Sunday, November 17, 2013

Are New Evangelizers Ready to be Hated, Tortured, and Killed?

The New Evangelization is not going to be easy.

No matter how clever Christians are; no matter how kind and gentle and patient; no matter how edgy and cool the presentation; no matter how much Christians bend over backwards and stand on their heads and tiptoe around so as not to offend anybody....
"They will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:9, 13).
A genuine witness to Jesus is always a proposal. It is by nature a provocation. It awakens and calls forth human freedom. Christians often fall short in their ways of proposing the gospel, thereby spreading confusion and rendering the gospel obscure at least in part. Still, evangelization takes place even with all the weakness of Christ's disciples. The Church continues and grows throughout the unfolding of the drama of redemption. In our time, however, Christians are making a fresh commitment to take up with seriousness and in a new way the task of evangelization.

The "New Evangelization," among other things, seeks to spread the gospel in the context of a deeper awareness of the dignity of the human person and human freedom. It is clear that Christians witness truly only insofar as they are instruments of Jesus's presence to the human heart. This true witness is full of respect for the human person; it is delicate, affirming, kind, without pretense, amiable, humble, full of conviction about the truth of Jesus, but also open to the unfathomable ways of His mercy and ready to accompany human persons on the mysterious journeys that constitute their own vocations. It is joyful, beautiful, full of vitality, loving, peaceful, patient, merciful, self-effacing.

But it is what it is. It points to Someone who wants to give Himself to another person, and therefore it cannot help touching freedom, and pointing to the fact that this Someone is asking for a decision.

Even if a Christian says nothing, the way he or she lives in the midst of others inevitably becomes something that both attracts and frightens the human heart. An authentic Christian life witnesses to Jesus, and therefore to the mysterious destiny for which every human heart has been made.

It is therefore inevitable that, in front of an authentic witness, people will be provoked. They will make decisions, and that means that some will decide to resist. Even if this decision is not final and irrevocable, it generates opposition and violence against Christian witness, and therefore against Christians themselves.

If people decide to resist or to flee from Jesus, from the very gift of Infinite Love for which they have been made, they will struggle and fight against Him and against anything and anyone who reminds them of Him. But Jesus never gives up. He keeps loving, all the way through the cross.

As followers of Christ, we must do the same. We are called to be witnesses to His love, and to share in that love all the way to the cross, to love in the face of rejection, opposition, and violence.

This suffering can take various forms in our lives. We won't often be killed physically, but we may be ignored, marginalized or forgotten. We may be harassed, slandered, or treated with contempt. We may be divided from our families and friends, and constantly reminded by others that we are different and strange. We may be forced into social or even material poverty.

Or perhaps we may be applauded, but misunderstood. We may be hailed and cheered by people for all sorts of reasons, and perhaps it will be our vocation to endure this fleeting adulation, and even to accept the fact that many people are going to misinterpret our gestures. But we are not seeking applause. We are seeking the truth and the beauty of Jesus, and whatever it is about our witness that attracts people "on the surface" is eventually going to challenge them to invest themselves more deeply. Sooner or later, all those cheering people will discover that they have to decide whether to stay or leave.

Sometimes it happens that a genuine Christian rides a wave of "popularity." Recall that Jesus was wildly popular all over Galilee and Judea, and above all in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He could have been made king, if He had wanted to be a king in this world. But He didn't. He wanted something much greater. He knew that Palm Sunday was leading to Good Friday.

Thus the path of the New Evangelization also leads to Good Friday, to the cross. We must be prepared for that fact, and indeed allow it to form our lives and our testimony. If the crucified and risen Jesus is at the center of our own lives, then we will give a living witness to Him and His love for every person. An authentic Christian witness is a gratuitous love that endures all things, and its vitality comes from the Love that has conquered death.