Wednesday, October 17, 2012


           How does one most effectively preach the Gospel?  This is, I have no doubt, a major topic in the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on “New Evangelization.”  I have my own answer, which I have shared in homilies and writings in recent weeks and months, but I want to elaborate on it just a little bit.
            In the current issue of America (10-15-12, pp 17ff), Green Bay Bishop David L Ricken makes an important comment.  He says:
            In his talk on the new evangelization, Cardinal Dolan recalled what Cardinal John Wright told him and other seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome in the 1970s:   “Do me and the church a big favor.  When you walk the streets of Rome, smile!”
         If I were to refer to Cardinal Dolan as a “laugh a minute bishop,” this would be the wrong impression of what I mean—he is the archetypical extravert:  always with a glad hand, a sparkle in his eye, a quick wit, and easy laugh.  This scarcely means there is not serious core there!  But it does mean that, more often than not, he is like the famous diplomat who could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the visit.
            Why is this important?  It is very simple, really:  if the Good News is indeed “good,” then we should be glad about it, and it should show.  Who is attracted to what is manifestly “bad news” to those bringing it??
            St Francis of Assisi was famously joyful, even in great pain.  He could be severe in his commands—particularly against lax clergy habits!—but who remembers that compared with his celebration of life in the “Canticle of the Creatures”?  I wish more people remember he wrote that poem after the stigmata and the cauterizing of his diseased eyes with a red-hot poker (medical “science” being what it was in the 13th century). 
            In his last published book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, C S Lewis wrote:  “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  Pope St Ambrose put it slightly differently:  Laeti bibamus sobriam ebrietatem Spiritus [Rejoicing we drink the sober drunkenness of the Spirit].  The birth [and ministry and death and resurrection] of our Savior is more than “good” news—it’s the BEST NEWS!  Why would we not be joyful, if we believed it?
            Do you want to attract people to Jesus Christ?  Be attractive as His emissary.  We as Christians must look like we have something worthwhile, something others would want, and even give their lives for. Everyone knows the bumper sticker that says “Honk if you love Jesus.”  Why not, instead, “Smile if you love Jesus”? It’s so much simpler, and it will be far more effective.  It will turn you into an evangelist.

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