Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lesson from a Man on the Highway: The Value of Relationships in Evangelization

Tuesday morning I was driving westbound on I-240 towards OKC. As I came around a bend I saw on the eastbound side a man standing on the hill on the side of the road, some way off from his car. This isn't particularly unusual by itself. People whose cars break down often go sit on the hillside overlooking the road (if there is one) to wait for help to come.

This guys was different though, he was standing on the hillside holding a big sign on a stick. It looked like a protest sign like one might carry in picket line but it had in big red letters the simple message: "Trust Jesus Christ." To make things even more unusual he wasn't even in the city where you might not be surprised to see someone near the roadside. No, he was out by himself, at least 10 miles east of the city, almost to the point where I-240 and I-40 connect.

His location and personal presence (as opposed to just hammering the sign in the ground and leaving) did draw more attention to his message and, with a heat index already in the 90s it did speak to his dedication to the cause; you don't stand on the roadside by yourself in the summer heat for something you only casually care about. It leaves no doubt as to how much he believes in the importance of trusting in Jesus and I applaud him for that faith. But...

How effective is this method as a missionary tactic? For all I know lots of people were positively affected by his message and witness. Perhaps many saw his sign "Trust Jesus Christ" and decided to do so but I'm afraid that far more people saw it and thought he was a crazy-person and that his message was of little importance.

I had to sit an reflect for a while to figure out why he struck me the wrong way despite my agreement with his message. - I think the problem with his method is that there is no communion, no relationship built with the people he is trying to reach. The Christian message requires community, requires knowledge of the other. Jesus said "Love your neighbor." St. Paul said we are all members of one body. People learn about the love of God through  relationships.*

So, I don't want to condemn the man on the road side; he was doing nothing technically wrong and maybe some people were affected positively. But real Christian evangelization has to take place personally, with relationships, face to face...not at 70mph.

*-Some people may start their journey into Christianity by an intellectual path, sure, but they stay because (hopefully) once they start trying to be a Christian they meet others in whom they see God's love and understand it more profoundly than any book could convey.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Overgrown altars and One-Upmanship (Reflections on the 14th & 15th Wednesdays in Ord. Time)

These are Reflections (not homilies) given at daily mass in my summer parish. The links take you to the readings for the days which I would recommend reading first for the reflections to make good sense.

Reflection given on Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time - 2014

As I began reading Hosea I thought I knew where it was going: "Israel is a luxuriant vine, whose fruit matches its growth. The more abundant his fruit the more abundant altars he builds." This sounds pretty good. Israel seems to be doing well. But then it takes a turn... "Their heart is false, now they pay for their guilt." Whoa...things aren't so great, apparently!

God blesses Israel but rather than praise him for his goodness they take his blessings and turn into pagans. Hosea warns them: "thorns and thistles will overgrow their altars!" The worldly good they were given will be taken away because they built, if you will, the wrong kind of altars. That is, they didn't turn their hearts to God but instead turned away. In Jesus' time the people of Israel are still failing to turn their hearts to God so Jesus sends out the 12 to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Let us not be like Israel and instead respond to Jesus' call. Let us "sow for ourselves justice and reap the fruit of piety" so that instead of our "altars being overgrown with thistles and thorns" we may enter "the kingdom of heaven [that] is at hand."


Reflection given on Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time - 2014 (with reference to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

I don't know what the equivalent is for little girls, if there is one at all, but little boys around grade school age like to play a one-upsmanship game called "My dad can beat up your dad!" The rules are simple: each participant takes turns (more or less) elaborating on why their father is superior to the fathers of the other boys. This game usually continues with with increasing levels of hyperbole and exaggeration until the end of recess or the teacher makes them stop, whichever comes first.

In a sense, this is the game the prophet Isaiah is playing, the other boys being the leaders of the Israelites who follow pagan false gods. The difference is that for Isaiah it's not a game and it's not hyperbole. The LORD, the God of Israel really is all powerful and able to subdue nations under his feet. Unlike with the boys on the playground who have to embellish, Isaiah's father, who is our father too, really is unquestionably superior. Being the creator of the universe he couldn't fail to be anything but.

However, this image of a mighty defender is not the only image of God, lest we be afraid. He is also tender and loving towards his children as Jesus Christ showed us. It is the same God who destroyed the enemies of Israel who also said "let the children come to me" and "love your neighbor as yourself" and laid down his life on the cross for our sake. (He also gave us to the tender love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who we celebrate today as Our Lady of Mt. Caramel).

Let us always be childlike and trust in our heavenly father, remembering that he is both a nurturing parent and a mighty defender!