May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Catechism: Prologue I 2-3: Sharing the Good News

Via Wikimedia Commons
From my earliest youth, I can remember songs with lyrics like, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel and, lo, I am with you always," and Jesus' recruitment of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to lay down their fishing nets to that he could make them "fishers of men." We also frequently sang the children's ditty, "This Little Light of Mine," in which we kids promised not to "hide it under a bushel" (although we didn't know what a bushel was) and not to "let Satan blow it out" with accompanying hand gestures. Perhaps these songs and ideas have stuck with me so well because I also spent many years of my childhood in a fundamentalist domination that was strongly dedicated to sending Christian missionaries overseas. The lives of MKs (missionaries' kids) were often depicted for us, and missionaries visiting home frequently spoke at our church, sharing photos of the schools they had built and the kids they had fed and stories of facing down great dangers to bring the light of Christ to these remote, exotic and usually unfortunate peoples.

So, I have known for a long time, that one of the major responsibilities of a Christian is to share God with others. At times, I thought that meant I should be a missionary, too. Then, as a young teen, I participated in the musical, Surrender, about teens learning how to serve God. One of the characters sings, "I'd rather go to Africa, than Lakewood High, because being a believer isn't cool." It was eye-opening, the challenge of sharing my belief with others doesn't have to be full of life-threatening confrontations with head hunters or warring tribes; sometimes (often, usually) being a testimony to the people who are already part of my own world is scary enough.

The fact that the Catholic Catechism addresses this mission to share God's love with others so early in its pages has great significance, I believe. The only instruction that comes before it is to know and love God yourself. Once you've started that process, your next responsibility is to spread the "Good News" as so many faiths state it. But, here's the thing: these steps are not sequential. You cannot wait until you fully understand everything about God before you begin to let your light shine. Indeed, if you did, you would be under that proverbial bushel for your entire life. Most Christian faiths (indeed most religions of any kind) have a call for believers to proselytize. You are not permitted to perceive the truth and keep others in the darkness of ignorance.

How to do you do that? I suspect this exploration of the Catechism will help to explain how to share the Good News, and we shall seek to understand this process as we go. This year, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to observe a Jubilee of Mercy. The Jubilee prayer offers a succinct answer: "Let the Church [i.e. all Catholics] be your visible face in the world." When people see us, they should see God. We must strive always to live what we believe in order to demonstrate God's love and mercy. Not only do we represent God in this way, but we also serve God, as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 25, "in so far as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." (In that particular verse, he is talking about helping others, but he also elaborates later that the reverse is true. To neglect others or to actively harm them, is also a sin against God.)

But here is the biggest secret: you don't necessarily have to "go out of your way" to do this. Sure, many are called to serve God in the remotest corners of the globe, or in prisons, or in war zones, or in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities. The rest of us are called to use the talents that God has given us to serve him where we are. There are already people in your world today and people you will encounter tomorrow and next week and next year, who will benefit from your "testimony." While you may have the opportunity to actually speak about Christ to them or give them a Bible or a Crucifix, most of the time, the simplest act of kindness, mercy and love can be a trigger to encourage someone else to seek the peace and joy that you have. Conversely, there are few things more harmful to our mission, than Christians behaving poorly. (Ever been cutoff in traffic by a car with a "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker.)

It may not always feel comfortable to pray before a meal in public. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It may not always be convenient to help someone who is clearly lost or clearly struggling to carry something. That doesn't mean you should just pass them by. It may not always be easy to offer praise or comfort instead of criticism. That doesn't mean you are free to speak those sharp words that may come to mind.

Beyond that, you should seek ways to use your talents for God. He endowed each of us with individual personalities and abilities because He has need of these different skill sets. I hope I am never called upon to clear debris and weeds from the church yard or a neighborhood park. The kind of chore is not in any way part of my inclination or skill set and it sets me up for allergic reactions. (That doesn't mean I should always avoid this kind of service...) Since I was three years old, however, I have had a passion for reading and writing and for seeking to know and understand things. I have no doubt that these natural inclinations are part of God's plan for my service. When I completed the rite of initiation, I prayed for God to show me how to serve Him. His answer came very quickly, and I launched this blog that day.

This is one way in which I can let the light shine through me, and I pray for His inspiration as I draft each post. As the song from the popular rock opera Godspell says:
"You are the light of the world. You are the light of the world. But the tallest candlestick ain't much good without a wick. You've got to live right to be the light of world."


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