m referring to the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which brought practically all of Latin America out of paganism and into the Catholic faith.

In an address in 1992, Blessed John Paul II called Mary the “Star of the New Evangelization.”  Now “star” isn’t understood the way it is when we think of a movie star, but rather a star as a guiding light.  Our Lady is also traditionally called the Star of the Sea because of the way she has guided seafarers in their journeys through perilous waters.  So Our Lady is a constant motherly presence and guide for us in understanding and putting into practice the elements of the New Evangelization…

One of the most important things about Mary’s life that applies to us is that she heard the word of God and kept it, as the Lord often tells us to do in the Gospels.  Aside from studying the Scriptures during her life and learning of the greatness of God and his love for us, as well as his promise of a Savior to redeem the world, Mary had the benefit of being evangelized by an angel!  He explained to her that God’s plan for our salvation would be personally fulfilled in her.  That’s why she got the special privilege of an angelic visitation.

But now that our redemption has been accomplished in Christ, all we need to do is to pick up the bible and the catechism of the Catholic Church and discover what God has revealed and what He requires of us. So the first thing Mary teaches us is to be open to hear the word of God.  Remember, we can’t evangelize others unless we ourselves are thoroughly immersed in the word of God and in prayer, and are filled with the grace of the sacraments.

The next thing she teaches us is to humbly surrender ourselves to God’s will. When she learned that she was to become the Mother of the Savior, the Son of the Most High, she knew this mystery and this vocation were far beyond what she could fully grasp in that moment, but all the Lord wanted from Mary was her consent.  So she acknowledged that she was the handmaid of the Lord, and said: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

That’s our next step.  Once we hear the word of God, we have to submit to his will.  It’s not going to do us much good to know the Bible and go to Mass every Sunday if we do not humbly place ourselves at the Lord’s service every day of our lives.  So before we can be a good example to others, we ourselves have to be living in obedience to God’s will.

The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is a model of some of the basic elements of the New Evangelization.  As soon as Mary herself received the announcement of the good news of our salvation from the angel, she hurried to her cousin Elizabeth in order to share her joy and the message that God was communicating to the world through her.

This visit was made in the context of serving someone who was in need.  Elizabeth was elderly and found herself miraculously pregnant, so she needed the assistance of her young relative.  Sometimes evangelization doesn’t begin with speaking directly about Christ.  Sometimes we start simply by serving other people with love and humility, by showing the face of Christ to them by our actions even before we start speaking of Him with our words.  In many cases, this is the only way to reach people, especially if they have already made up their minds that they are not interested in what Christ or the Church have to say…

The other thing that happened at the visitation was that Mary sang the praises of God for all that He had done in her, and for all that He would soon do to save the world.   She began her hymn of praise by saying: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” Now if we are going to follow Mary’s example, we have to magnify the Lord.  “Magnify” literally means “make great.”  But how can we do that?  Isn’t the Lord already greater than the whole universe?  How can anyone make Him any greater?

Well, there are two ways to do this, one way that only Mary could do, and one way that the rest of us can do.  Mary made Him greater in the sense that through her, the Lord became something He wasn’t before.  He became man through her and so was able to suffer and die for us to save our souls.  So in that sense He was magnified in being able to enter our world in a way He never did before.

The way that we can do it, and to try to get others to magnify the Lord as well, is by extending the reach of his presence and influence in our souls.  God is present everywhere, but He is specially present in souls that are in a state of grace.   We can drive the divine presence out of our souls through mortal sin, and the unbaptized can prevent Him from entering if they refuse to be baptized.  The Lord respects our freedom, so He won’t make his home in any soul that refuses to receive Him. So when we welcome the Lord into our hearts and souls, and encourage others to do so as well, the Lord is magnified, because He is now present in a soul that formerly refused his presence. Therefore the work of evangelization is the work of magnifying the Lord!

Another work that supports evangelization, and which we can learn from Our Lady, is that of prayer and intercession.  We may not spontaneously think of prayer when think of evangelization, but maybe we should. We are all familiar with the gospel account of the wedding at Cana, where Mary interceded with the Lord  for the needs of the guests, and at her request He worked his first miracle.  What was the result of the answer to Mary’s prayer?  “Jesus manifested his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”  So when we pray, God responds, and when God responds, people become aware of his goodness and power, and they begin to believe in Him.  Prayer is at the source of all effective evangelization, and we see this from the very beginning of the Church.

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, St Luke tells us that Mary and the disciples of Jesus gathered together in the upper room. There they devoted themselves to prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to send them (Acts 1:14).  Their prayer was granted in the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, which energized the apostles to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations, with signs and wonders to confirm the truth of their preaching.  The very first day they converted and baptized 3000 people.  This is the fruit of prayer, which always must precede as well as accompany the active ministry of evangelization.

Prayer not only supports evangelization; it can directly influence the conversion of sinners by the mercy of God.  This is what the Lord Jesus said to St Faustina: “I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: ‘O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.’”

You may not know in what soul this conversion is happening, but if you trust the Lord and sincerely pray this prayer (especially at 3:00 PM, the hour of mercy), the Lord will grant the grace of conversion to a sinner somewhere in the world. So in this sense, you can evangelize without leaving your home! …

Since the hour of mercy is the hour of Jesus’ death on the Cross, Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization, will be with us there as well.  Our Lady shared in a unique way in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, yet in union with her we are all called in our own way to share in his sufferings.  St Paul says that in his own flesh he fills up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of the Church.  Now there is nothing essential lacking in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, but as Scripture says, the whole Christ consists of the Head and his members.  Christ is the Head of the mystical body, and we are the members.  Being thus united with Him, we share in both his redeeming Cross and Resurrection.

Therefore it is not only prayer that supports evangelization; it is sacrifice as well.  And we draw grace and strength from the paschal mystery through the Holy Eucharist.  In reflecting on the teachings of Pope Benedict, the archbishop of Washington DC writes this in a pastoral letter on evangelization: “The leaven of the Gospel arises from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  Strengthened by the Eucharist, every sacrifice we make participates directly in the Cross of Jesus.  Sacrifice is the path to newness.  The Holy Father makes clear that it is the Eucharist that brings newness to human life.” …

Here’s  another simple thing you can do: put holy things into the hands of children, relatives, and friends, like Bibles, rosaries, scapulars, and medals. It doesn’t matter if they are not interested at the moment.  Just ask them to keep them somewhere and not throw them away. I know that this worked for me.

When I left my parents’ home in the late 1970s and moved to another state, I think they were afraid I might lose my faith altogether (I was already living a worldly sort of life and didn’t have much time for the Church).  So they sent me a bible.  When I received it, I thought, “What am I going to do with this?”  So I just stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it.  But later on, when the Lord started working on my soul and drawing me little by little toward a more righteous style of life, I suddenly wanted to get to know Him a little better.  I said to myself, “I think there’s a bible around here somewhere; maybe I should read it.”  And, as you can see, the rest is history!  So they evangelized me just by giving me a bible, which was like a seed buried in the ground.  And when the conditions became favorable, it sprouted and flowered and bore fruit!

I felt an inner urge last year to send scapulars to my siblings in their Christmas cards.  The idea wouldn’t leave me until I did it.  Maybe when they received them, they thought: “What am I going to do with this?” None of them later told me what they thought of it, but when grace finally opens their hearts, they might just say: “I think there’s a scapular around here somewhere; maybe I should start wearing it.”  Or maybe it will be something they reach for on their deathbeds, when the grace of their baptism floods their souls as a final call to give themselves to the Lord.  Only God knows.  But if it’s not there, they can’t make use of it.  All that matters in the end is that souls are saved, whether they are evangelized now or at the hour of their death.

So start passing out bibles and rosaries and medals and scapulars!  It’s OK if those to whom you give them stick them in a drawer for now.  One day they will be glad that you cared enough to do it, and you will be too!

I just received news this morning of a tragic yet beautiful story.  A friend of a friend of mine was recently killed in a car accident.  As he lay dying, while the paramedics were trying to save his life, his last act was to give a prayer card of Our Lady of Lourdes to one of the paramedics.  It was as if he was saying: “I’m going to Heaven now, and I want you to come someday, too.  Here, take this and pray.”  It’s a testimony to the faithfulness of his life that with his dying breath he was still trying to bring people to God.

Let us, then, be prepared to share “all the good that is ours in Christ,” first by becoming immersed in it ourselves, second by giving the good example to others by putting what we believe into practice, and third by personally inviting others to share what we have in Christ.  We have to manifest something that is attractive to others or else they will think that the Catholic Church does not produce loving and joyful people, people who have found the ultimate meaning in life and who live in hope for eternal happiness.

I will conclude, then, with a quote from St Robert Bellarmine concerning the ultimate goal of evangelization, which is entering into the joy of Our Lord, beginning now and lasting for all eternity.  He writes: “It is not said, ‘May the joy of the Lord enter you,’ [as if we were capable of containing it all within ourselves] but ‘you enter into the joy of the Lord.’  This is a proof that the joy will be greater than we can conceive. We shall enter into a great sea of divine and eternal joy, which will fill us within and without, and surround us on all sides.”

This is what is ours in Christ, and this is what we offer to the world.

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