Saturday, January 12, 2013

Preach the Gospel with Humility, Simplicity and Love

Credit:  mudpreacher.org
Speaking about God means communicating with strength and simplicity, by one’s word and life, what is essential: the God of Jesus Christ, the God who has shown us a love so great that it became incarnate, died and rose for us; that God who asks us to follow him and to let ourselves be transformed by his immense love in order to renew our lives and our relationships; the God who has given us the Church, to walk together and, through the Word and the Sacraments, to renew the entire City of men, so that it may become the City of God.
Pope Benedict XVI

It's hard to escape the fact that, to use an old worn-out saying, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  There are many indications of this, but in my mind one of the leading indicators is the fact that we continue to kill our unborn babies.  Last year in the United States alone, we killed over one million of our babies.  There have been 60 million babies legally killed in this country since 1973.  That's 60 million potential tax payers and job creators and all of their children and grandchildren who are not here to contribute to our society.  And we wonder why we have an economic crisis?  Hello???

Credit:  abolishhumanabortion.com
Some hold out hope that we can still salvage western civilization, such as pointing to the liberal Salon.com article entitled, "2012 Was An Unmitigated Disaster For Abortion Rights" which, from a pro abortion point of view, laments the fact that many states in the US are tightening restrictions on abortion.  As far as I'm concerned, this is throwing bones at those of us who are pro life and hoping it will keep us quiet while the babies continue to die by the thousands every day.  I live in New York City, the abortion capital of the United States, where over 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion, and in some parts of the city the rate is 60%, resulting in the murder of approximately 89,000 babies every year.  It has been 40 years since the killing of our unborn children was made legal through Roe v. Wade (abortion has been legal in New York since 1970), and in all that time there has not been one serious challenge to that law. Politician after politician promises us that they will do everything to defeat abortion, and yet last year Planned Parenthood received a record high $542 million in taxpayer money and performed 334,000 abortions.  To placate the public, Congress immediately introduced a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.  If you're interested in making a quick and sure buck, bet that this bill will never see the light of day.

Abortion is hardly the only evil in our society.  It is only a matter of time now before same sex marriage is legal throughout the United States.  Our president is actively campaigning for it, breaking his oath to uphold the law of the land by saying he will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act.  No one calls him on this, and now even the Republicans are telling us to get use to it, as per Newt Gingrich:
It is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to... accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states—and it will be more after 2014—gay relationships will be legal, period.
The destruction of the family - the foundation of any society - is now complete, and there is no going back on this, as Newt Gingrich forcefully told us.  God has been so completely pushed out of the public square that He is not even allowed to be a part of the celebration of His own birth.  With God out of the way, anything can and will go.  We are seeing the legalization of drugs and euthanasia, and at the same time, we are seeing the persecution of Christianity, exemplified by the HHS mandate.  We are sliding down the hill at a breathtaking pace to our own destruction.

What do we, as Christians, do in the face of the disintegration of our society?  Do we just walk away and leave people to a doomed fate?  Hardly.  Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, told us just the opposite on November 28, 2012 in another of a continuing series of talks regarding the Year of Faith.  This message is entitled "On Bearing Witness to the Christian Faith."  In this message, he discusses the reasons and methods we should use to bring the saving message of the Gospel to an anti-God world.

Credit:  Diocese of
Colorado Springs
The Holy Father starts out by asking the question of how we can reach others with the Gospel message, especially those who are so separated from God that He is not even a thought in their day:
The main question that we ask today is: how can we speak of God in our time? How can we communicate the Gospel, to open roads to his saving truth in the hearts, that are often closed, of our contemporaries and in their minds, sometimes distracted by the many lights of society? Jesus himself, the Evangelists tells us, in announcing the Kingdom of God asked himself this question. "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use?" (Mk 4:30).
Credit:  excellentquotations.com
Pope Benedict reminds us that we cannot do anything unless God speaks to us first.  God is actually calling to us at every moment, but are we listening?  Forget that sappy song that Bette Midler sang, "God is watching us from a distance."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is that our Lord is right next to us, just as He hung next to the thieves on the cross, ready and willing to offer us His Mercy and Love as soon as we ask.  Christ would have willingly offered forgiveness to both thieves, but only one opened his heart to Our Savior.  Our Lord can't do anything unless we also turn to Him, and ask Him for His Mercy, just as the good thief on the cross, St. Dismas, did.
How can we speak of God today? The first answer is that we can speak of God, because He has spoken with us. The first condition of speaking of God is therefore to listen to what God himself has said. God has spoken to us!  God is therefore not a distant hypothesis about the origin of the world, nor a mathematical intelligence far away from us. God cares for us, loves us, has personally entered into the reality of our history, he has communicated himself to the point of becoming incarnate.
It is an amazing thing that the great Creator God of the Universe, who has no need of anything or anyone, should actually come to our earth as one of us so that we can be saved and spend eternity with Him.  This is how King David expressed God's amazing love for us in Psalm 8:3-4:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained ;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Thus, God is a reality of our lives, he is so great that he even has time for us, he cares for us. In Jesus of Nazareth, we encounter the face of God, who came down from Heaven to immerse himself into the world of men, into our world, and to teach the "art of living", the road to happiness, to free us from sin and make us children of God (cf. Eph 1:5, Rom 8:14).
"Jesus came down from heaven to immerse himself in the world of men."  Think about that!  It's like an elephant taking notice of a bunch of ants and saving them from destruction.  God has even less need of us than an elephant does of an ant, yet He loves us in a way that I will never understand as long as I live.  He poured His life out in utter agony upon the Cross so that we may live.  Why do we ever doubt Him?

The next statement from the Holy Father puts in one sentence the reason why Jesus came to earth as a man and gave His life for us:
Jesus came to save us and show us the good life of the Gospel.
We've all heard this so many times that it doesn't mean that much.  But read it again and think about it. The One who created the universe and everything in it came to save us and give us to the opportunity to share eternal bliss with Him.

Foot washing is a symbol of
doing small things with great love
The Holy Father now tells us that in order to bring this saving message to our poor, sick world, we have to meet people where they live.  Give them this message in a way that they can relate to it.  And realize that just as everything that God does starts very small and humbly, so we must be humble and small.  As Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."
Speaking of God means first of all being clear about what we must bring to the men and women of our time: the God of Jesus Christ as the answer to the fundamental question of why and how should we live. We must not fear the humility of small steps and must trust in the yeast that penetrates the dough and mysteriously causes it to grow (cf. Mt 13:33). In speaking of God, in the work of evangelization, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we need to recover simplicity, to return to the essentials of the announcement: the Good News of God-Love who comes close to us in Jesus Christ to the point of the Cross and who in the Resurrection gives us hope and opens for us a life that has no end, eternal life. (...)
Pope Benedict now gives us the example of one of the Church's greatest saints, St. Paul, who was unceasing in his efforts to bring the Gospel to the world.  St Paul gave an example of love that absolutely astounds me:  "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9:1-3).  Do we love others enough that we would give up own salvation if it would save them?  I'm glad I don't have to answer that question because I don't think it would be pretty.

The Holy Father shows us that St. Paul never pointed to himself but always to Christ and His Saving Gospel.
That exceptional communicator who was the apostle Paul gives us a lesson that goes right to the heart of faith with great simplicity.

In the First Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "When I came among you, I did not set out to announce the mystery of God with eloquent speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified "(2:1-2).
Credit:  college-ethics.blogspot.com
Paul did not try to promote himself in any way.  His whole mission was to promote the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He was not interested in becoming a celebrity, as we too often see in Christian media, even among Catholics.  He did absolutely nothing to promote any of his own ideas or himself personally, but put all his efforts into preaching only the message of Jesus Christ.
Thus, the first thing is that Paul is not talking about a philosophy that he has developed, he’s not speaking about ideas that found elsewhere or invented, but he speaks of a reality of his life, of God who came into his life, he speaks of a real God who lives, who spoke with him and will speak with us, he speaks of Christ crucified and risen.
The second thing is that Paul is not seeking himself, he does not want to create a fan base, he does not want to go down in history as the head of a school of great knowledge, he is not self-seeking. Rather, St. Paul proclaims Christ and wants to gain people for the true God. Paul speaks only with the desire to preach what has entered into his life and that is the true life that conquered him on the road to Damascus.
Credit:  photoquoto.com
St. Paul taught us to spread the Gospel through our humility, always keeping in mind that we were sinners destined for hell, and it is only the merciful grace of Jesus Christ that opens the doors of salvation to us.  As St. Paul warned us, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  (I Cor. 10:12).  We must be engaged in the spiritual battle for our souls every moment of every day lest we leave space for the devil to enter in, and that means always putting Christ at the forefront of everything we do and say. There is no other successful way to reach out to others with the saving message of the Gospel.
So, to speak of God means to give space to the One who makes him known, who reveals his face of love, it means expropriating oneself offering it to Christ, knowing that we are not able to gain others to God, but we must await them from God himself, must implore them from Him. Speaking of God is thus born from listening, from our knowledge of God which is realized in familiarity with him, in the life of prayer and according to the Commandments.
Communicating the faith, for St. Paul, does not mean bearing himself, but stating openly and publicly what he has seen and heard in his encounter with Christ, what he has experienced in his life which has been transformed by that encounter: it means bringing Jesus whom he feels present within himself and who has become the true direction of his life, to make it clear to all that the world needs Him and that He is decisive for the freedom of every man.
St. Francis
We often hear a quote by St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."  I recently found out that St. Francis never actually said this, but he did say very similar things:
“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
“…As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.”
Our words have no meaning if we are not living a life that backs them up. Word alone do not change people's minds.  It is when they see the words in action that their hearts are changed.  The best way to bring people to Christ is to allow our Lord to work in our lives, to "make room for Him, in the confidence that He acts in our weakness", as Pope Benedict XVI says:
The Apostle is not content with merely proclaiming words, but involves his whole life in the great work of faith. To speak of God, we must make room for Him, in the confidence that He acts in our weakness: to make room for Him without fear, with simplicity and joy, in the profound conviction that the more we put Him at the center and not ourselves, the more our communication will be fruitful.
The Holy Father also chides Christian communities.  If they are promoting their own messages and their own gospels, and not keeping God at the center of their lives, they are doing far more harm than good:
This also applies to the Christian communities: they are called to show the transforming action of God's grace, overcoming all individualism, closure, selfishness, indifference and by living out the love of God in their everyday relations. Are our communities really like this?
Credit:  bethespark.org
The Holy Father now turns to Jesus Christ Himself, and examines the ways and methods He used in preaching the Gospel.  Pope Benedict shows us that Christ reached out to people with love and compassion, meeting them on their own level.  It is interesting that the only people our Lord ever publicly condemned were the religious leaders, the Pharisees, because they were stealing people's souls through their hypocrisy.   Think of the woman taken in adultery, or the woman at the well, or Mary Magdalene.  They were all sinners condemned by society, yet they found full acceptance from Jesus Christ who called for them to turn from their sinful lives and accept His forgiveness and love.  The first man chosen to be an apostle was Matthew, a despised tax collector who regularly cheated people.  These people were not converted because Christ told them they were lousy sinners on their way to hell.  They were converted because they experienced the saving love of Jesus Christ.  This is what we must bring to our sin sick world:
At this point we must ask ourselves how Jesus communicated. Jesus, in his uniqueness, speaks of his Father – Abbà – and of the Kingdom of God, with eyes full of compassion for the hardships and difficulties of human existence. He speaks with great realism and, I would say, that the essential feature of Jesus’ proclamation is that it makes clear that our life and the world are worthy of God.
Jesus shows that in the world and in creation there appears the face of God and this shows us how in the everyday events God is present in our lives. Both in the parables of nature, the mustard seed, the field with different seeds, or in our lives, for instance in the parable of the prodigal son, Lazarus and other parables of Jesus.
Woman at the well
Credit:  awakenedanew.com
Christ showed people that he cared for them personally.  We, too, must show people that we genuinely care about them and want what is best for them.  Often that will mean pointing out the wrong direction they are headed in.  Christ did not hesitate to tell the woman at the well that she was involved in a sinful relationship with the man with whom she was living at that time (John 14):  "You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband."  He told her outright that he had what she needed:  "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."  We must be bold in what we tell people, but we must do it in humility and love:
From the Gospels we see how Jesus is interested in every human situation he encounters, he is immersed in the reality of the men and women of his time, with full confidence in the Father's help. And that really in this story, in a hidden way, God is present and if we are attentive we can meet him.
Even with our Lord Himself, it was not just His Words, as powerful as they were, that converted people, but His actions and the way He lived His life as well:
And the disciples, who live with Jesus, the crowds who meet him, see his reaction to different problems, they see how he speaks, how he behaves, they see in him the action of the Holy Spirit, the action of God. In Him announcement and life are intertwined: Jesus acts and teaches, always starting from an intimate relationship with God the Father.
This style becomes an essential indication for us Christians: our way of living in faith and charity becomes a speaking of God in the present time, because it shows, with a life lived in Christ, the credibility, the realism of what we say with words, which are not just words, but show the reality, the true reality. And in this we must be careful to read the signs of the times in our epoch, that is, to identify the potentials, the desires, the obstacles encountered in contemporary culture, in particular the desire for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, the sensitivity for safeguarding creation, and to communicate without fear the response that faith in God offers.
The Year of Faith is an opportunity to discover, with our imaginations animated by the Holy Spirit, new paths on the personal and community level, so that everywhere the power of the Gospel may be wisdom of life and the orientation for existence.
To bring people to our Lord we must share His love and saving compassion that we have seen in our own lives with others.   We need to speak out against the sin in people's lives, but we must let them know of a God who loves them so much He actually came to earth and died for them:
Speaking of God, therefore, means showing through one’s words and life that God is not a competitor for our life, but rather is its true guarantor, the guarantor of the greatness of the human person. Thus, we return to where we started: speaking about God means communicating with strength and simplicity, by one’s word and life, what is essential: the God of Jesus Christ, the God who has shown us a love so great that it became incarnate, died and rose for us; that God who asks us to follow him and to let ourselves be transformed by his immense love in order to renew our lives and our relationships; the God who has given us the Church, to walk together and, through the Word and the Sacraments, to renew the entire City of men, so that it may become the City of God. Thank you.
Credit:  etsy.com

2 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I was going thru some really difficult time last summer and read this post almost everyday...it really helped me! I'm a huge fan of Mother Teresa and read her almost daily. I love the way you articulated her thoughts of simplicity in the preaching of the gospel.
    "Our words have no meaning if we are not living a life that backs them up. Word alone do not change people's minds. It is when they see the words in action that their hearts are changed." That quote of yours is a true gem, a real masterpiece!
    Thank you again for your lovely and inspiring work. By the way, I love Brooklyn, especially the Red Hook area. God bless you.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words. Writing this blog has actually been a great spiritual exercise for me and helps me clarify my thoughts. Now if only I can live these words!

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