Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Lesson in Evangelization

The guys at the Friday morning Bible Study continued in John, Chapter 4.  Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, and then to the villagers who came to believe in Him.  And then He told His apostles that the fields were ripe for the harvest --- He had shown that to them, with the quick conversions of the woman and the villagers.
The Bible Study guys discussed how the woman, although not a Jew, had previously had some “seeds” sown in her life which led up to the harvest --- she knew of Jacob’s well, and of the coming of a Messiah and obviously had thought some on these matters; she was ripe for harvesting.  They guys then stumbled a bit in their conversation, talking about their attempts at evangelization – through preaching the Word --- in their families, workplaces, and even to people they just met.  “Starting a conversation about God is hard,” one said.  And after a bit I chirped in about our Catholic pope, Francis, and how he wrote a letter which mentioned the evils of capitalism and the importance of global warming.  “I didn’t agree with him,” I said --- and then suddenly a man a couple of tables over stood up in the restaurant:  “And what’s wrong with talking about global warming?” he asked loudly.  But I raised my hand to quiet him as I continued making my point: “But perhaps,” I said to the Bible Study guys, “the pope brought up capitalism and global warming to begin a conversation, kind of like Jesus began the conversation with the woman not by preaching at her but by asking her for a drink of water.  Perhaps the pope brought up global warming” --- (and a hand placed a business card on the table in front of me) --- “to start the conversation, and then perhaps ask ‘Why is that important?’ --- because of people, and then perhaps ‘Why they are important?’ and so the conversation could continue.”  They guys got the point and continued discussing it further --- while I went over to the “global warming” guy’s table.
His “business card” had noted some global warming websites, and contained pointed demands for action.  I didn’t get to say a word to him before he vehemently spoke to me about: “You Christians praying all the time but not doing anything about the most important matter in the world,” and then he told me how much he had studied the matter and mentioned his degree in geography (?) --- and so I interjected that I had one in physics.  “Well, so you should know better,” he said angrily.  I wanted to tell him about a website I liked which presented facts for and against global warming, but he picked up his things and left without another word!
Well, I thought, wasn’t that a great conversation.  And then I showed the other guys the global warming business card, and told them of my short “conversation” with the card’s author and his anger at Christians in general.  “Talk about an opportunity to begin a conversation,” I began, and they picked up the point and discussed it further.
And then as I sat down, it came to me:  I was in the process of explaining how Pope Francis was using a topic of common interest to begin a conversation --- but when the exact same situation (and topic) was offered to me, I couldn’t begin one.  My conversation with the global warming advocate began not with a “well, that’s interesting, tell me more,” but rather with a “well, I’ve got a degree in physics” --- (so there!).
Obviously, although I could repeat the lesson Jesus and the pope had given, I couldn’t DO it.  And that in itself was a lesson to me, a lesson in humility.  If we really want to begin a conversation with someone else to begin to evangelize them, the conversation cannot be about us or who we are or what we do.  To capture another’s attention, we need the conversation to be about them.    Our first witness in effective evangelization must be in humility.  It’s a lesson to remember.
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While I made note of the humility lesson on Friday morning, I think God has been emphasizing its importance to me of late.  Last night I had a dream wherein I was putting a new roof on a house with some people (one I perceived to be a nun?), and as we neared the end a woman showed me how she was going to drive a nail up through the eaves into the last roofing tile “to hold it in place.”  I told her how that wouldn’t work, because it would leave the nail point sticking up at the roof’s edge, an obvious hazard.  She looked at me strangely, not understanding.  So I showed her how the old roof was properly attached, but she still didn’t understand” “But we’re putting on a new roof, so we’ll do it differently,” she explained.  To me, it was obvious she not only didn’t know how to put on a roof, she also didn’t know how to pay attention, and I felt my blood begin to boil.  But I calmed myself, and then said “I think I’m going to bed,” and climbed the stairs to the bedroom.  And below I could hear the conversation: “I don’t know what happened to him; we still have so much work to do …”
And then I awoke with a start.  What was that about, I wondered?  And I perceived, because of my anger, that this was yet another example of me focusing a conversation on “my way” --- and my frustration that others couldn’t see the truth of what I say.  And as the day went on, I continued to mull over the dream, and what it might mean …. But then other thoughts came back to me.
I pray the Litany For Humility prayer each night, and a while back I noted that the prayer was also printed in The Better Part, the book of bible meditations I pray nightly.  Only this week I had gotten around to reading the prayer in that book, and I noted that it had added a line which was not included prayer card:      
                                    From the fear of being wronged, Lord Jesus free me;
                                    From the fear of being suspected, Lord Jesus free me;
                                    From resenting that my opinion is not followed
, Lord Jesus free me.
And from the book Divine Intimacy’s readings on the Feast of All Saints (today) it spoke about the beatitudes and how “We all want to become saints,” but we must live the beatitudes, overcoming our self-love, to “the acceptance of difficult and repugnant things, such as quelling the resentments of self-love, renouncing an attempt to make our opinion prevail, submitting ourselves and meekly condescending to one who is opposed to us …”  And in the same book, it quotes St. John of the Cross (p.1015) noting that “to enter the night of the spirit… it is necessary to renounce not merely material things, but spiritual things as well .. renouncing one’s own will or the asserting of one’s personality.  And he prays:  Lord, when shall I abandon myself without reserve to Your divine will?”
And I also recalled the play, The Man of LaMancha, about the nobleman who gave up all his wealth and all his noble ways, to totally change his life “to that of a knight errant ….”  He had to totally give up everything, so that he could give up his self-love, his ego, to better love the other man.  And I wondered: Is that what it’ll take to change my heart?
The feast day today, celebrating all the varied saints (many of whom were also great sinners at one time), reminds us that we are all called to be saints; we all have a saintly purpose for our life.  And as they did, we CAN change our hearts, and the hearts of others, if we work on it, if we pray on it.    
I think of what a poor evangelist I am, who can’t even properly start a conversation; I’ve got a long way to go.  But then on the way home from church I heard these words on the radio:  “Evangelization is not accomplished in a moment; it’s a way of living, of focus on the other man.  Evangelization is a marathon, not a sprint.”
And the words gave me some peace.  We are all called to love someone into heaven, and love is the work of a lifetime.  And it is not just “to dream the impossible dream.”

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