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I had the opportunity to visit one of my all time favorite breakfast places while on vacation in Texas a week or so ago. Since 1956 Bill Smith's Cafe has been serving up breakfast and hospitality and it's a good formula for success. As I sat alone in a booth reading a paper I looked up to see an elderly man shuffling his feet through the front door, past the counter and heading straight down the aisle. I glanced up and smiled, he smiled back and then asked if he could sit with me. I said absolutely...have a seat. I folded the paper and placed it on the cushioned seat next to me and introduced myself to him and he to me. It turns out that my 84 year old friend was a preacher. He told me that for years the 'devil had him but God got him back.' We shared some life stories, scripture verses over an omelet and biscuits and gravy. Denominations never entered the conversation but rather we spent time building each other up - or at least he did for me. The Psalmist wrote of how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together. It was a memorable meal - not for the food - but for the sharing and building up in faith. (And yes, I picked up the bill)
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” – G.K. Chesterton
We don’t need to feel and to pretend that life is always great as believing Catholics. Our sorrows can and should be plain for others to see just as Christ let the world see his tears at the loss of his dear friend Lazarus. We know that death doesn’t have the final word, yet its ok to take time for self as we go through those valleys and walk with others who are going through valleys too. This is living the faith authentically - transparent in our joy, our sorrow and hope. Perhaps in our own sorrows others can see the authenticity of our faith that while seeking understanding, moves forward because while we may not always know where we are going, we know who we are going with, the God who loves us. The God who calls us into relationship with himself. The God who desires to have communion with us. The God who gave himself to us on the Cross and daily gives himself to us in the Eucharist. The God who delights and loves Dana more that we can ever know.
At the very end John’s account, Mary Magdalene, downtrodden and deflated by the crucifixion of her Savior, went out to search for his body. “They have taken my Lord away,” she cried, “and I don’t know where they have put him”(Jn 20:13b).
What she didn’t realize was that Jesus was right in her midst. The living water to quench her thirst, the heavenly bread to satisfy her hunger, was standing right in front of her. Lost in sorrow, she was looking for the way. Confused and disoriented, she was searching for the truth. Lifeless and broken, she was looking for the only life that really mattered. Quite unknown to her, the object of her longing was right there in front of her. Matter of fact, Jesus spoke plainly to her and what he said changed her life forever.
Addressing this wounded woman, Jesus answered her need with one word:
Jesus, the Lord of the universe, spoke her name. Jesus, the name above all names, addressed the end of all of her desires in a single word. He spoke her name with love and tenderness. And with this a "new horizon and a decisive direction" to her life was born (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1).
Evangelization is not about having all the right and correct and even orthodox answers-which is where I spend maybe too much of my time. Evangelization is about modeling Christ, studying the Gospels to examine how Jesus loved and walked with people who were not always on the right path, how he showed a costly demonstration of love to those on the margins, to those who were told that they outside the scope of Gods love. My study of Christ has kept me connected to the Catholic Church and all of her teachings, yes, every one of them. But before we share a dogma and doctrine to those who don’t even know what the heck a dogma is... we need to listen, to tend to those whom God allows us to share in their lives to speak and pray that the Holy Spirit will knock them over as He has us who believe, and also allow others the freedom to walk away.
In Matthew 26, we read that Jesus is staying in the home of Simon the leper. While in the house, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was recling at table. The disciples complain but Jesus comes to her defence. This nameless woman takes the opportunity to anoint Jesus because she knows who he is. How often have we looked back on events not realizing how significant they were at the time. Perhaps it was the last extended family meal before a grandparent passed away, maybe a team celebration where soon the members would all be dispersed or a graduation party where the classmates would be going seperate ways. The nameless woman knows this is an opportune moment because Jesus is present. A few verses later we will read of Judas looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over, an opportunity for betrayal and trechory. When we realize that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God the opportunity for mercy, appreciation, encouragement and love is always in season. Don't let opportunities to do good pass you by. Start today!
In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells the parable of the 'lost sheep' or rather the 'seeking shepherd' who through a costly seach, restores a sheep to the flock and home. A few chapters later in Chapter 19, we see Jesus put flesh on this parable through his actions outside of Jericho. Jesus calls out to a 'lost sheep' named Zacchaeus and through his actions restores him to God and the community. In both stories the Pharisees, the religious leaders at the time of Jeuss, grumble and complain. Evangelization calls us to have the eyes, ears, mind and heart of Jesus. Put Jesus' words and example into action and ask God to give you the courage to reach out to someone who others may condiser far from God. Great joy may follow!
The first duty of love is to listen. Too often people feel like they have missed an opportunity to evangelize because they listened to a person speak rather than share their own faith. There comes a time for speaking and sharing our faith of course, but the words we do speak will mean very little if the other person does not feel that they are valued and that they are heard. Do we listen to understand or do we listen in order to respond? In evangelization, listening is often the first step in forming a bond of trust. Listening to a person who is far from the Church and far from Christ is invaluable in earning the right to be heard by them. Our first instinct may be to correct a person or point out how a certain belief or behavior is wrong and even harmful. When we begin by correcting and 'rebuking' others, we may feel righteous but in reality have done very little to move the person closer to Christ. Don't be afraid to listen, to ask questions and to put off impulsive judgements. By building trusted friendships we will earn the right to be heard and then our words and action will communicate that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
Before Luke records the three parables of Jesus in chapter 15 of his Gospel - the lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons - he notes that 'tax collectors and sinners drew near to listen.' How often do I draw near to Jesus to listen? I draw near to beg, complain, whine, ask and a host of other things, but listening to Jesus is really the beginning of everything in a Christians life. More often than not, evangelization begins not with telling others about Jesus and ourselves, but with a listening ear and heart. Draw near to Christ to listen to him, you'll be in good company.
This popular parable is titled the 'laborers in the vineyard', yet the 'hero' of the passage and the surprise in the parable is that the landowner himself makes a trek back and forth between the vineyard and the marketplace multiple times. He does this in the heat of the day not because he has miscalculated the number of workers he needs but because of his compassion for those who are unemployed who are standing while seeking to be hired. We see a foreman come on the scene which we would expect to be doing all the travelling back and forth and hiring but no, the landowner himself makes the journey. In evangelization do we wait for others to step out and do the labor of bringing people to events, groups and functions or do we take the initiative like the landowner, like God does. When ones heart is conformed to Christ, we are compelled to go and search and bring.