I have been working with this coworker for awhile, he was hired around the same time that I did. He was hired as a maintenance worker and quickly became my favorite one, because I felt comfortable asking for help without feeling as though I was being an imposition. In exchange for his help, I gave him some extra samples of the pastry I was planning to sample that day. We would joke that he was the official taste-tester and if he dropped dead I would know that I shouldn’t sample that pastry.
Over the course of our time working together I developed the suspicion that he had a “colored” past, as they say. He went to Las Vegas for his birthday and let’s just say he was not going for the shows. I never asked him for details because it was not my business to know. On Tuesday he was sporting a freshly-shaved head and I commented on how dapper he looked. He smiled and thanked me, he then added that he did it every few months to keep him humble. I asked him what that meant and he admitted it helped him remember what life was like for him when he was in prison. Looking in the mirror everyday and seeing his shaved head was a good reminder of where he came from and to be thankful for the life he had now. It is easy for him to forget how terrible life was in prison. He confessed that he can easily fall back into his old ways and lose control with money; he needs to constantly check himself. He can receive a lot of bonuses at his other job and the temptation to use them to go back to dealing drugs can be hard to overcome at times. He needs to see his shaved head to remind him how awful his life was. He never wants to go back to prison — he has a better life now with a son that he needs to provide for and set a good example.
After telling me his story, I think he recognized how vulnerable he was being and tried to joke it off saying that he knew how weird it sounded. I told him that it didn’t sound weird at all and I admired him for being so aware of his limits. I said it was great that he took active steps to keep himself from giving in to temptation. The fact that he is smart enough to recognize that he still has the impulse to misuse money and shaving his head helped keep him from repeating his mistakes was a great accomplishment. I thanked him for sharing his story; he was an inspiration. He is a blessing in my life because he reminded me what a gift my life was and not to take anything for granted.
The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” (Mt 20:20-21)
Mother knows best but God knows us even more. Whether it was the prayer or wish of the mother, God did not grant her request because He knew James and John even more than their mother did.
It is good to examine ourselves on our manner of prayer to God. How do we pray? When we pray, what do we tell God? Do we give Him a litany of our request for favors? Do we dictate to God what we want? “God, please give me this and that!” Is our prayer purely about what we want in life? “Mine! Mine! Mine!” “Me! Me! Me!”
Then, it is not a prayer. It is just a mere monologue. We are just simply talking to ourselves and listening to our own voice.
What is prayer? Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Prayer is not asking. Praying is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition and listening to His voice in the depths of our heart.”
Prayer is an encounter with God. It can only happen if we truly put ourselves in His presence so we can hear Him in the silence of our hearts.
Recently I accepted a new position to work more directly in evangelization, and while I am excited and grateful, there are a lot of days where there is spiritual warfare going on in my head. Today was one of those days I was not feeling great (an understatement) about my ability to sense God’s inspirations, and then respond to them, and feeling “the voice”: “Seriously, YOU’re going to do evangelization?” self-defeating thing. It’s one thing to recognize rationally this is not from God, another to live through it… it’s hard to escape your mind, you know. It was bothering me a lot the past few days and especially this morning.
At one point in the morning, as I am mentally talking back “the voice,” I grabbed God and brought him into the conversation. “Holy Spirit, you know, it would be easier if you just made it obvious. I’ll do what you want if you just let me know. Please just make it obvious.”
My husband Jerry and I went to eat at a fast food restaurant for lunch, and there was a woman there who we both know a bit from around town as living on the margins and mentally ill. It was frigid out there (below zero) and she was nursing a coffee in this warm restaurant at lunch hour. (Holy Spirit: nudge, nudge, nudge.) Jerry said first, this woman… we should ask if she needs… something, like if she has a place to stay tonight. I actually knew more of her history than he did and said she’s not homeless, but she is mentally ill. But… yeah. Something. We decided to buy her a gift certificate to the restaurant and offer it as a random act of kindness. (I was still unclear if this was a Holy Spirit moment or a person in need moment. Nothing prevents us from doing the good, right? But I suspected the former.) For some reason, I took the lead on this, and approached her and said we wanted to offer her this gift card as a happy new year gift, to use now or later. She smiled, jumped up, and hugged me. And then said with some force, “Don’t let *anyone* tell you God doesn’t exist.” And then addressed a couple more things, directly, I was internally struggling with. I had said nothing other than introduce myself and offer a card. Then after a couple of minutes of conversation, she asked me where I went to church, I told her, and she said, “I’ve been there, but not in a long time. I’m going back to church tomorrow, this gives me so much hope!”
People, we noticed her and bought her a $10 gift card to a fast food restaurant. That was all.
God works in really weird and mysterious ways. I encourage people to go with that Holy Spirit flow.
Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, married, and mother to five children. She is currently associate professor of Theology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and will be taking a new position as Director of Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Winona, MN in the summer of 2018.
The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.
Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.
Why a “new” evangelization?
If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that
i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”
ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.
Two convenient options
Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”
He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”
The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.
New in Ardor
Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.
New in Method
There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.
I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.
New in Expression.
It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.
Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization
On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii)principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.