04 July 2010

How to Evangelize Today

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – 4 July 2010

Readings: Is 66:10-14; Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Gal 6:14-18; Lk10:1-12, 17-20

The Gospel this Sunday tells the story of Jesus sending out 72 of His disciples to every town and village he intended to visit. He sends them out in pairs as “lambs among wolves”. They are instructed to greet no one along the way; to carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; to accept hospitality and bring peace to every home and place which welcomes them.

There are reasons to these very specific albeit exaggerated instructions.

1. The mission of building the Kingdom requires a single-hearted purpose.

Nothing should hinder nor distract the disciple of Christ from spreading the good news of the Kingdom. There is immediacy and urgency in the message not so much because the fullness of the Kingdom is about to come in a very short time. More than two millennia of history teach us that it is not the point.

Rather the urgency is more akin to possessing a wonderful gift that you would like to share with everyone, or being friends with a great person whom you want to introduce to everyone you know. It is urgent and immediate because once you recognize its significance, you cannot but be single-heartedly devoted to it, and feel duty-bound to proclaim it.

2. Jesus tells His disciples that the world is now their Temple, the place for finding the presence of God.

Every devout Jew knows that money bags, sacks, and sandals are the things left behind when he enters the Temple to pray. They are symbolic of the attachments needed to be left behind in order to find God. And so, the command to leave these things behind while on mission is more than just about the practicalities of traveling light. It is Jesus signaling the disciples that the world has just become their Temple. God is present in the world, and their mission is to make the world more aware of God’s presence.

The mission and instructions apply to Christ’s disciples then and now. How are we to evangelize the people of today?

In the book “Choosing Church”, the author Carol Lytch sought to answer that question. In particular, she was interested in what motivates people, especially the youth, in choosing to be a part of their Church. Her extensive research led her to conclude that what grabs the attention of young people and makes them involved in Church, is when three fundamental conditions of human nature are addressed, namely: belonging, believing and achieving competence.

I would like to think that Carol Lytch’s studies apply to practically everybody as well. People tend to appreciate more their faith when those who evangelize, those who lead them in the spiritual journey, give them a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and the opportunity for growing.

1. Offer people a sense of belonging.

This means offering people a clear sense of Christian identity, reinforced by a sense of community that encourages them to be the best of who they are.

When a child is baptized, the liturgy of baptism reminds parents and godparents of their duty to provide a nurturing community so the newly-baptized could grow into a good Christian person.

Since 1990, the Church in the Philippines has strived to model a new way of being Church by encouraging the forming of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The wisdom is that small faith-based communities where people knew each other, share their burdens and triumphs with each other, are the best venue, after the home, to find spiritual nourishment and support in living the faith.

An example of one who has given people a sense of belonging, of identity and community, is Soledad Donato Katy of Pantabangan Nueva Ecija. She tirelessly serves her own indigenous tribe as a community organizer and catechist since 1990. She teaches them about the Christian faith and also looks after their other more mundane concerns, and organizes them so they could better respond to their needs themselves. Her lack of high school education does not deter her from learning about herbal medicines and attending seminars. Recently she just became a certified health worker. In recognition of her heroic service she was made Bayaning Pilipino Awardee in 2006.

2. Offer people a sense of meaning.

The world today presents us with a wealth of information and wide variety of choices. While there are obvious benefits to this situation, for many people it also leads to a loss of moral grounding and sense of life direction, and distracts them from finding the presence of God in their world.

Good evangelization should lead people to question their personal status quo and help them gain greater integration within and a better sense of the comprehensive meaning of their whole life. What better way to do this than to introduce them to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life?

Purificacion Viernes of Cebu City (Bayaning Pilipino Awardee for 2001) is a “peace advocate” in Iligan. She mediates between the warring Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, even her selfless intentions were found suspect by certain elements in the military. Her work was unjustly linked to the rebel group New People’s Army. Her husband and one of her children were killed as a result of it. But till today she doggedly pursues her crucial advocacy for peace even in the face of personal tragedy.

Herminia Ibarra of Antipolo City (Bayaning Pilipino Awardee for 2004) is a teacher who has devoted more than ten years of teaching the Dumagat, an indigenous people, in Brgy. San Isidro, a good 30 km. away from Antipolo City. The school in San Isidro is one assignment even her most dedicated colleagues fear to tread. The road getting there is difficult. There is only one jeepney trip the whole day. On rainy days there is no jeepney at all. So she has to walk five to eight hours to go to school on muddy roads, steep hills and flooded rivers. Aside from this, she still finds time to teach out of school youth in her neighborhood.

Mrs. Viernes and Ibarra are but two shining examples of what it means to bring God’s presence, a moral grounding and a general sense of meaning not just to the people whom they serve but to their family, friends and colleagues as well.

3. Offer people an opportunity for growing.

Evangelization is about introducing people to the life of God. This entails transformation, growth and maturity. In 1 Cor 13, 11 St. Paul says: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”

As people go through the life stages, their relationship with God and their spiritual needs change as well. This underscores the need for Christian formation. In the youth ministry, the apostolates and trainings not only help the young develop skills and competencies, they also learn from them how to come to terms with adult roles and institutions.

Marvin Anastacio from Rizal (Bayaning Kabataan awardee for 2004) had the makings of a juvenile delinquent: he was not very interested in school, he felt his parents were not that interested in him, he was hanging out with friends on the streets. Until somebody asked him to volunteer as a teacher to street children. As he started to helped street kids in math and history, something in him also changed. He learned to value education more. He desired to improve himself so he could help others more. Last March, Marvin just graduated from his Geodetic Engineering course in college.

Pope Paul VI once said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”.

I have purposely used the stories of ABS-CBN’s Bayaning Pilipino awardees because not only are they inspiring, they also come from the ranks of us ordinary individuals. They just happen to be doing extraordinary things in order to improve the lives of the people around them. They may not be preaching in the traditional sense of the word, but they sure are bringing Christ to others.

The task of evangelization is the mission of every Christian. And the ways by which we can evangelize are as varied as there are people in this world. Just remember: when we evangelize, we do not just bring the Good News, we embody Christ in us. This is how we bring Christ to others.

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