Probably for many people directly involved in the new evangelization through some apostolate there can be a serious temptation to become discouraged, at least occasionally. I know I have experienced that temptation often.
When a person is excited and enthusiastic about something and tries very hard to interest others but receives no encouragement, it is not easy to stay excited and enthusiastic. All of us like to see results. When we don’t see them, we can be especially vulnerable.
A young priest I know told me that his main criticism of the seminary education he received was that he was led to believe that after ordination – if he did everything perfectly – people would respond. For example, if he ran a religious education program that was outstanding, people would respond.
His experience was that some people did not respond to programs that he organized and to which he gave a great deal of time and energy. This experience tempted him to become discouraged. Why couldn’t others see the value of what was the center of his life?
I think I was more prone to becoming discouraged when I was much younger. My attitude now is that those of us involved in a Christian apostolate should try to do our best, but then the rest is up to the Holy Spirit. We don’t save or redeem people. Jesus does that.
Part of Every Life
Also no one can know how God is operative in someone’s life, even in someone who, to us, may seem totally uninterested in God’s existence and presence in his or her life. I love Pope Francis’ conviction that God is part of everyone’s life. If that conviction is true – and I am certain it is – how can we ever allow ourselves to be discouraged?
A short time ago, I made a retreat. I welcomed the opportunity to make the retreat because I thought I needed time to reflect on my life. To help me reflect, I used a book that I had read several years ago when it was strongly recommended to me.
The book is Sebastian Moore’s “The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger” (Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Seabury Press, 1977, pp. 116). When I first read the book, I found it very demanding. On this recent retreat I still found it demanding, but perhaps the atmosphere was a special aid because I found some of Moore’s insights helpful.
There is a lengthy paragraph in Moore’s book which I found both difficult and enlightening. Mentioning that there is something in the soul of the believer which recognizes Jesus as the experience of that something, Moore asks what that something is and offers the following answer:
“It is the person’s life, sensed – however obscurely – as hungry for some ultimate meaningfulness, convinced of some ultimate meaningfulness. It is the root of rare moments of an unaccountable happiness. It is what idealists and reformers draw upon. It is why there are idealists and reformers. It is a spark of the divine. It is what Augustine is talking about when he says ‘Thou has made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in thee.’ ‘Our heart’, in that statement, is ‘this something.’ God’s destining us ‘for himself’ is, however obscurely, experienced as restlessness, and, even more obscurely, as promise. There is promise in us. And this ‘promise’ is a promise of life. It has to do, not with something we want to get, but with being ourselves without any inhibition. The greatest happiness possible, and the very definition of happiness, is to be oneself without any inhibition. And Augustine is saying that we can only be this way ‘in God’.
“The recognition of Jesus as ‘this’ is the work of the Holy Spirit in a person.” (p. 18)
That the Holy Spirit breathes where he will, that the Spirit accompanies every person at every moment is the reason for our hope. When the apostolates in which we are involved seem to be going well and people seem to be deeply touched, the Holy Spirit is present; when nothing in our apostolates seems to be going well and no one seems to be influenced or affected, the Holy Spirit is still present.
Augustine’s insight that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord is profoundly true and we should never forget that only union with God will ultimately fulfill us. When I think of God’s complete commitment to us, I am embarrassed that I would ever feel discouraged. The victory has been won by Christ’s death and resurrection. The powers of evil cannot win in a battle with God.
Rather than discouragement, a proper response to our involvement in evangelization would seem to be overwhelming joy that we participate in God’s life and can be used by the Spirit to help others.
Father Lauder has a 55-minute lecture, “The Mystery of Love,” on YouTube (search “Father Lauder” and “Mystery of Love”) and on NET-TV.
Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).