What does an Evangelist look like? If you’re like most people, the first thing you think of is somebody standing on the street corner yelling – The END IS NEAR! You are all doomed to the fires of hell if you don’t Repent!! Or you might think of somebody in an expensive suit on TV with a perfect smile asking you to send money.
Is THAT Evangelism? Maybe – but in my opinion those people actually HURT Christianity more then they help. No – there’s a line at end of the Gospel: You are Witnesses to these things. An evangelist is a witness – we witness to what God has done in our own lives and invite others to the same joy. We evangelize best by how we live.
A couple months ago I mentioned that we’re forming an Evangelization Team. Listen to the homily today and if the Holy Spirit convicts you of wanting to help, join us this Wednesday, April 18th at 7 pm at Celestine.
I need to set the stage for today’s Gospel, because it starts at the end of an important story. Remember the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaeus and Jesus showed up and explained the scriptures to them – then he came in to have a meal with them and as he blessed the bread, they finally recognized him. Great story – but we don’t hear it today – but keep that in mind as the first sentence of the Gospel is read.
In all of the readings, we hear how this ragtag group of disciples tried to make sense of what Jesus had told them and exactly what they were supposed to do with it. They knew one thing: they had witnessed the most important event in the history of the world – and they couldn’t keep it to themselves.
(Thanks to Fr. Mike Schmitz for sharing this true story)
In the late 1700’s, a group of concerned citizens in Boston were concerned about the number of people being killed in ship wrecks off their coast. They did something unprecedented….they formed what was called the Humane society – not the humane society we know of today who take care of animals. Their mission was to save lives from ship wrecks. First, they built these survivor huts on Nantucket island – stocked with firewood and food – so if there was a wreck, the survivors could get out of the weather until the townfolk could get there to help them. 18 of these huts were built – dotting the coast every mile or two. Eventually they thought – we could save even more lives if we would actually go out there after a wreck to find survivors, so they commissioned the building of the first rescue boat in America. Whenever there was a storm or gale force winds, the humane society would send people to stay in each of these huts with the sole purpose of watching for shipwrecks on the rocks. If it happened, they’d ring a bell and everybody would come running and launch this wooden rowboat into the stormy sea to try to save lives. Imagine that – this storm just sunk a SHIP – and now they’re going to risk their own lives in this little rowboat. Yet they thought if there’s even a chance of saving a life, they HAD to risk their own lives for that chance. They had a saying, “you have to go out – you don’t have to come back”. Their mission defined who they were… they were there to save lives…. And Many lives WERE saved – it was a truly heroic organization. Eventually, the Coast Guard was formed and it became their job to save lives – so the humane society no longer does that. Saving lives became the job for the “professionals”….so the Humane society lost their sense of mission. Now they’re just a group of nice people who get together once a year to have a big dinner and honor somebody who showed selfless bravery in the last year. They’re not bad people – but without a sense of mission, they’ve lost their identity….they’ve lost their calling.
Compare that to another organization started centuries before that..started by a fellow named Jesus who sent twelve men into the world with the Mission of “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.. “ The mission was clear: bring all people to know Jesus…. And they took that calling seriously. They went out! The Church grew leaps and bounds – why – because the disciples of Jesus lived differently. Some of the worked miracles. All of them witnessed to the world what they knew. They told people about Jesus! Because of them, OUR lives were saved because we know Jesus.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, fulfilling that Mission became the job of the professionals… the priests and nuns and deacons and bishops…. For the average Catholic, saving lives wasn’t our job anymore, so religion became more about -seeking personal growth and fulfillment and -getting to heaven. Without our Mission, religion became about being a ‘nice person’. If we think that religion is about being a 'nice person' or getting myself to heaven, we have missed the point! But it didn’t stop there…. The church grew so big and required so much administration that the people in charge got pulled more and more into just keeping the church running. We preach, we baptize, we put on programs and such – but somewhere along the line even us professionals lost our sense of Mission: The Mission that Jesus gave us! Without that mission, we are just a group of nice people who come together once a week and tell some stories and share a meal, but we’ve forgotten our very reason for existence…. The very essence of what fulfills us as human beings…. In short, without a Mission, we’re dead.
Pope Francis recognized this problem and wrote a document: Evangelli Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel. It’s long – but it’s one of the most readable documents we’ve ever gotten from a Pope. There’s a bunch of good stuff in there, but let me give you just a couple of short but VERY STRONG quotes:
we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”;
“Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.
This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church...
Can it be any clearer? We have to get back to our Mission. Personally, I think that’s the reason the church has been losing people… I mean, why belong to something that doesn’t seem to have a purpose? If we realize we’re in the business of saving lives, we will ATTRACT people rather than boring them until they walk away.
I believe Jesus is calling us – you and me – to re-engage in the battle to save lives. There are many ways we can do that: prayer, study, helping others. Every one of us should already be doing that. But – I think it’s time we do more than that – it’s time we build a rowboat and GO OUT. We have people in the surrounding area who have never heard of Jesus – we have people in neighborhoods who don’t know why this church sits here on the hill – we have people in our pews even who don’t really know Jesus. The field is ripe for the picking – it’s time for us to go on the offensive.