I HAVE CHANGED my view of evangelization. In the past I thought that someone began to evangelize after he or she had been evangelized. The new evangelizer had no further need of being evangelized. That person’s experience of being evangelized was finished.
Recently, I have come to believe that the process of being evangelized is ongoing. For example, I imagine members of the Church should be going through a constant process of being evangelized and at the same time be moving out to evangelize others. Strange to say, this insight came to me at least in part from the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
Friends have reported to me that they know Catholics who have decided not to go to confession in the future because they believe the confessor has committed worse sins than they have. Friends also have told me that they know Catholics who have stopped celebrating the Sunday Eucharist because of stories of priests engaging in sexual abuse. I can appreciate all the anger, but I think it is a mistake to neglect the sacrament of reconciliation or the celebration of the Eucharist. The sexual abuse crisis should not discourage anyone, clergy or laity, from trying to spread the Good News. The Good News is and will always be more powerful than any bad news.
Whenever I hear of any scandal among priests or bishops, I think of Judas and St. Peter. Both betrayed Jesus. These were two of His band of Apostles. Both had experienced Jesus’ friendship, knew His teachings and observed His miracles. Yet each failed Him. Peter repented and became the first pope. Scripture does not tell us, beyond his suicide, what happened to Judas. If two of Jesus’ Apostles could betray Him, then any human, including priests and bishops, is capable of any sin.
As I mentioned in a previous column, I have come up with a mantra that I have been using in the midst of the serious crises that the Church is experiencing. The mantra is: “We can be disappointed but we should never be discouraged.”
Of course we can be disappointed by the sinfulness in the Church. If we care about the Church and about people, we ought to be disappointed by the sins of others and also by the sins we commit. But we should never be discouraged. Why not? The presence of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church is more powerful than any sins or failures by members of the Church.
Suppose we try to imagine the presence of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church and compare the power and goodness of their presence to the countless sins that members of the Church commit. Attempt to compare the goodness and power of the presence of the Risen Christ to the power of evil and sin. What is the result of our attempt? The result is that there can be no comparison. The power of evil and sin is enormous and frightening.
The power of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit is infinite, unlimited, unable to be measured. No matter how we try to imagine it, that power and goodness is more than we can conceive. I love the insight of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, that God’s gifts put our greatest dreams to shame. The profound truth is that we cannot even imagine how much we are loved by God. Put simply, evil and sin are no match for God’s love.
I think that even from philosophy, without a direct reference to the Good News of Jesus, we can come to believe that love is the strongest force in the universe, that love conquers even death. When we look at the Good News that Jesus brought, we encounter the greatest sign of love in history: the cross. Here we see the powerful sign of a love that is unlimited.
We should regularly remind ourselves that being a Christian is all about the mystery of love. The basic truth, which Christianity is rooted in, is God’s love for us. Everything in the Church is to help us to be lovers. When we talk about the being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we are talking about the Holy Spirit helping us to be lovers. I think that “being holy“ means being a lover. Everything in the Church, from commandments and rules to Scripture and sacraments, is in the Church to help us to become more loving.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.