Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Third Sunday of Easter: Why Evangelize?
The doorbell rings, usually when the baby is crying, the children are fighting and something is boiling over on the stove. You are hoping it’s the teenage girl down the street who often stops in to help you out with the children, so you get the door. Instead of the girl, there are two young men there asking if you believe in Jesus Christ. They come from an evangelical Church and would like to talk to you about your faith. Or maybe there are two women there holding Jehovah Witness pamphlets. Or perhaps they are Mormon missionaries. You quickly say that you are an active member of the Catholic Church, and they ask if they can come in to discuss the error of your ways. Well, you don’t have time for them, nor would you want to get into a debate with them even if you did have time, so you tell them “No thank you,” and wish them a good day. Later on in the evening, when the children are sleeping and you finally have a second to think, you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t go for strangers coming into my house and questioning my faith, but I do have to admire their determination.”
Perhaps, you have had those thoughts. I have to agree with you. I don’t think it is right for people to question other people’s faith, but I also do admire their determination to spread the faith as they believe it.
Where does this determination come from? What is it’s origin? It comes from the call to evangelize, gospelize the world. Its origin is in the very foundation of Christianity. In today’s Gospel we have Luke’s account of the first meeting of the eleven original disciples as well as others with the Risen Lord. The Gospel makes it quite clear that the resurrection of Jesus is not a story, and that the Risen Christ is not a ghost. It is all true. He is real, with a human body. Then Jesus says in the Gospel, all this has taken place so that repentance and forgiveness of sins might be preached in His name.
The first reading gives us an example of the first preaching of the disciples, now apostles. Peter and John had just healed a lame man in the temple invoking the name of Jesus. When the Jews questioned them about this, Peter did not pull any punches. He told them that they put Jesus to death. They even demanded his death when Pilate offered to put a criminal to death instead of Jesus and return Jesus to them. Peter said that they and their leaders sinned, but to a great extent out of ignorance, not realizing who this Jesus was. And then he tells them to read the Scriptures carefully and realize that what happened to Jesus was foretold by the prophets. All was not lost for them, though. They could be converted and have their sins wiped away.
Jesus as the First Letter of John, our second reading, says, is the expiation for our sins and those of the whole world. That means he has paid our debt for us. This is a difficult concept. Let me simplify it by analogy. Let’s say you drink too much and drive, and then plow your car into someone’s house, right into their living room. Thank God no one got hurt, but their was a lot of damage. You lose your driver’s license, but that is just the beginning of your problems. You now owe those people an exorbitant amount of money, far more than you have. You may lose your own house over all this. Now, your parents find out about your troubles, dig deep into their retirement account and pay the people whose house you damaged. Their sacrifice has made atonement for your sin. This is just an analogy, but apply this to Christ. His sacrifice on the cross paid the debt occurred by mankind’s sins, past and present. People need to know about this. They need to benefit from this by believing in the Gospel and following Jesus Christ.
The disciples were not content with staying in the Upper Room and just believing in Jesus themselves. They could not do that. The Lord demanded that they go out and tell others the Good News that the forgiveness of sins and eternal life were available for all people everywhere. The disciples had to become apostles. They had to become evangelists.
The disciples could not keep the wonders of the New Life in Christ to themselves. Nor can we.
No, I don’t think we should go door to door and disrespect other people’s faith. When people want to speak about faith with us, we should speak with them. But we should always respect them for where they are in their faith journey. The places where we need to concentrate on proclaiming our faith are the places we work, we live, and the schools we attend, to name a few. There are many times that we are among people who brag about their exploits, how they cheated someone out of money or a position at work, how they cheated on their wife or husband, how they took advantage of their girlfriend or even boyfriend; how they talked someone into having an abortion, whatever. When people say or do horrible things and ask us to agree with them at least tacitly, we need to shore up our courage and say something to the effect: “I believe life is just so much better than all that. I’m Catholic. I’m Christian. I take it very seriously to do my best to live what I believe. I know I’m not the best Catholic I can be, but I try. And there is always forgiveness available for me. And this gives me peace and makes life so very beautiful.”
The people who hear this might become antagonistic. They probably will. They might even become hostile. Or they might simply walk away and decide never to speak to us again. But they also might wonder if we are right and if there is more to life than they are experiencing. Perhaps, in time, perhaps a long time, a time so long that we no longer have contact with them, perhaps, they decide that they also want the peace of a life that is more than physical life. So, they go to a priest, or a minister, they sit down in his office and say, “We really want what you people of faith have.” How did they get there into that office? They got there because the Holy Spirit led them there. And how did the Holy Spirit get into their lives? The Spirit came into their lives because we were not afraid to plant the seeds of God’s love. They got there because we take seriously the call of Christ to Evangelize, to bring the Good News to all people, to let them know that if they believe in Christ and repent, as the Gospel says, their sins also will be forgiven.
Evangelization is fundamental to Christianity. No one is called to be a Christian for himself or herself. We are called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to others.
Every Sunday we come to Mass. We receive the great gift of God’s grace in the Word and in the Sacrament. And then we are commissioned at every Mass to take what we have received and to bring it out to the world. If we are not going to take Christ from here, then why did we come here?
“Go in peace glorifying the Lord with your life.”
“Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
“Go and proclaim to the world that Jesus lives.”