“Lift up your eyes and look around; They all gather together, they come to you.” Is 60,4
As long as I live, I will be haunted by these beautiful words from Isaiah. The prophet’s beautiful prophecy was fulfilled a first time in the coming of the wise men from the east to Bethlehem, to pay homage to Jesus. But that was just the beginning. It has been happening ever since. Whether we realize it or not, the gospel, the Spirit of God, the sacraments, our life as Church, all of these things transfigure us. A light shines over us, in us, around us. People are drawn to this light. They come, not to us, strictly speaking, but to the light that shines wherever we are. And they are transfigured as well, and become Christian. And the process goes on.
We speak a great deal these days about the “new evangelization”. We strive to inculcate in our faithful the notion that our world is no longer Christian, and that we must become missionary disciples, all of us, equipped to evangelize those close to us, and who are not in the Church. The “Proclaim” movement that has been launched in our Archdiocese has precisely as its goal to enable Catholics to be evangelizers. This is very sound, I believe. Indeed, if a significant number of our Catholic laity don’t evangelize, then who will? Priests represent only a tiny proportion of the Church, and there are no more religious, to speak of. Besides, evangelization has to happen in those places where Church meets world, and that certainly isn’t, by and large, in the lives of priests and religious. Church meets world in your lives, the lives of Christian laity. So that is where evangelization has to happen.
While all of the above is, I think, quite right, it’s only the “end-game” of evangelization. Unless it is preceded by the light that shines in and around Christians, it won’t happen. Sooner or later, evangelization has to involve speech of some kind, whether it be personal testimony or teaching. But unless the people on the outside see the light, there is no appetite in them for the teaching.
The light shines in a million different ways. It can be a serenity that radiates from a person’s face and that puzzles this person’s co-workers. It can be the fact that you sacrifice your Wednesday evenings to serving sandwiches to the street-people on the Lower East Side, and this too, raises questions. It can be the fact that you devote weekends to running seminars and workshops for migrant workers. The question arises in your friends’ minds: why does she do that? It can be the look of quiet happiness on your face when you come home from church. It can be that at great cost to yourself, you stand up publicly to lobby for a category of disadvantaged people. All of these things are out of the ordinary. And so eventually the people in your life approach you for a closer look. In the words of the famous line in the first letter of Peter, they want “an account of the hope that is in you”. 1 Pet 3,15 And that is where the speaking begins. In a word, the Holy Spirit, working via the various aspects of our life as Church, transfigures us into people of faith, and hope, and love. These virtues in turn, translate into holiness, that is, the million visible, tangible expressions of faith and hope and love. Therein lies the light that draws people, not to us, but to our light.
Bottom line: the only thing that has ever effectively evangelized anybody is holiness. But holiness doesn’t come from us. It comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Let us then pray earnestly for that holiness, that others might “come to our light” and benefit with us from this light in which “we live and move and have our being.” Ac 17,28
Happy Epiphany to us all,