Saturday, September 12, 2015

Evangelisation As Childbearing

Our Lady of Lourdes Church Feast Day Novena Day 3
Go & Make Disciples: What is the New Evangelisation?

Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2,12-14; Psalm 15:1-2,5,7-8,11; Luke 6:39-42
Picture: cc Sabda Renjana

Sisters and brothers, do any of you have children of your own? Your own flesh and blood? How did you get them? I’m sure we all know the answer, right? Even those of us who don’t have children of our own. People like me, for example. We all know where babies come from. We know that they are not like durians. They don’t grow on trees. Nor does a bird deliver them to our homes in the middle of the night. We know that there is a certain process that people have to undergo to bear children of their own.

This process usually involves three steps. The first step is encounter and conception. A girl meets a boy. They fall in love. They unite as husband and wife. And, if the conditions are right, a baby is conceived. After that, the next step is pregnancy and birth. The baby is carried in the mother’s womb for nine months. Before being born into the world. And that’s not the end of the story. In the animal kingdom, there are some creatures that just leave their freshly laid eggs or newborn babies to fend for themselves. But human parents are different. For us, after birth, there is usually a long period of many years, where parents shower on their children plenty of care and support. To feed and clothe them. Educate and nurture them. Teach them how to survive and to contribute to society.

So encounter and conception. Pregnancy and birth. Care and support. Three important steps that need to be taken if we want to have children of our own. There are also three other things about the childbearing process that are worth noting. The first is that the process can be repeated. And the way to repeat it is for parents to keep paying attention not just to their children. But also to one another. To keep deepening their love for each other. To continue encountering one another everyday. The second thing is that the process of childbearing is always new. Even if a couple has given birth to several children already. Every time they have another baby, it’s never exactly the same as before. It’s always a new experience. The third thing is that the process usually brings happiness. It’s normally an experience of joy.

I mention all this, my dear friends, not because I think that you need a refresher course in sex education. Even if you did, I wouldn’t be the right person to give it. I mention all this because I think it can help us to answer the question that we have posed for ourselves on this 3rd day of our Feast Day Novena. What is the New Evangelisation?

I think most of us know that to evangelise is to proclaim the gospel in some way. Through our words, our actions, the lives that we lead. But what actually happens when we do this? What does evangelisation look and feel like? And what exactly is new about the new evangelisation? Isn’t the gospel we are proclaiming today the same one that Jesus proclaimed more than two thousand years ago? How then are we supposed to make it new? Is it simply a matter of using new methods? Like going on Twitter? Or Facebook? Or WhatsApp?

Strange as it may sound, I think one helpful way to answer these questions is for us to think of evangelisation as a process of childbearing. And, in case you think me crazy for suggesting this, consider what St. Paul writes in the first reading today. The reading is taken from the beginning of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Notice how Paul addresses Timothy. He calls him a true child of mine in the faith. Paul considers Timothy his child, because it was Paul who proclaimed the gospel to him. It was Paul who evangelised Timothy. And sent him to continue the mission of proclaiming the good news to others.

By calling Timothy his child, Paul is saying that Paul had, in a sense, become pregnant and given birth to the gospel in Timothy. Pregnancy and birth. The second step in the childbearing process that we talked about earlier. How was Paul able to do this? How did he get the power to evangelise in this way? Well, one thing is clear. Paul did not do it on his own. Not through his own strength. That would have been impossible. Just as it’s impossible for me to produce a child on my own. If Paul had tried to do this, then he would have been like the people that Jesus scolds in the gospel today. People who try to correct and convert others without having first undergone correction and conversion themselves. Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.

No, as with any normal process of childbearing, Paul’s spiritual pregnancy and childbirth is the result of an earlier experience of encounter and conception. Of correction and conversion. Not an encounter with a woman. But an encounter with Christ. Paul describes this encounter as an experience of mercy. I used to be a blasphemer, he writes, and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me… Not only did the crucified and risen Lord, whom Paul had been persecuting, forgive him his sins. The Lord also judged Paul faithful enough to call him into his service.

It is out of this experience of mercy, this deep personal encounter with Christ, that the joy of the gospel was conceived in Paul’s heart. Radically changing the direction of his life. Giving him a new purpose. A new calling. Filling Paul with faith and the love that is in Christ Jesus. Such that Paul could so easily make his own these words from our responsorial psalm. You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever. By filling Paul with the joy of the gospel, Christ gave him power to give birth to that same joy in people like Timothy. 

But that’s not all. Not only did Paul give birth to Timothy spiritually in the past. He also continues to offer him care and support in the present. Such as by writing him this very letter. A message filled with good advice and encouragement. A document that Paul begins by wishing Timothy grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord. And Paul will continue to do this, repeatedly, in other letters as well. Written not just for Timothy. But for many of his other spiritual children. Even whole communities. Sharing with them, again and again, the joy of the gospel. A joy that continues to be born even today, thousands of years later, in people like us. When we read Paul’s letters we too experience this same joy in ever new and exciting ways. And Paul is able to do this. To give birth repeatedly to joy. All over the world. And all through time. Only because he remains in constant contact, in intimate relationship, with Christ Jesus the Lord.

Encounter and conception. Pregnancy and birth. Care and support. Repetition. Relationship. And joy. These are the ingredients that make up the childbearing process. They are also the same ingredients that make up the new evangelisation. This is the process that each of us is called to undergo everyday. Each in our own way. Depending on the different circumstances of our daily lives. Sometimes the new evangelisation will mean giving a grumpy colleague the gift of a smile. Even when we don’t feel like smiling. At other times, it may mean having the courage to invite a neighbour to church. Even if we may be afraid that she will decline. At still other times, it may mean explaining to a curious friend or relative how it is that we are able to remain calm and peaceful even when our life may be filled with all kinds of problems and difficulties.

Sisters and brothers, according to Pope Francis, the joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus…. (For with) Christ joy is constantly born anew (EG#1). What is the Pope writing about, if not the new evangelisation? A gospel joy that keeps being born anew every time people allow themselves to encounter Christ. To conceive Christ. To give birth to Christ. And to care for Christ, especially in those most in need.

Sisters and brothers, if the new evangelisation is indeed like bearing a child, then what are we doing, you and I, to continue bearing Christ in our world today?

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