Are you ready to share the Good News?
Wait — there’s good news? That’s how many of us are going about things now. We have forgotten. Or maybe we never even knew…
I was perusing the contents of my holy card drawer recently (if you’re a cradle Catholic, you know exactly what I mean) and came upon a prayer that left my jaw hanging. Faded and yellowed with time, it featured a 1950-ish “Prayer for the Promotion of the Missionary Spirit.” One line of the prayer implores God to stir up within the faithful a “burning zeal for missionary endeavor” and an “immense desire to convert the whole world and bring all men to the knowledge of Thy truth.”
Wow. What a mindset! And it’s one that is unfortunately absent from the minds of many Catholics. Sherry Weddell’s blockbuster book, “Forming Intentional Disciples: The path to knowing and following Jesus,” quotes the late Cardinal Avery Dulles as noting that, when asked whether spreading the faith was a high priority for their parishes, 57 percent of conservative Protestants said yes, while only 6 percent of Catholics responded affirmatively.
The reasons for this disparity are no doubt complex, involving multiple factors, but I wonder if we could boil it down to the basics. Do we know Jesus? Are we in love with Him? Is He at the center of our lives? If the answer to these questions is yes, there’s an air of excitement about our faith and a desire to share it.
To draw a bit of a comparison, when you’ve found something wonderful, you can’t wait to tell others about it. That new sushi place? You’ve GOT to try it! The latest action-thriller film — you’ve never seen anything like it! And so on.
Having a personal encounter with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the King of kings, is a million times more powerful than any of that. And once you’ve met Him, you understand that life will never be the same. You want all your friends and loved ones to discover His mercy, His unconditional love and the freedom that comes from trusting in Him.
What happens with many of us Catholics is that although we may have been raised in the faith and might know a lot about the concept of God, we may not know Him as a Person. If someone were to ask us what the essence of the Gospel message is, would we be able to sum it up succinctly and correctly?
Well. Probably not.
This basic proclamation of the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the core message of the Gospel, is also known by its Greek term, kerygma. If we’re going to share the faith with our children, our friends, our neighbors and colleagues, we have to be able to articulate the kerygma in a few compelling sentences and share the practical ways Jesus is working in our lives.
This proclamation then needs to be followed by an invitation to get to know the Lord.
I know. It seems so foreign, right? But this is what the early Church did and it’s what we’re called to as well in the year 2020. It doesn’t require a master’s in theology — it’s about sharing God’s love in meaningful ways. Yes, yes, by example, but also by words.
Like: “I find that when I read the Bible for a few minutes each day, I have a lot more peace in my life.” Or, “Once I gave my life to Christ completely, I found it easier to forgive others.” But wait: Have you actually done those things?
St. Peter put it this way: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).”
I think back to a dear friend whose childhood was fraught with anxiety and trauma. In the midst of that darkness, a Christian woman in the neighborhood had a heart for the neglected children she would see playing in the street. She used to bring lemonade and cookies to her front yard, inviting the boys and girls to sit in the shade of a tree while she read to them.
One day, she read a very simple book that proclaimed the kerygma using colors. Gold represented the majesty of God; red stood for the Blood of Christ that was shed to redeem us, brown was for the cross, etc. The message of God’s love and His invitation to become one of His disciples was woven into the story. My friend, who was probably 8 years old at the time, said yes. Her life didn’t magically get better that day, but she suddenly had a Redeemer who guided her through the twists and turns on her path, a Savior she still follows today.
And now for the call to action (you knew it was coming): Evangelization is the work of every single believer in Christ. And the one to begin with is ourselves, for if we do not know Him, we cannot introduce Him to others.
Go somewhere quiet. Close your eyes. Go deep inside to the inner recess of your heart and tell the Lord you want to truly know Him. Surrender your past, present and future to Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His peace and joy and a desire to share His message of hope with others. Then go forth, looking for little, practical ways to shine His light!
Let us pray that each of us falls more deeply in love with Jesus Christ so as to be able to spread His saving message to a world that is crying out for healing.
You might want to go through your holy drawer and find a prayer card on missionary zeal.