Tag Archives: evangelization

The Troubled Crowds

“At the sight of the crowds,” our gospel reading today says,”Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9, 34-38)

How should laborers in the harvest today approach the troubled crowds?

In his 1977 novel “Lancelot” Walker Percy tells the story of Lancelot, a man confined to a prison hospital after setting fire to his beautiful ancestral home in Louisiana and murdering his wife and her lover. The man’s fed up with today’s world and turned against it, but he’s still trying to figure out what life’s all about. He’s on to something, one of Percy’s phrases.

An old priest visits him frequently in the prison hospital– his only visitor, it seems– and listens to him, but hardly says a word. That’s partially because Lancelot doesn’t think much anymore of the faith the priest represents.

Yet, the priest listens. Lancelot occasionally asks him if he understands. “Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to,” Lancelot remarks. Only as the book ends does he say to the priest: “Very well, I’ve finished. Is there anything you wish to tell me?”

On retreat this week, we’re reading Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et exultate”, a wonderful exploration of holiness today. At one point, the pope says “Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life.”

We’re sent as laborers for the harvest, but are words the only tools we have to use. Is silence, along with a persevering concern, ways to engage the troubled crowd?

What’s Evangelization?

The Year of Evangelization in the Catholic church is coming to a close this November. It’s a year dedicated to bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to others through words and actions. We’re trying to get someone who has never been to church to come, and to get others who have left our church to come back.

That’s not easy to do. It’s more than knowing how to say the right things to someone else. Evangelization needs a lot of time and a lot of hard patience.

I was thinking about that as we remembered two saints last week in our church calendar ¬–St. Monica and St. Augustine. He’s one of the greatest intellects the world has every known; he has strongly influenced the way we think in our western world. Monica was his mother.

Most of us have heard these moving words to God from Augustine’s Confession:

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

In his Confessions Augustine tells God that God’s grace brought him to believe–so late, he admits. But in the Confessions, Augustine also acknowledges it was a mother’s tears and prayers that brought him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who was bringing her dead son through the gates of the town of Naim to bury him when Jesus came upon them. Seeing her tears, he stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

You can see why the church celebrates her feast on August 27th, the day before her son’s, and why we read that story of the widow of Naim as the gospel for Mass that day.

Like many women from that time, we don’t know much about Monica. She was married to a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids. She had a feeling that Augustine was someone special, and she followed him, trying in her own way to get him to be the person she knew he could be. She wanted him to have faith.

It was a hard thing to do. He was so smart, so well educated, so hooked on the “lovely things” about him. He was deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she kept following him anyway. She was convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish.

She sounds like so many people today, loving their kids, or the husbands or their wives or their friends, but worried about them getting mixed up in the wrong things. They’re not going to church, they not listening to the gospel. But they stick by them anyway.

Is that evangelization too?

Preaching “Out of Season”

CARA is a non-profit research group based in Washington, DC that studies the Catholic Church. Some statistics on its recent blog are worth reflection.

How many people in the US have been Catholic some time in their lives?  About 97 million.

Have many currently consider themselves Catholic?  Over 74 million.

How many go to church only on Easter and Christmas?  Over 50 million.

How many attend Mass at least once a month?    Over 36 million.

How many attend Mass weekly?  Over 17 million.

How many are actively engaged in their parishes? About 3 million.

There are about 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States, which are important sources for evangelizing those who infrequently or never practice their faith. They also have a significant role in reaching out to the unchurched.

But are parishes the only sources for bringing the gospel to others? We’re experiencing a priest shortage, that shows no signs of ending. A parish-based evangelization depends on a resourceful, innovative clergy. Without resourceful, innovative priests, I don’t see how we can evangelize from the parish alone. We need to turn to other sources for evangelization.

Seems to me the media in its many forms has a role.

I think too this is a time for Christian movements beyond the parish to arise to meet the need to preach the gospel, “in season and out of season.” Let’s pray for new movements, and also let’s pray that some of the older religious communities and lay groups rise up again.

Our time is certainly “out of season.” But that’s when preaching needs to be done.