Sunday, September 4, 2016

Impediments To Evangelism: A Sunday Rumination

     Every Christian, regardless of his denomination, is a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. In like manner, every Christian, regardless of his denomination or his stature within it, is called to participate in the Great Commission:

     Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. [Matthew 28:16-20]

     For the Apostles, all of them born Jews and schooled within the Judaic tradition, it must have seemed straightforward: We are to teach. Therefore we must speak of what Christ has told us to all who will hear us. I have little doubt that that was the course they followed.

     But note: Having personally known the Son of God, they were aware that He required them to live as He commanded. They were not merely to repeat His commandments to others, while freely disobeying them when “on their own time.” Had they not been good examples as well as good preachers of the Word, they could not have evangelized effectively.

     Among contemporary Christians, that dictum is violated about as often as it’s observed. Even among regular churchgoers, men who tithe of their incomes to their parishes and provide all manner of services to their congregations, there are many who reserve parts of their lives for priorities they place higher than God.

     But God is the highest priority. Awareness of His gifts and His will, mated to gratitude to Him for our lives and our chance for eternal bliss, must stand above all other things. While that doesn’t mean one must pray continuously and think only of spiritual duties, it does mean that when temporal concerns come into conflict with them, we must put our spiritual duties first.

     When one not yet persuaded of the truth of the Gospels sees those who claim to be Christians doing things Christians are supposed to abjure, his reservations, whatever their basis, will be reinforced. “Do as I say, not as I do” has that sort of effect on everyone.

     Central among the virtues a Christian must cultivate is humility. I’ve probably said or written that ten thousand times by now. Yet it’s a message that cannot be scamped or sloughed, for in humility is founded the most attractive of all the traits an evangelist can exhibit: the willingness to accept others as brothers in Christ, whether current or potential, despite all appearances to the contrary. C. S. Lewis, as usual, has brilliantly depicted the effects of the opposite attitude through his devil-protagonist Screwtape:

     I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question "If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?" You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won't come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy's ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these "smug", commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can. [From The Screwtape Letters]

     To accept Christ and His New Covenant is not an accomplishment in which one should take pride. It is a gift – a stroke of Divine mercy. To parade that gift as if it were a gold medal awarded for some athletic feat is to negate its beauty and its power to inspire emulation. To add a life of vice detectable by others is to grind His gift into the dust.

     It saddens me that not merely lay Christians but a substantial number of ordained priests and ministers have defiled that gift.

     I’ve said before that I write these Ruminations mainly as a way to talk to myself with some permanence. First and foremost they’re lessons from me to me, as if my better self were to catechize my poorer one. I review them more often than you might think. I publish them here on the off chance that others might derive some benefit from them, for I see that as part of my duty under the Great Commission.

     It comes at a cost: the recognition and admission of my own moral and ethical fallibility – i.e., my innate sinfulness. But that’s as much a blessing as it is a penalty, for it’s a reminder that however much I might prattle about humility, my own requires as much monitoring and reinforcement as anyone’s. Unless frequently reminded, any man’s humility can slip away – and it will carry away with it any power he might have to evangelize.

     Any counteragent to unjustifiable pride is a good one. Any reminder of one’s debt to God – especially the debt accrued by accepting His mercy – is a worthy one.

     May God bless and keep you all.


Jack Imel said...

But, see Fran... you somewhat contradict yourself in you previous post on the last line, "...won't have to live through most of the consequences." I'm only 77, but whenever I say something like " least I won't be around when the terror really begins" the Lord stops me in my tracks, like a cop on the walk. He says, "but that's why I put you there, to battle the evil one, and gather in those who will believe." Has be put us into the game just to escape some mortal adversity? It ain't about us, is it?

Francis W. Porretto said...

I'm not perfect, Jack. I fear what I see coming, and fear is an aversive stimulus. I can only hope not to have to weather too much of it.

Anonymous said...

By all means please do keep posting your Ruminations. As a fellow Catholic I find them instructive and often inspiring. Sometimes hearing about the Cross that others bear helps us to bear our own.

In fact, these Ruminations may even be a form of evangelism.

Oh, and in this one you are spot on. It is kind of Zen.. as soon as you get too pleased with yourself for being humble it is gone.