Monday, February 12, 2007

Evangelization Part II - Witness/Holiness

“Laymen cooperate in the Church's work of evangelization; as witnesses and at the same time as living instruments, they share in her saving mission.” (Vatican II - AG, 41)
We are each called to participate in the call of Christ to evangelize. This call is not an option for any Christian. If we are truly to be effective evangelists we need to start living our lives more perfectly every day. Simply put and yet much harder to do - the call to evangelize cannot be separated from the universal call to holiness. As Pope Paul VI wrote,
“our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life… Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile.” (Paul VI, EN, 76)

The call to holiness came from Christ and was given to the apostles who have passed down that call to us today. Jesus tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) Because Jesus is God and by his nature we know that God is truth, Jesus cannot tell a lie. So, when he commands us to be “perfect,” he really means this is what we are called to do. Perfection is nothing less than living our lives free of sin, full of virtue and acting out of love for our savior and our neighbor. This is a goal that is attainable by all of us, Because Christ is not a liar.

St. Paul and St. Peter echo the call to holiness as the following verses demonstrate:

“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)
“God did not call us to impurity but to holiness” (1 Thes 4:7)
“He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim 1:9)
“Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I am holy.’” (2 Peter 1: 14-16)
Throughout the history of the Church, the saints have repeated the call to holiness. In the documents of Vatican II the Church once again issued the clarion call – we are to be holy. In Lumen Gentium, the Sacred Constitution on the Church, we see the call to holiness once again come front and center. Vatican II sent out the call to holiness once again –
“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” (Vatican II - LG, 40)

Our holy father, Pope John Paul II has repeatedly reaffirmed our need for holiness as well. This universal call to holiness must be answered in each of us if we are to be effective evangelists who glorify God by our witness. This silent example of Christ is the first way that we spread the good news. Paul VI writes,

“such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.” (Paul VI, EN, 21)

Holiness is not achievable by our own merits or hard work, but only by cooperating with the grace that God provides to us through the sacramental life. Therefore, holiness is not so much what we are doing, but what God does through us. As in all things in the spiritual life, we must start with the proper recognition of God and ourselves. When we are able to properly examine the relationship of God to man, we see that we must become more and more humble. Humility is the basis of all the other virtues, because without humility we will not be able to recognize that it is all because of God’s power, salvation and grace that we do anything of eternal value. If we are not humble, we cannot be holy.

To truly be an effective witness for Christ we must do as Christ taught us. How did he witness to his contemporaries? He healed, he preached, and he resisted the political powers. But, this isn’t the heart of his witness. What he did for us is God became man at the Incarnation, the definitive moment of history. He then would die for our sins and rise from the dead. He now sits at his Father’s right hand and pleads for us with the wounds marking his body for eternity. He witnessed to the world what it means to be a lover of others.

Christ loved sacrificially and calls us to do the same. To witness to our family, our friends, our co-workers, and everyone else, we must be willing to die as well. Even though most of us in our society today are not called to a bloody martyrdom, we are still all called to die to our selfish and sinful desires. If we are truly to follow Christ’s examples, then we must live a life of sacrifice.

When I talk about love to different groups, I ask them what they believe love is. There are many false ideas of “true love.” Some believe love and sex are synonymous. Others believe that falling “in love” is what love is and it depends on our emotional state at the time. I then ask them if I can offer my own definition of love. I tell them that true love is to desire what is best for another, regardless of how much it may cost them. I have never had a single person say they disagree with that definition. With all of us on the same page, we then discuss the life of Christ. How did Jesus fail to love? He didn’t. Christ loved us to the point of suffering torture, humiliation, scourging, mocking, betrayal, and a horrible death on a cross. This is the kind of love we are called to and nothing less. This is the love a follower of Jesus must aspire to. Yet, this kind of love is anathema to modern man and takes a concerted effort to teach true love on the evangelist’s part.

We can practice this kind of love every day. Personally, I used to hate doing the dishes because I was required to do them when I was growing up. After I got married, I continued to dislike the dishes and found that every chance I got to get out of doing them I would take. It dawned on me one day – through the grace of God – that what I was doing was failing to love my wife. So, I decided from that day forward that I would make doing the dishes my desire. That doesn’t mean that I immediately enjoyed doing the dishes, but my perspective changed. Instead of trying to get out of a chore, I saw it as a chance to love my wife by dying to my own desires. I know that my wife is happier with my attitude about the dishes.

What was underlying this attitude change was a paradigm shift at a deeper level. I found that in the past I wasn’t in a relationship to love, including my marriage, but rather I was in the relationship to try and get the most out of it for myself. Instead of sacrificing myself for my wife, children, family, friends and others, I was trying to use them. Pope John Paul II teaches in his Theology of the Body that using another person as a means to an end is the opposite of true love. True love according to the Pope is giving yourself as a gift to others – as an end unto themselves. This is where my head realized what I was doing and my heart started to change. In no way have I perfected this humble and gift-giving love, but my mind and heart are properly oriented now, so I have the opportunity to love more humbly, selflessly and fruitfully.

This change has made me a more effective witness, in the small, yet important, daily tasks. To try and be the instrument of God without this sacrificial love is impossible. We have to look to the master of witnessing and model ourselves after his love. Anything less would be a waste of our time and effort.

Witness of life, which is the initial act of evangelization, is indispensable to the Catholic evangelist. As Pope Paul VI says, “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.” (Paul VI, EN, 21) The witness of the Christian is done by conforming our human will to the divine will of Jesus. In living out our faith daily, we point to the one that gives us the strength, joy, and love that draws people to seek what it is that makes the Christian “tick.” This cannot be done without growth in holiness, prayer, conversion and continually seeking grace in the sacraments.