The commercial below reminds us of an important insight for evangelization. It features a barber shop where business is slow. Things pick up quickly, however, when they begin to post photos of recent customers sporting their new haircuts. The pictures showcase the good results of a haircut and bring “getting a haircut” from the world of abstraction, ideas, and possibilities, into the world of visual reality. In effect, they’re saying, “Here’s what happens when you come into our shop!”
For us who would evangelize, it is not enough simply to present teachings and ideas. We must provide to others a real picture of salvation in Christ. Even if through our words we can get people to acknowledge that the Lord has saved them and can transform them, they might still respond, “Well that sounds good, but how do I know it’s true?” That is when we must be able to say, “Just look at me!”
In other words, having an evangelization committee, displaying a rack of pamphlets, or offering a class is not enough. We must be witnesses of what the Lord has done for us and showcase what He can still do for others. We must be able to say, “Picture this!”
This Sunday’s Gospel speaks to the necessity of becoming witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection Jesus. It begins with the necessary foundation of the Church’s proclamation: The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon! (Luke 24:34) This solemn declaration forms the doctrinal certitude of the resurrection. On this foundation of the truth, the personal witness of every Catholic must be built. In this gospel we see how the Lord confirms His resurrection through the teaching authority of the Church, confirms the apostles in its truth, clarifies their faith, and then commissions them to be witnesses. Let’s see how the Lord does this.
I. The Certainty of the Resurrection– And [the disciples from Emmaus] rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In the early hours of the first Easter Sunday, the news began to circulate that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. They dismissed reports from both women and men. Several women, including Mary Magdalene, had seen Jesus alive. St. John had seen the empty tomb and had “believed.” And though Luke does not mention it here, Mark records that when the disciples returning from Emmaus first sent word they had seen Jesus, they too were at first disbelieved (Mk 16:13).
As we pick up the story that evening, there is a sudden change, a declaration by the apostles that the Lord has truly risen!
What causes this change? After the early evening report from the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk. According to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Lk 24:34), the risen Lord then appeared to Peter privately, prior to making Himself known to any of the other apostles. Peter reports Jesus’ appearance to the others and it is at this point that the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the community, the Church. The official declaration is worded as follows: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)
Did the women’s and the laymen’s declarations mean nothing? Of course not. Indeed, the Lord later upbraids the apostles for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mk 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance, especially given that He had said He would rise on the third day. Even to this day the Lord often presents apparitions of Mary, the saints, or Himself to the faithful. The clergy must carefully discern such actions, not quickly believing or disbelieving them. However, no apparition or devotion (e.g., the Divine Mercy Chaplet) can become official teaching of the Universal Church until the Church, in union with Peter’s successor, rules it worthy of belief.
This is even more the case with a dogma like the resurrection. It becomes an official teaching when proclaimed so by Peter and his successors. Pope Benedict, writing as Joseph Ratzinger, sees an ecclesiological dimension to Peter’s special role in causing the resurrection to go from being merely attested to being “true indeed.”
… This indication of names [Cephas and then the Twelve], … reveals the very foundation of the Church’s faith. On the one hand “the Twelve” remain the actual foundation stone of the Church, the permanent point of reference. On the other hand, the special task given to Peter is underlined here. … Peter’s special witnessing role is confirmation of his commission to be the rock on which the Church is built. … So, the resurrection account flows naturally into ecclesiology. … and it shapes the nascent Church [Jesus of Nazareth Vol 2., pp. 259-260].
So, the resurrection is now officially declared by the Church; it is certain and true. Faith is a way of knowing. Our faith in the Church as stated in the Creed (I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church) leads us to the certain knowledge of the resurrection by the Church’s dogmatic declaration: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)
However, even though the faith is a communal and official declaration of the Church through the College of Apostles with Peter as its head, it cannot remain simply this. Faith must reach every member on a personal level. It is not enough for us to say, “Peter says …,” or “The Church says …,” or “Scripture says …,” or “My mother says …” We must also be able to add our own voice to the witness of the Church. We must be able to say, “Jesus is risen; it is true! What the Church has always taught, I, too, have experienced. All her teachings and doctrines, all that the Lord has taught and revealed is true because in the laboratory of my own life I have tested them and found them to be true!”
Thus, we must stay with these disciples in their journey to experience the proclamation of the Church: “The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!”
II. The Contact with the Resurrection – While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
The truth, if we will lay hold of it, is consoling and freeing. Jesus, in the truth of His resurrected glory, stands before them and says, “Shalom,” peace. While the truth does liberate and bring peace, a journey is usually necessary to realize and accept this. Before we can receive the gift of truth, we must often accept the conflict that it introduces into our life.
As we all know, the truth can startle and even upset; it can break conventions and challenge what we know and think. The apostles are at first startled. It is one thing to hear and accept that the Lord is risen, that He has appeared to Peter, but it is another thing to be personally confronted with the truth.
It is one thing for them to believe with the Church and say, “The Lord is truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” But it is another for them to personally experience this. It breaks through everything they have ever known. Their belief is no longer abstract; it is no longer merely communal. Now they are personally in contact with the reality of it.
So, too, for us on our journey to deeper faith. It is a faith declared by the Church, but a faith that we must come to know and experience personally. Thanks be to God that the Lord is willing to help us to do so. For He does not simply shatter our notions. Rather, He helps us to “connect the dots” between His truth and what we already know.
III. The Clarification of the Resurrection – Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
The truth can often startle us; it can challenge what we know and think. For this reason, some avoid it or resist it, at least initially.
But the Lord, in His mercy, often sends us assurances. He helps us to “connect the dots” between what challenges us and what we already know, between what is new and what is ancient and attested to. Truth has a unity; greater truths build on lesser ones. God prepares us in stages for the full truth. Jesus once said to the apostles, I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth (Jn 16:12-13).
Thus, in this Gospel the Lord sets forth a kind of continuity and clarification for them. Through various methods He shows them that though gloriously risen and transformed, He who stands before them now is also the same Jesus who walked with them days before. He shows them His hands and side to indicate that He was indeed the one they saw crucified. He bids them to touch Him and see that He is not a ghost. He eats to console them and to show them that He still has fellowship with them among the living; He is no shimmering apparition from another realm. Finally, He opens their minds to the understanding of Scripture, so that they may know that all that happened is not some radical break with or tearing up of God’s plan. Rather, it is a fulfillment of all that was written, all that was prophesied.
What seems new and different is in fact in line with, in continuity with, all that has gone before. This is the new Passover that opens the way to the true, more glorious and eternal Promised Land of Heaven. This is not failure; it is fulfillment. This is not rejection of the Old Covenant; it is the ratification of it and the transposition of it to a higher and more glorious level than ever before. Moses gave them manna, but Jesus gives Himself as the true bread from Heaven. Moses gave them water, but Jesus changed water into wine and wine into His saving blood. The blood of the Passover lamb staved off a death that would come later, but the Blood of the True Lamb cancels the second death of Hell.
This is clarification. Jesus is helping them to “connect the dots” between what they have known and this startling new reality: that He has overcome torture and death. It is really He, though as the resurrection accounts indicate, He is transformed. He has not merely taken up His former life; He has elevated it to a new and mysterious level. He has a humanity that is not only risen from the dead, but is glorified. His Lordship and glory shows through as never before. He can appear and disappear at will and is able, it would seem, to alter his appearance.
So here is a truth to which we must journey: Jesus is not a mere Rabbi or ethical teacher from the ancient world; He is the Lord. He is our brother and yet also our Lord. He raised our humanity from the dead but glorified it as well. He lives at a new level, and we who are baptized into His death also rise with Him to a new and higher life (Rom 6:4). Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).
In our journey to what is new, the Lord does not destroy what is behind, what He has done. He takes it up, fulfills it, and elevates it. His truth builds, and while what is new challenges us, it does not destroy or cancel our reason or what we have already come to know as true (if in fact it was true).
It is for us to cooperate with His grace and personally lay hold of the truth declared by the Church. The Lord does this in a way that respects our intellect and our sense of the faith. In this way our conflicts are gradually overcome. Our faith is deepened and though communal, also becomes more personal. Now we are ready to become witnesses to the Church’s unchanging declaration, “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” and to every other teaching that flows from this.
IV. Commissioning of the Resurrection– And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
What is a witness? Well, it is not someone who merely repeats what others have seen and heard; it is one who testifies to what he himself has seen and heard. The apostles, having contacted personally the certain truth of the resurrection proclaimed by the Church and having had it clarified for them, are now ready to go forth as witnesses. Bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, and parents must move beyond merely repeating formulas, precious and necessary thought they are (please, do not go out and invent your own religion!). That Jesus is risen from the dead is certain and true because the Church solemnly proclaims it: “He is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
Next must come that moment when we allow the Lord to stand before us and affirm what He proclaims through the Church. Having this contact, we must allow Him to clarify it and then commission us to go forth as His witnesses. As witnesses, we can and must say, “The Church says that He is risen. The Scriptures say that He is risen. And I say to you that He is risen.” You are witnesses of these things.
While the actual event of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not recorded in the Scriptures, there is a biblical basis for the teaching that, considered as a whole, confirms Catholic teaching as both fitting and in keeping with biblical principles. Let’s ponder this feast in stages:
The Assumption Explained – To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into Heaven. As far back as the Church can remember we have celebrated the fact that Mary was taken up into Heaven. We do not just acknowledge that her soul was taken to Heaven, as is the case with the rest of the faithful who are taken there (likely after purgation); rather, Mary was taken up, soul and body, after her sojourn on this earth was complete. There is no earthly tomb containing her body, neither are there relics of her body to be found among the Christian faithful. This is our ancient memory and what we celebrate today, Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heaven.
The Assumption Exemplified – While Mary’s Assumption is not described in Scripture, several other “assumptions” are; thus the concept itself has a biblical basis. The actual event of the Assumption is not described in Scripture. However, there are “assumptions” recorded in the Scriptures and thus the concept is biblical.
Enoch – Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Gen. 5:24). By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).
Elijah – And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven … And he was seen no more (2 Kings 2:11).
Moses – Some say that because the location of Moses’ grave is not known, he too was taken up into Heaven. We read in Monday’s first reading at daily Mass: He was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is (Dt. 34:6). The text of course does not say that his body was taken up, and if it was, it occurred after death and burial. The Book of Jude hints at this: But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses … (Jude 1:9). Some further credibility is lent to the view of Moses being assumed by the fact that he appears with Elijah in the account of the Transfiguration. Some of the Church Fathers also held this opinion. Further, there is a Jewish work from the 6th century A.D. entitled The Assumption of Moses. In the end, though, the assumption of Moses is not officially held by the Church.
The Assumption Evidenced (John Sees Mary in Heaven)– There is one other scriptural account that may provide evidence of Mary’s whereabouts. Today’s second reading, a passage from the Book of Revelation, features John’s description of his sighting of the ark of God:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads …. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter (Rev 11:19 – 12:5).
The woman in the passage is clearly Mary, since the child is obviously Jesus (although she also likely represents Israel and Mother Zion). And where is Mary seen? In Heaven. Some argue that this does not necessarily indicate that her body is in Heaven; they say that it might be referring only to her soul. However, the physical description of her seems rather strong to support such a view.
Others believe that because John mentions the ark and then continues on to describe Mary (the woman clothed with the son), that he is in fact still describing the ark. (I have written on this elsewhere: Mary: The Ark of the New Covenant.) If Mary is the ark described, then she is clearly in Heaven.
So, the Bible, while not specifically recording Mary’s Assumption, does present other assumptions, thus showing it to be a biblical concept. Further, Mary’s physical presence in Heaven seems at least hinted at, if not directly described, in the Book of Revelation.
The Church does not rely solely on Scripture. In this case, what we celebrate is most fundamentally taught to us by Sacred Tradition; the memory of Mary’s Assumption goes back as far as we can remember.
The Assumption Extended to Us – The Feast of the Assumption is of theological interest and provides matter for biblical reflection, but eventually these questions are bound to arise: So what? How does what happened to Mary affect my life? What does it mean for me? The answers are bound up in nearly every Marian doctrine. Simply put, what happened to Mary will also happen to us in the end. As Mary bore Christ into the world, we bear Him in the Holy Communion we receive and in the witness of His indwelling presence in our life. As Mary is (and always was) sinless (immaculate), so too will we one day be sinless with God in Heaven. As Mary cared for Christ in His need, so do we care for Him in the poor, suffering, needy, and afflicted. Finally, as Mary was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven, so too will we be there one day, body and soul.
After our death and subsequent purification, our soul goes to Heaven; our body, though, lies in an earthly tomb. But one day, when the trumpet shall sound, our body will rise and be joined to our soul.
For we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:51-57).
So our bodies shall rise; they shall be assumed and joined to our soul.
Improved model! An older woman once said to me, upon hearing that her body would rise, “Father if this old body has to rise, I’m hoping for an improved model!” Yes, indeed; me too! I want a full head of hair, a slim build, and knees that work! I want an upgrade from this old, general issue model to a luxury edition. In fact, God will do that. Scripture says,
He will take these lowly bodies of ours and transform them to be like his own glorified body (Phil 3:21).
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body …. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power …. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor 15:35-49).
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another’s (Job 19:25-27).
The assumption of our bodies, prefigured by Christ in His own power and also in Mary by the gift of God, will one day be our gift too.
The following song is an African-American spiritual and describes that “great gettin’ up morning” when our bodies will rise. If we have been faithful, our bodies will rise to glory!
I’m gonna tell you about the coming of the judgement (Fare you well) There’s a better day a coming …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well! Oh preacher fold your Bible, For the last soul’s converted …. Blow your trumpet Gabriel …. Lord, how loud shall I blow it? Blow it right calm and easy Do not alarm all my people …. Tell them to come to the judgement …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well. Do you see them coffins bursting? Do you see them folks is rising? Do you see the world on fire? Do you see the stars a falling? Do you see that smoke and lightning? Do you hear the rumbling thunder? Oh Fare you well poor sinner. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well.
The commercial below reminds us of an important insight for evangelization. It features a barber shop where business is slow. Things pick up quickly, however, when they begin to post photos of recent customers sporting their new haircuts. The pictures showcase the good results of a haircut and bring “getting a haircut” from the world of abstraction, ideas, and possibilities, into the world of visual reality. In effect, they’re saying, “Here is what happens when you come to our shop!”
For us who would evangelize, it is not enough to present teachings and ideas. We must provide a real picture of salvation in Christ to others. Even if through our words we can get people to acknowledge that the Lord has saved them and can transform them, they might still respond, “Well that sounds good, but how do I know it’s true?” And that is when we have to be able to say, “Just look at me!”
In other words, having an evangelization committee, displaying a rack of pamphlets, or offering a class is not enough. We have to be witnesses of what the Lord has done for us and showcase what He can still do for others. We must be able to say, “Picture this!”
All of us have wounds and imperfections. Some of us make do, even living joyfully in spite of them. Others of us brood or withdraw.
An old saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes, “Most folks are about as happy as they decide to be.”
An old Stephen Foster classic, “Some Folks,” goes as follows:
Some folks like to sigh, Some folks do, some folks do; Others long to die, But that’s not me nor you.
Long live the merry, merry heart That laughs by night and day Like the Queen of Mirth, No matter what some folks say.
Some folks get gray hairs Some folks do, some folks do; Brooding o’er their cares But that’s not me nor you.
Yes, happiness is an inside job. We tend to think it depends on externals, but usually it doesn’t.
Consider the video below. A young boy is injured but in a way that is only revealed near the end. He appears withdrawn and almost coldly cruel.
Enter a dog, who is also injured. And yet the dog is indomitable, joyful, and engaging despite his injury. He almost seems unaware of it. The dog is persistently joyful, eventually winning the young boy over with his exuberance.
What about us? Are we joyful Christians? Are we indomitable in the face of trials? Or are we bitter, withdrawn, joyless, and cynical?
Just remember that joy has a way of winning souls. Decide to be happy in Christ.
St. Paul describes a kind of modus vivendi (a way of living) for himself and for us; the passage was read at Mass on Monday. It has a dynamic urgency about it that we ought not to overlook.
It is Christ whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me (Col 1:28-29).
As with many biblical texts, it is often helpful to start at the end and work backward. Unlike modern discourse, which usually goes from cause to effect, ancient discourse often works from effect to cause. And that is the case here with St. Paul’s text. So, let’s ponder St. Paul’s description of the life (modus vivendi) of an evangelizer. We’ll begin with the last line and work toward the first.
I. The Source of an Evangelizer – St. Paul says, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.
St. Paul speaks of a kind of dynamic power at work within him that gives him a burning urgency. Indeed, the word translated here as “power” is δυνάμει (dynamei), a word from which we get the English word “dynamite.” Yes, it is a dynamic and explosive power. It is the same sort of burning urgency that Jeremiah spoke of when he wrote,
Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it (Jer 20:8-9).
And St. Paul himself also wrote,
For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16)
Yes, in the heart of a true evangelist the Word of God is like a dynamic, explosive power. It burns to get out and has an explosive power that must go forth. This power gives St. Paul a burning love for people and stirs within him an urgency to speak and to act.
And that leads us to the preceding line.
II.The Struggle of an Evangelizer – St. Paul writes, For this I labor and struggle.
On account of the dynamic power of love and truth within him, St. Paul describes himself as laboring and struggling. The Greek word translated here as “struggle” is particularly powerful. It is ἀγωνιζόμενος (agonizomenos), from the word agōnízomai . We get the English word “agony” from this. Agōnízomai means to be like one who is engaged in an intense athletic contest, conflict, or warfare. It speaks of a great struggle and an intense striving for a goal or finish line.
And thus while “struggle” is a perfectly adequate translation of the word, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that agōnízomai speaks to a struggle that is intense and urgent, one that is focused and foremost.
In using this term St. Paul indicated that, inspired by God, he really cared about the salvation of souls and knew that he needed to contend for souls against the world, the flesh, and the devil. He undertook immense work and endured many sufferings. He was hungry; he survived a shipwreck; he was despised, pursued, beaten, scourged, stoned, imprisoned, and finally killed.
I wonder how many of us are this urgent for souls or are “agonizing” for them. For too many of us, even Church leaders (who are most responsible for the care and conversion of souls), evangelizing and spiritually directing souls is something we “get around to” if we have time after the committee meeting or after the building contractor comes by to give the estimate on the roof repairs.
Very few Christians today see their own lives and the lives of others as caught up in a great drama between life and death, Heaven and Hell. There is more often a sleepy universalism that presumes that almost everyone will be saved in the end. Never mind that the Bible says just the opposite. We would rather stay in our dream world, in which “everyone will live happily ever after.”
Meanwhile, St. Paul and countless other evangelizers like St. Francis Xavier were “in agony” to save souls. They traveled to far-flung places, enduring terrible trials because they saw that many were headed for destruction unless they heard the call to “repent and believe the good news.” They had an urgency for souls and a sense of the dramatic conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, the world and the Kingdom. It is an urgency that too many of us lack.
Of his urgent concern St. Paul wrote, There is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weakened? Who is scandalized and I am not indignant? (2 Cor 11:29)
Compare this to how settled down many are today with the assault of evil on children, parishioners, spouses, and so many people we know and love. Oh, for just a little more of the “agony” that St. Paul and the saints felt for souls and for the Gospel!
There is nothing deader than a dead priest, nothing deader than a dead parent. Why? Because so much of the eternal salvation of souls depends on them being alive and alert.
III. The Satisfaction of an Evangelizer– Continuing with the preceding line, St. Paul describes that his goal, his satisfaction, is not mere “safety” for souls but their perfection and completeness in Christ. He writes, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
The Greek word translated here as “perfect” is τέλειον (teleion), from téleios, meaning to arrive at a goal or end. By extension it means to be mature by having gone through the necessary stages to reach the endgoal. It means to be complete, whole, mature, or finished.
And thus the work of an evangelizer is not just to summon people away from sin and destruction, but also to lead them to wholeness and maturity in Christ. To be complete is not merely to lack sin, it is to have all the virtues up and running; it is to be at peace, stable, serene, confident, joyful, and holy. This is what all pastors, parents, and evangelizers should want for the people about whom they care. This alone will satisfy a true evangelizer.
The expensive home that is the American dream might only provide a place in which our children are miserable. God’s house and His dream for us draws us to deepening and lasting joy.
For what are we laboring as we care for others? Is it merely for comfort in a passing world or is it for completion (the perfection of teleios)?
Don’t be satisfied with anything less than being whole and complete.
IV. The Strength of an Evangelizer – Toward this purpose, then, St. Paul describes his work: admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom.
With the exception of the youngest of children, people cannot be forced to convert or to have faith. And so we must be content to teach, as St. Paul says. But he does not simply say that we should “teach”; he also says that we should “admonish.”
To admonish is to warn, to put some pressure on the logic and reasoning of another. The Greek word for admonish is nouthetéō and means most literally “to put something in the mind” of another (noús, (mind) + títhēmi, (to place)).
Whereas teaching seeks to present something to the mind for consideration, admonishment seeks to put something in the mind by appealing to an urgent motive.
And this is a significant problem today. Sermons and catechetical instruction often lack admonishment, lack urgency. Too many sermons are merely informational and suggestive rather than bold and urgent.
St. Paul often referred to himself as a kerux, a Greek word meaning “messenger,” but with the notion of being a herald or town crier: one who stands in the square and proclaims a message of news and importance.
As clergy, parents, catechists, and leaders we need to deliver our messages with a sense of urgency. We are not just teaching; we are admonishing! We not just seeking to inform, but to transform others by God’s grace.
Joyful, urgent proclamation and admonishment are essential for the Gospel to have its effects.
V. The Substance of an Evangelizer– Finally, in the first line, St. Paul says, It is Christ whom we proclaim.
Is it? Or are we just proclaiming ideas and slogans? How can we proclaim Christ if we have barely met Him?
When Andrew went to Peter he said, “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41) There must have been an urgent look on Andrew’s face, a look of burning love, for Peter followed him straightaway to the Lord.
Later, as recounted in the Acts the Apostles, Peter and John were summoned before the rulers of the Temple to explain why they were causing a stir. The text says, When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they noted that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
How about you and me? Would anyone know that we have been with Jesus? It is Christ whom we proclaim, not mere ideas but Truth Himself. Where, then, is our courage? What will lead others to see that we have been with Jesus?
What will lead them to note that we have been with Jesus is for us to be with Jesus. Prayer is at the heart of our authority. It is Christ whom we proclaim. And if it is really Christ we proclaim then people may be mad, sad, or glad at what we say, but they certainly won’t be bored or unclear about our message! It is Christ whom we proclaim.
A reading from Monday of this week (the 11th Week in Ordinary Time) reminds us once again of the cost of the gospel. St. Paul speaks plainly of the suffering he endured to deliver the Good News for us:
… afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise. We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things (2 Cor 6:3-10).
Thus St. Paul, who suffered martyrdom for the Gospel, delivered the faith to us long before the sword came that ended his earthly life.
I want to talk about the relationship of the words “martyr” and “evangelization” in two ways. The word martyr has two senses, both of which apply to evangelization. On the one hand, martyr is simply the Greek word (μάρτυς – martus) that means “witness.” On the other hand, in modern English we think of martyrs as those who suffered and died for their faith. Both concepts are essential for evangelizers (this means you).
Let’s look first at the definition of “martyr” as “one who suffers.” If you’re going to evangelize, prepare to suffer. This explains a lot in terms of why most Christians don’t evangelize.
When I was training people (about fifty of them) in my parish several years ago to go evangelizing door-to-door, and also when I was preparing others in my parish to approach their fallen-away family members to summon them back to the Church, it was clear that we had to get something out of the way at the very start. I needed to make everyone understand that we were all going to suffer for doing this. We would be rejected, scorned, ridiculed, vented at, and asked questions we wouldn’t be able to answer. And yes, we would also have people who would be delighted to see us, very friendly, open to the invitation to come to Mass, and interested to find out more. But in the end, I wanted to be clear that we would have to expect to get it with both barrels: POW!
Are you ready to suffer? If you’re going to be a witness, you have to know that the Greek word for witness is martyr. Are you ready to suffer for Jesus? There are many who have gone so far as to be killed for announcing Jesus. How about us? Are we even willing to risk a raised eyebrow? How about laughter, scorn, derision, anger, rejection, or even worse, being dismissed or ignored?
These things are just part of the picture. In no way do these reactions indicate failure. In fact, it may be a sign of success, for Christ promised such things to faithful disciples and witnesses. Further, anger and protests do not mean that a seed has not been sown. In order to sow a seed, the ground must first be broken, and that is often not an easy task. For the ground often “protests” and we will only get fruit from it by the sweat of our brow. In addition to the passage above from Corinthians, other texts in Scripture speak to the suffering of those who witness to the faith:
Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me (John 15:20-21).
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41).
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14).
If you suffer for being a Christian, don’t feel ashamed, but praise God for being called that name (1 Peter 4:16).
We are fools for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:10).
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:21).
How can we read texts like these and think that we will not suffer for speaking and living our faith? Some will accept us, but many will reject us. But in rejection, derision, scorn, and being called a fool, consider yourself in good company. Jesus, the Apostles, the martyrs, the saints, and all the heroes suffered in this way. It is not failure to be thought of in this way; it is simply the lot of the faithful. In this sense, it is a sign of success. We do not go looking for a fight or trying to make people angry. But often they react that way, and this is to be expected. Suffering is an essential part of being an evangelizer, a witness, a martyr.
Here are few things to remember when we are being scorned or find ourselves the object of anger:
Do not take anger and rejection personally. In most cases, it is not about you. Most people’s anger is really directed at Christ, at God, at His Church, or at organized religion in general. Some have been hurt by the Church or feel hurt by God. It is usually not about you.
Just because someone is angry or takes offense doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. I have often thought that, in a primitive part of our brain developed in early childhood, we instinctively think that if someone is angry with us then we must have done something wrong—not necessarily so. In fact, anger is sometimes a sign that we have done something right. We are raising issues that, though uncomfortable, are necessary to consider.
Do not give in to the temptation to retaliate. Rather, rejoice that you have been deemed worthy to suffer for Christ.
Do not be discouraged. Shake the dust and move on (cf Matt 10:14).
Remember that you are sowing seeds. You may not experience the harvest, but others may well bring it in. The fruitfulness of what you do may take years to come to harvest. Just stay faithful and keep sowing seeds.
Remember, too, that an evangelizer is a witness and the Greek word for witness is martyr. Suffering is simply part of the package.
When we understand and accept these things upfront, we are less likely to feel resentful and anxious when it happens. Do not lose heart. Accept the martyrdom of evangelization.
And this leads us to the second notion of the word “martyr,” that of being a witness.
A witness is someone who has seen or experienced the thing he is talking about. Thus, he knows what he is talking about. In English, the word “witness” contains the sense of “knowing” because its etymological roots come from the Old English and Germanic words “wit” and “wissen” meaning to know something. The word was also likely influenced by the German verb “kennen” meaning to be personally familiar with someone or something. Combining these roots, a “witness” is someone who knows the facts and truth of something personally, by firsthand knowledge. I cannot provide testimony as a witness in a court by saying what others told me they saw (hearsay is not admissible). I must say what I saw and what I personally know. This is what it means to be a witness.
In evangelization work, too, we are called to be witnesses. That is, we are called to speak not only about what we know intellectually, or what we have heard others say, but also what we have personally experienced. As witnesses we are called to have firsthand knowledge, not just to repeat what others have said. It is not enough to know about the Lord, we have to know the Lord personally. A child knows whether his parents are just going through the motions of teaching him a prayer, or whether they really know the Lord personally and are actually praying. Congregants know whether their priest is just giving an informational sermon or whether he has really met the Lord and knows personally what and of Whom he speaks.
People can tell the difference. And frankly, what people are most hungry for is firsthand witnesses, not people who just quote slogans and the “safe,” “tested” sayings of others. Here is what people need to hear: “God is real. I know this because I just talked to Him this morning and I experience His presence even now. And, in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested God’s teachings from Scripture and from the Church, and I have found them to be reliable and true. I am talking to you from experience. God is real and His teachings are true. I know this personally because I have experienced it in my life.”
Too often, what could be evangelical moments devolve into religious debates about whether Pope so-and-so said this or that in the 8th century, or about why women can’t be ordained, or about why the “evil” Catholic Church conducted the Inquisition. These sorts of topics come up quickly because we talk only about issues rather than personal experience. It’s a lot harder for a person to deny what you have experienced when you or I say, “I have come to experience that God is real, that what He says through His Church is true, and I have staked my whole life on what He has revealed.”
What we need are witnesses more so than experts in apologetics, who know every rebuttal. Intellectual knowledge is important, but personal witness is even more important. It’s OK to respond “I don’t know” to some arcane question, but it’s not OK to be incapable of giving witness. Even as a priest I sometimes have to say, “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ll try to find out and then let you know.” But then I immediately follow up by continuing, “But let me tell you what I do know, and that is that God is at the center of my life and I have come to experience His love for me and for every human being. I have come to experience His power to set me free from sin and from every bondage, and to root me in the truth of His Word. And whatever the answer to your question is, I know it will be rooted in that.”
Yes, we need martyrs for the work of evangelization. We need those who are willing to suffer and to be firsthand witnesses who have a personal testimony to give of the Lord they have come to know by experience. You should be an evangelizer, a witness, a martyr.
Here is a video clip from Fr. Francis Martin in which he beautifully describes the second notion of the word martyr as “witness.” This clip is part of a longer series on the Gospel of John, which you can find here Gospel of John Series 3A.
One of the great blessings of being a Roman Catholic is to be a member of the church that is over 2000 years old has amassed a vast treasury of holy doctrine, wisdom, knowledge, sacred tradition, an enormous library of the writings and teachings of Saints and Holy Doctors, great movements, spirituals and liturgical traditions. Yes, there are a lot of “moving parts” to our magnificent faith and our Church.
But strengths are often just a few degrees separated from struggles. And thus, with such a rich fair and with many possible facets for discussion (and debate), too often we who are Catholic can get lost in the details and forget the simple basic message that must be effectively proclaimed as a kind of a foundation for the rich things that will follow. If we are not careful those who look to the Catholic Faith can become easily and quickly bewildered as they are drawn into a world where people discuss everything from novenas, to the Stations of the Cross, lives of the Saints, spiritual traditions, contemplative prayer versus meditative prayer, lectio divina, Latin mass versus contemporary mass, debates over authority, who can be ordained, liturgical debates, religious liberty, sacramentals,…
And while all these things are very good, there remains the need for a good solid foundation wherein one meets the Lord, and comes to know his power in their life.
With this foundation, liturgy, scripture and sacraments begin to fall beautifully into place. The joy of knowing Christ and his saving power, and of being deeply grateful for having been saved by him, fuels a zeal to joyfully inquire into the rich tapestry of Church life, both historical and contemporary. The beauty of the Church now reflects the beauty of Christ, and the beauty of faith.
So the foundation, a relationship with Christ rooted in deep gratitude for being saved by him and loved by him must be built. Realizing this, many today have begun to emphasize the need to return to the fundamental root message that is often called the kerygma. It is a Greek word (κήρυγμα) which means “preaching” but refers more technically to the first preaching of the Apostles immediately after Pentecost. Some also translate kerygma as “Message” and thus the word connotes the basic or fundamental message, the foundational proclamation.
But here I’d like to offer just a quick pastoral description of the foundational message we call the kerygma. There are Seven Elements of the Kerygma. of the fundamental and foundation proclamation of the faith. I draw the wording of these largely from Hector Molina over at Catholic Answers with a brief commentary of my own (in red) on each. And while these seven elements to comport exactly with the ancient kerygma, they are modeled on it and serve our times very well.
Here are the Seven Elements of the Kerygma:
1. God loves you and has plan for your life. – Yes, God the Father loves you and seeks you. And that ache in your heart, that longing, that yearning, and that “never satisfied” quality in your desires all point to God and he has written his name in your heart. He wants to turn you away from a passing and unsatisfying world, towards him. He wants to save you and prepare you to live with him for all eternity. He wants to fill the God sized hole in your heart and its infinite longing with his infinite Love.
2. Sin will destroy you. – Nothing is so destructive in your life and this world as sin. It is desire gone wrong, it is rooted in the lie that the creature rather than the Creator can help and save us. Cultivating sin will put you in bondage to desires gone mad that will not ultimately be satisfied. Satan is lying to you and saying that rebellion form the One who made will bring happiness to you. It will not. And you know this already don’t you? Sin and indulgence does not ultimately satisfy. The world cannot satisfy, for it is finite and your desire is infinite. Sin does not ultimately bring happiness, it brings bondage, addiction, dissatisfaction, and ultimately resentment and spiritual death.
3. Christ Jesus died to save you. – Into this mess of our wayward desires and our foolish grasping at worldly trinkets Jesus came. He met the woman at the well (who is us) and told her that every who drinks form this well (the world) will be thirsty again. In other words, the world cannot ultimately satisfy or save us. We must die to this world and rise to God. But our way to God was cut off by sin. Jesus came and reopened the way to the Father by dying to this world, to its lies and false claims. Rising and Ascending he has re-opened the way to the Father, our hearts true desire. Now we can be saved by being led back to the Father by the saving power of Jesus. And dying to this world, we can one day fully be satisfied by God.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel. – To repent means to come to a new mind, to come to understand and accept all that has been stated: that the Lord loves me, is calling me in my desires, and want to save me from the sinful drives that will destroy me. It is time for me to come to beleive in this Love God has form me and accept the promise and salvation of his love: Jesus Christ and the saving truth he proclaims.
5. Be Baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. – And thus in Baptism our sins are washed away, we are incorporated into Christ, we become a member of his body. And having done so, the Holy Spirit, the life, love, serenity, joy and wisdom of God comes to dwell in me and begins a work of transforming me, that includes the other Sacraments as well.
6. Abide in Christ and his body the Church. – Grow in this relationship with Jesus and His Father in the Holy Spirit by living in the life of the Church, which is Jesus presence and Body in this world. Abide there, that is go on dwelling there.
7. Go make disciples. – And so the cycle repeats with the newly Evangelized and more deeply rooted Christian calling others.
Now of course this is the basic proclamation, not the full truth. The Kerygma establishes the foundation on which can be built the higher matters of Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, Liturgy, Sacramental theology, moral theology and the like. The insight is both simple and clear, when you meet Jesus and experience his saving power, you love him and want to grow in everything he teaches and offers. The Kerygma is the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, all the way to Omega can follow. But make sure the Alpha of the Kerygma is firmly in place.
Another basic element of Evangelization is a key summary verse of the Christian life. In one compact line is disclosed a perfect summary of the Christian walk.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
We like to complicate things. But it doesn’t really get more complicated than this. THere are four elements, four pillars of the Christian life:
1. The Apostles’ Teaching –That is the steadfastly went on in the study of Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the apostles
2. Fellowship – They were daily walking with Christ’s Body the Church, frequenting the Liturgy and other communal gatherings.
3. Breaking of the Bread– This is another way of saying that they faithfully received the Eucharist and, by extension, all the Sacraments.
4. Prayers –Both personal and communal prayer.
A simple plan for life for a Christian.
Two basic elements of Evangelization: “The Message” (the kerygma) and the “The Plan” of Acts 2:42. We like to complicate things, but root, we start simply. The foundation is not the building, but it is an essential basis for the building.
This song says:
God is my protection.
God is my all in all.
God is my light in darkness.
God is, He, He is my all in all.
God is my joy in time of sorrow.
God, God is my all in all.
God is my today and tomorrow.
God, My God is, my all in all.
God is the joy and
the strength of my life,
He moves all pain, misery, and strife.
He promised to keep me,
never to leave me.
He’s never ever come short of His word.
I’ve got to fast and pray,
stay in His narrow way,
I’ve got to keep my life clean everyday;
I want to go with Him when He comes back,
I’ve come to far and I’ll never turn back.
God is my all in all.