Monday, 12 January 2009

How Should the Laity Evangelise?

The image of 'evangelism' has been distorted somewhat by years of TV images of immaculately suited US preachers at large assemblies encouraging hoards of men and women to 'give their lives to Jesus' in a state of emotional and religious frenzy.

The word 'Evangelist', a term given to the Gospel writers, St Mark, St Luke, St Matthew and St John denotes their charism for passing on the faith through the written word. Yet, all of the saints were in some way evangelists in that their words, lives, deeds and prayers transmitted the Gospel, often to the ends of the Earth.

Our Blessed Lord said to His Apostles, "By this all men shall know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Love should be the visible seal of our lives, the hallmark of every Christian. It was love for Christ and love for Christ in the poor that led St Vincent de Paul on to the works of mercy he so courageously undertook.

My parish priest, Fr Ray Blake, on St Mary Magdalen's blog has posted today up a good piece on how the giant Saints of the church were orthodox in their religion and it was this that led them to radically follow Christ, either in their lives or in their deaths. Yet all that is basically meant by the term 'orthodox' is that their hearts and minds were in full communion with the Church and that they were, indeed, Catholic, rather than liberal heretics! Nowadays this is getting rarer, but it cannot have been so rare in days gone by. The works of mercy of visiting the sick, burying the dead, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, the Church has always maintained, are a visible and credible witness to Christ with regard to which our action or inaction shall be judged.

Now, here is the crux of this post. Pope Benedict XVI has made a couple of announcements publicly encouraging the Laity to devote themselves to the evangelisation of their parishes. How should the Laity 'evangelise' without a visible or audible sign that it is Christ who is working through them. Unlike priests, bishops, monks or nuns, the laity are truly civillians working in civillian clothing! If a priest or a monk gives food to a poor man, it is obvious that it is done in the name of Christ, showing forth His bountiful love for the poor, neglected and forgotten. When the Laity give bread to a poor man the poor man might just think, "S/he was a nice chap."

How can the Laity be a credible witness to Christ and His Church in performing the works of mercy, without turning into the Jesus Army, who when they give charity to the very poor, virtually stand on top of a bus emblazoned with the words, 'Jesus Army', saying "Just wanted to say, we're doing this for Jesus! Here take this awful red cross and wear it as a sign of your conversion!" At the same time, how can we perform the works of mercy, or love our neighbour, without even discussing Christ and the Redemption of the World and His Church, the Instrument of Salvation and the Ark of Truth? At the same time, how do we do this while respecting the dignity of each person and each person's inalienable and inviolable human freedom of expression, religion and conscience, while not depriving them of, or indeed, as my priest has said today, 'robbing them of Grace' or 'robbing Christ of His Divinity'?

1 comment:

n0rma1 said...

'the Jesus Army, who when they give charity to the very poor, virtually stand on top of a bus emblazoned with the words, "Jesus Army", saying "Just wanted to say, we're doing this for Jesus! Here take this awful red cross and wear it as a sign of your conversion!'

As a long-term member of the Jesus Army, I have to protest at the caricature here. Sure, the JA's street image is not 'subtle' nor are the red crosses used in our outreach work the kind of thing you'd buy from H. Samuel. (In fact, the red crosses were designed with mainly younger people in mind - and they do go down quite well in clubs and on the street).

But please be assured that behind this street luminosity, there are many, many men and women (many of whom I know very well) who give themselves selflessly (and noiselessly) to people in all kinds of need, day in, day out. This happens in our three Jesus Centres and our many residential Christian communities in different parts of the country.

May God bless you in what you seek to do for Him. But please show some grace towards that which we seek to do for Him also.

As Augustine put it: 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.'

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