17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
The first time I learned that evangelizing was part and parcel of being a baptized Catholic my initial reaction was “Nope. Not me.” I had one just reason to reject this teaching and it emerged from an experience I had of being confronted by an street evangelist who dogged me for two blocks demanding I tell him I was “saved.” This experience was repeated years later at a party attended by people of all faith traditions, including a few non-believers. It was a happy, social occasion that rapidly went down the tubes when one of the guests decided to share the tale of his Christian conversion, a story which included pressuring anyone within earshot to defend their own faith choices. Just like the guests at that party making a mad dash to the exit, I found myself looking for a way to distance myself from anything that even remotely resembled being an evangelist. And who could blame me?
Fast forward many (many) years. Unfortunate examples aside, I now embrace my role as an evangelizer and so should you. Because in the Catholic Church we are evangelizers, not evangelists. That job is taken. The Christian tradition already has four evangelists who gave us the Gospels. And it is on the stories and teachings of Jesus contained in those Gospels that we base our lives. In other words, we evangelize through our example of living the faith.
But what about public evangelization? True, there are settings where giving witness to our beliefs and spreading the Good News in a specific way is required. In his recent exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis calls this “informal and unexpected preaching,” which means “being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others … in any place, on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” The key for us is remembering that evangelization is never an opportunity to “market” Catholicism. Rather, it is a time to truly listen, and if appropriate, to humbly share the message of God’s friendship. These are times when a spiritual wisdom, such as what God granted to Solomon, is needed. Make this request for spiritual wisdom part of your daily prayer, and don’t be afraid. Pope Francis assures us with the words of Jesus that we should not lose courage; what we say will be suggested to us by the Holy Spirit [MT 10:16-23].