Transforming the world by being a people “in love”
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:16-19)
One of the things that I struggle with the most is evangelization. I have friends and family members who either do not believe in God or are baptized Catholics who have left the Church. I do not want to force my beliefs on them, but on the other hand I am by no means a pluralist who thinks that it is okay for everybody to believe in whatever it is they believe is true and leave it at that. Otherwise, I would not believe that the truth is one and that it can only be found in the God of Jesus Christ and that has been transmitted to us through His Church.
I have learned from friends who are very successful in speaking to inactive Catholics or nonbelievers that whenever we are fortunate enough to be presented with an opportunity to discuss matters of faith, first of all we must listen very carefully to the other person. We need to understand what their concerns are, which are always valid and authentic. The issues they may have with organized religion or Catholicism, for that matter, do not occur in a vacuum and may very well be justified. Unfortunately, we are not always presented with this scenario: an adequate setting or enough time to have a relaxed and truthful chat about religion or Catholicism. Most of the time we are either working, or going to school, or attending social events or going about our daily chores. So how can we evangelize during this time?
I personally believe that it all comes down to the words that have been traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” We all know that saying, but it sounds like it is easier said than done. I have long reflected about this and I have come up with an idea that is less than innovative and that may also sound like it is easier said than done! But let’s give it a try.
Love is the universal language. Regardless of age, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation, human beings can all speak the language of love. Love unites us. Love is our common bond. Therefore, if we want to “evangelize” we start and end with love.
When we are in love with someone, people notice it and they talk about it with us or with others. Michael and I know a Catholic couple that has been married for years. One of their children is disabled, but yet they are so filled with love and joy for their child as well as the rest of their children, friends, and coworkers. They are always smiling and making others smile as well. They are so welcoming and are always willing to help and give to the poor and needy. When we see a couple like this who share their reverence and love for the other constantly, we notice it right away and we feel like we can also share and participate in their joy—in the happiness of their union. Their union no longer is self-contained, but in fact welcomes anyone who wishes to participate in it. This is how our love for God should be: so abundant that it overflows and that allows others to share in it—a welcoming love.
When we see a compassionate person who perseveres in their ministry to the broken and the needy we are inspired by this love and wonder what keeps this person going. When we witness a son or daughter constantly caring and serving his or her elderly parents we are elevated to this higher love that moves them to give of themselves in such a way. These are people who are in love with someone and they act accordingly. They walk the talk. Same goes with our love for God. The true Christian is in love with someone—with God himself and he or she has to live out that love in order for it to be credible and for it to be a true witness.
If I constantly talk about the love I have for my husband, but I am flirting with other men when he is not around or I am rude to him in front of our friends and family, will others know that I am a person in love? People will start talking and will let him know that I am perhaps not the right person for him. Same goes with friends or family members and God. If I constantly talk about how pious I am or how often I pray, but I am impatient and rude to others who I encounter every day of my life, will others know that I am in love? If I refuse to serve others and prefer to always be first, will people be inspired by my love? Am I letting my love for God shine through my actions? Can others fall in love with God through my actions?
Blessed Mother Teresa was indeed in love and she elevated our spirits to that same love that united her to Jesus Christ. In her own words, she speaks of how “demanding” that love can be just as our love for spouses, significant others, family members and friends can be:
Because I talk so much of giving with a smile, once a professor from the United States asked me: “Are you married?” And I said: “Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because He can be very demanding – sometimes.” This is really something true. And this is where love comes in – when it is demanding, and yet we can give it with joy.”
One may ask at this point, but what kind of love are we talking about here? It is definitely not romantic love that I am referring to. It is not temporal love either. It is self-emptying love. It is a radical love that seeks nothing but to serve for the glory of God. It is perseverant love. It is the kind of love that moves us out of ourselves and that bears it all for God’s sake. It is a supernatural love that acknowledges that there is life to come and that knows that this world is not an end in itself, but only a phase in our journey. It is a love that knows that we are simply nomads walking towards our final and eternal destiny to share in the joy of the Divine fellowship. It is the kind of love (caritas) that St. Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (13:4-8)
Christian love is radical… as radical as God becoming man… as radical as God dwelling among us… as radical as the crucified God… as radical as God being raised from the dead. We cease to be Christians when we cease to live and love radically until the end. Radical love is credible and transforming. Living out daily our radical love for God is the greatest witness we can give of our belief in the truth.