My friend Nick is paralyzed, and I desperately want to help him get better. But how? I don’t have the answers.
Then I hear rumors of a healer. The man who cures is powerful, popular, surrounded by crowds. I talk with three other friends. How can we even get close?
I start to see that what Nick needs isn’t the strongest stretcher-bearer, but one who understands the sickness. We check the house where the healer is staying. I notice a blue slash of sky through the roof. What if…?
Readers of Mark 2:1-12 or Luke 5:18-26 know how the story ends. The four friends who lower the paralytic through the roof into the astonished face of Jesus may have chosen an unconventional route, but they bring their friend to Jesus. He responds generously: “When Jesus saw their faith,” he cured their friend and forgave his sins (Mark 2:5, emphasis added).
We’re like Nick’s friend because we also ask: Who, me? We can also come to the insight he reached: I don’t need all the answers. I simply need to share the struggle.The most ordinary, maybe even unconscious, act of kindness might bring someone to Jesus. And that’s my goal.
Notice, too, how Jesus evangelized Thomas. He could have healed his own wounds. Instead, he tells Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side” (John 20:27).
In On Evangelization in the Modern World, Pope Paul VI declared: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church….Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (14).
There’s no doubt about the centrality of the mission. “[T]he presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church” (5). The Church doesn’t exist for the sake of pastoral councils, schools, choirs, publications, hospitals or religious orders—wonderful as those may be. We exist to bring the Good News to those who hunger for a positive message with eternal consequences.
How does that affect us personally? Most of us are not going to ring doorbells, trying to persuade unwilling listeners that we have a corner on the truth. Instead, we follow the model of Jesus, who amazed his listeners by “the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22). Clearly, he wasn’t imposing, judging or hammering away at a point. The “job description” of Christians isn’t to be dour, cantankerous or punitive, but to be a people who “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
We do that primarily by the way we live: with confidence, reverence and compassion. Are we convinced that we have good news to share? Or are we focused on our troubles, fears and negativity? For the “ordinary” person, what form might evangelization take?
A personal niche
Some are called to foreign missions, but far more respond to the call at home. Dire conditions in Africa can seem more appealing at times than dealing with a stubborn toddler, finding patience for a needy friend or caring for an elderly parent. But Vatican II called laypeople to do their work well in the world—whether as parents, plumbers, attorneys or farmers.
Less important than our particular occupation is the lens through which we see life. C.S. Lewis wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen—not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
This quiet witness may touch others more than words, showing our conviction that God reveals God’s self through small details as well as larger directions.
Opportunities arise naturally; we don't need to look far for them. It may mean sending a birthday card, eating a meal with a lonely friend, driving the children’s carpool yet again, remembering and celebrating others’ milestones, attending a funeral, visiting a hospital or retirement center, or volunteering through the parish or another organization.
To be effective, we must match our talents to others’ needs. The days are past when people did work they weren’t suited for or a ministry they loathed “for the glory of God.” It is far better to honor and use the gifts God gave us!
Before we dash off blithely, eager but unequipped, heed the words of On Evangelization in the Modern World: “The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself….In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel” (15).
On the road to Emmaus, the disciples were so busy trying to evangelize Jesus that they missed his identity (see Luke 24:13-35). In their defense, they were grieving, in shock and probably sleep-deprived. But their failure to recognize him alerts us to our own cluelessness. If we’re too tired or burnt out to be alert to Christ’s presence everywhere, we need to first evangelize ourselves.
So take stock: What evangelizes you? The beauty of Word or creation? The community of believers? Works for peace and justice? The poor? Eucharist? Centering prayer? Spiritual reading? Journaling?
Each person’s answer will differ or combine several factors. But the initial step of evangelizing should be nurturing the truest self. Then we’re better equipped and clearer about what we’re called to do.
For centuries, the Church at its best has stood for joy—against brutality, oppression of the vulnerable, war-mongering and the erosion of human dignity. It’s a privilege to take our places in that fine tradition.