We are in a situation in the West that the Christian church has never experienced before. We have a good news to proclaim, but those who need to hear are deaf.
The atheists and anti-Catholics we can deal with. We know they hate God and hate the gospel, and we can understand and maybe even sympathize a little with how they feel. Maybe they were hurt, betrayed, disappointed or wounded by members of the Church. Maybe they were poorly catechized or brought up in some kooky sect that delivered a God who was a false god.
But at least we can engage with people like that. There’s a discussion.
What do we do, however, with the vast number of people in our culture who simply don’t care? They simply do not have any perceived need for God. They have a job. They have sex. They have food. They have entertainment available 24-7. What could they possible need God for? Why on earth would they want to go to church, get religion or have any interest in God at all?
Oh, we re-assure ourselves-“there is a God-shaped space in each one of our lives.” Really? That may be so, but it doesn’t seem to be registering with a huge number of people? “God shaped space? Whaddya talking about ? I just need another sandwich….or more sex or more booze or more stuff or more entertainment.”
So how to evangelize in a society satiated with materialism, entertainment, pleasure and power? Do we push harder on the issues that are important to us? Do we raise our voices even more about abortion, same sex marriage, contraception, co habitation and the whole long list?
I don’t think so. Sure those things are necessary and we shouldn’t give up on those campaigns, but something else is needed more: the first Christians converted a hostile Rome Empire within three hundred short years. They did so because they lived lives of amazingly radical discipleship. they LOVED one another. They LOVED their neighbors. They LOVED God. They LOVED their children, their wives, their husbands, their old people and their babies.
The Romans married simply for procreation and civil order. If the husband was affectionate toward the wife it was a bonus. The Christians spouses loved one another for life, and this was a remarkable and un heard of supernaturally amazing innovation. The Romans practiced abortion and infanticide on a wide scale. The Christians rescued the children from the trash heap, from the sewer and from the septic tank. The Romans practiced child abuse, human trafficking and slavery. The Christians treated their slaves as members of the family, loved their children, rejected sodomy and pedophilia and rescued prostitutes and slaves. When the plague hit a city the Romans abandoned the place and headed for the hills even abandoning family members to the plague. The Christians stayed behind and tended the sick and if they caught the plague and died considered it the gift of martyrdom.
This is what converted the Roman Empire, and as our culture becomes ever more pagan and debauched it is what will eventually convert our culture.
Furthermore, the reason the Catholic Church in so many places is weak, hemorrhaging members and is dwindling in vocations and commitment is because we have not done this. We have not lived this radically transformed and Spirit filled life. Instead we have condoned and shielded pedophile priests. We have condemned and excluded wayward girls and their children. We have neglected the poor and supported the rich. We have allowed marriage to be broken by pornography, divorce and remarriage, contraception and co habitation. In other words, we are not really any different from the rest of the population around us.
How can we expect to share the gospel with those who don’t care if we don’t care? In other words, how can we expect to share the gospel with a needy world if we’re so wrapped up in our own religious cocoon that we can’t see their need and meet them where they are.
This is where Pope Francis’ example is so vital and necessary. By his example he is saying time and again–“Be with the people. Be with the poor. This is the gospel alive in the world today.”
However we have to stop and pause. We are NOT saying that the gospel consists of social ministry. That would be to mistake the message for the result of the message. The message is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and transform sinful, selfish people into radiant vessels of Christ’s divinity. First and foremost he comes to transform people into the image of Christ. Then, and only then, can we really go out and share the gospel by being with the poor and ministering to the poor. Being with the poor and ministering to the poor for its own sake is simply being a social worker.
Instead we first draw close to Christ through prayer, sacrifice and a life of contemplation. Then as we go out into the world it is not us, but Christ who shines through us. This is how to evangelize a world that doesn’t care–for them to see in us Christ alive–for them to see in us the light of Christ incarnate in the world again because we have become the blazing and mystical Body of Christ in the world.
This is our task, and if we fail in it, we have failed in everything.