Monday, May 21, 2012

Evangelization of Tenderness

Evangelization of Tenderness
By Kristine Cranley
Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). As our students are scattered like seeds across the world this summer, I have been reflecting on this ‘commencement address’ of our Lord to His disciples. Having completed their education at His feet, His followers are sent out with a perennial mission. He assures them they do not go alone, because He will send the Holy Spirit to be with them, to guide them, and to confirm their words through accompanying signs. As we pray the novena to the Holy Spirit this week we make ready our hearts for a deeper outpouring of this same Spirit, whose coming is always simultaneous with being ‘sent’. In this we follow the example of the very first Christian, Our Blessed Mother, who at the moment she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived Jesus, immediately “arose and went with haste” to care for elderly cousin who was with child.

Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”. The great St. Francis took this mandate so seriously that when the people refused to hear about Jesus, he preached to the birds. Do we take it seriously? We have a message which the whole world desperately needs. God has become man in order to invite us into communion with Himself through Jesus Christ. This communion with the God who is Infinite Love is the very thing every heart is longing for. The Church is the Bride of Jesus, united so closely with Him as to become His Body, and all are welcome in it. Our communion with Him is salvation and life and joy. This is the ‘good news’ He wants everyone to know, and He has commissioned us to tell them. Thus, no matter how we may be spending our summer, we are called to evangelize (a word deriving from the Greek euangelion which means announcing the ‘evangel, good news, gospel’) in the place the Lord has planted us.

How then, should this evangelization look? Are we responsible for telling every person we meet this summer about Jesus? Should we wear our Aggie Catholic t-shirts to work? Do we have an obligation to engage in conversation with our neighbor on the airplane, in order to make sure he knows the ‘good news’? Should we keep a tally of the ‘number of souls brought to Christ’ this summer; perhaps make a competition out of it between friends, in the style of Legolas and Gimli?

The Holy Spirit is infinitely creative, and we never know how He may inspire us to share the gospel this summer. However, the danger in some of the above approaches is in subconsciously making other people into our ‘project’: someone whom we need to ‘fix’ … ‘for God’s sake’. As a friend of mine once put it “You love me because you love Jesus? Spare me.” We are not projects but people. For the majority of us, we need to know we are truly loved and reverenced by the messenger before our hearts can open up to the message. We need to perceive clearly that someone is showing an interest in us, not just because they are good, but because they believe we are.

“I will show you a still more excellent way”
-1 Corinthians 12:31

The Holy Spirit, who sends us out on mission, is Himself Love. Hence we recognize His work in us by the fragrance of the love He pours into our hearts. He moves us to “share … not only the gospel of God but also our very selves” because those whom with we share it “become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) In the words of Pope Benedict XVI “Practical activity will always be insufficient unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.” (Deus Caritas Est #34) It is in this way that we most effectively ‘incarnate’ the good news of the love of Jesus. Through the tenderness, genuineness and reverence of our interactions with others, we begin the proclamation of the gospel, and make hearts ready to receive its full transmission in word and sacrament.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples” the Lord tells us. You can post it on facebook, tweet it, and tell everyone you encounter, but it should be old news to them by that point. They should already know it “because of the love you have for one another”. (John 13:35)

Apostles of Tenderness

The evangelizing power of tenderness was something brought home to me through my experience discerning with the Sisters of Life, a religious community who take a fourth vow to enhance a sense of the sacredness of human life. Before meeting the Sisters, I was overburdened by the belief that it was my personal responsibility to convert the world. The Sisters however were much more humble than myself, and understood that evangelization is ultimately God’s work, and not ours. Thus they did their part and trusted Him to do the rest.

As one of their apostolates, the Sisters invite pregnant women to live with them in their convent during their time of need. The Sisters make no requirements about faith commitment for their guests. Neither do they feel overburdened to speak to them explicitly about their faith in Christ. Rather they seek primarily to incarnate the love of Jesus to them through personal and authentic relationship. They wait until the women begin asking the questions themselves, “always prepared to make a defense to any one who calls [them] to account for the hope that is in [them], …with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15) Their love for Him, and for their guests however, speaks volumes.

The amazing and courageous women who live with them, in turn become apostles of tenderness themselves. Below is the story of one such guest, as recounted in an interview in their newsletter. May it bless you as it has blessed me!
Racquel’s Story

I hear that you had a life-changing elevator ride while you were pregnant. Can you tell me about it?

I was in the hospital elevator on my way to a doctor’s appointment. Another woman got on with me; I said hello and she burst out crying and told me that she was pregnant. I said, “Congratulations! I’m pregnant too.” She explained that she just couldn’t do it right now; it wasn’t the right time. Then I felt Liam move and I placed her hand on my belly, “Do you feel that?!” Right at that moment my baby kicked her. She said, “Wow!” I said, “Yeah, my baby’s gonna be a linebacker. He’s gonna be strong and he’s gonna be blessed.” And she said, “Why is he gonna be blessed?” I said because he’s here – whether you cry or you laugh, if you’re here you’re blessed. You’re put here for a reason.” And she said, “I’m gonna get an abortion.” And I said, “No you’re not. You’re not going to have an abortion; you are going to have a girl. I know that already because I wanted to have a girl, but I’m having a boy, but that’s OK – you have your girl and dress her up in pink. Put pony tails in her hair and call her Racquel, and by the way, my middle name is Jasmine. And if she asks you how she got her name tell her you met a fabulous lady who was pregnant on the elevator one day and she told you that you were going to have a beautiful little girl.” She laughed and then we got off the elevator together and I walked her down to make an appointment with my obstetrician. You see, I can be pushy.

Did you stay in touch with her?

No. I didn’t see her again until two years later at the same hospital. She was pushing a stroller and ran up to me and hugged me. She had twins - two girls - and their names are Racquel and Jasmine and she had them all dressed up in pink, just like I told her. She made it. She said, “I love you. You don’t understand Racquel I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ll never forget your name, your face, your smile. I would do anything for you. I love you.” And I said, “I love you too. I understand. I have experienced it.”

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