Approaching evangelization: a story of Joy and Ardor
A Trinitarian perspective on evangelization inspired by "The Calling"
If you have not read “The Calling” on The Resurger, the following work is a product of reflection upon it
Brothers and sisters, the old world of despair is passing away, and we rejoice in the opportunity to testify to the name of Christ Jesus. God calls us to gather together as one through love, in the image of God’s oneness and love.
Witnessing Christ fills us with joy and ardor, but those moments when we are called to the witness stand can make us afraid. We don’t know when we will be called to account. We don’t know if we will have the strength and pass the test. We don’t know even if we will ever get a second chance or if this is it, our one chance to move our lips in harmony with the Holy Spirit. It is the test of our lives, and we wonder if we have the preparation and the nerve to pass it.
However, when we do take that last offered cup and walk away from the trial knowing that we have pleased God, a happiness and conviction consume us. Witnesses to God are filled up to the brim with the Holy Spirit, having destroyed in themselves their greatest barriers to God. These witnesses inevitably are called to pour out that gift for God’s good people and evangelize with the good news of salvation in Christ.
The narrative in “The Calling” is our brother’s testimony of Christ, and its intimate detail is a model for all witnesses and evangelists. It rings true in the hearts of all Christians who have stood to testify and professed our faith. In his story, we hear about a man tested by one of the most desperate events of our time and then and the victory of his testimony. We hear a man renewed: joyous and arduous in Christ. Now that he has returned to us, he seeks to pour out the abundance given to him by God in those trying times.
How will such a story of prayer and grace fall on the ears of our average countryman? How do we gather up those who have fallen away or never known Christ and pull them onto this path? Can we put them on the stand ourselves? Where can we look for a solution to this problem? How do we witness Christ to those who have not chosen Him in an intelligible, effective way?
The good news is not for us alone: we must approach outsiders and the fallen away with the same fraternity we share in Christ. We should share with them this same story in intimate detail. We should share with them our story of joy and ardor, our testimony of God, in the hope that we might draw out their own encounters with Christ, known or unknown. This is an act of love and oneness, and therefore we look to the Holy Trinity and to the three theological virtues—Faith, Hope, and Charity—for guidance.
Faith: Our happiness and conviction must be palpable and shared intimately
A sign of strong faith in Christ is true joy. From the first moment someone notices us, they should be convinced of the genuine joy we keep in our hearts, especially if we mean to convert them. Without it we would poison that encounter from the start. Joy should be visible on our faces, in our clothes and the way we put ourselves together. It should be evident in the way we walk, the way we encounter obstacles, and most especially in the way we speak. Too many times we are beaten down by our sin and wear a gray look on our faces or debase our speech with doubt. Too many times we speak with a fake sweetness, a lie we tell to conceal our true spiritual demeanor. We must guard ourselves against this dourness and renew ourselves in the joy of God’s freely given gifts.
Paul and Silas sat in chains singing hymns of praise to God composing our nascent traditions after they were imprisoned in Philippi. The Earth itself shook at their joyous faith, and by this sign many were converted. Likewise, we should give ourselves over to joy in God and renounce the despair of sin. Even when the world reveals the depths of its cruelty—as it did that day in Kabul—and we sit in our own chains, we must set ourselves upright and start singing and praising. Even in the darkest moments of life, we sing songs of God’s glory and mercy. If we can do this in righteous joy and celebration, our faith will bring the doubtful onlookers to their knees.
Ardor—zealous conviction—is another characteristic of Faith immediately palpable to those we meet. In one of Saint Augustine’s prayers to the Holy Trinity, he vows “Lord God, my only hope, let me never tire of seeking you, but make me seek Thy face with constant ardor”. This eternal searching for God, in the face of all species of difficulty, was especially important for Augustine. He knew that “Si comprehendis, non est Deus”—”If you understand, it is not God”—but yet his whole life was defined by an insatiable desire for the Truth. Here is a man God used as a tool to serve a mission he could never complete. God placed in front of Augustine’s theological ministry obstacle after obstacle, in order to strengthen and deepen him, and we celebrate the fruits of his victories to this day.
Our brother’s striving for God in the trial of his life in Afghanistan fits into this image of Augustine’s struggle. Augustine exhausted himself in pursuit of a knowledge he could never attain and yet prayed for more ardor, more conviction, to keep battling down everything in his way. As Augustine encountered this vocation without despair, so did a man in Kabul encounter his day before the witnesses and martyrs without despair. Where all world events could have inspired hatred, there was peace.
Freedom from despair is a highly attractive quality in our day and scarce in the evangelical environment. The objects of our efforts will often be people tortured daily by anxiousness and doubt. They will not believe it possible to live free of these things. They are lost and mired in relativism, but for that very reason they will want to know more about why we seem free and stalwart. Fundamentally, they wish to be cured. All else in conversion should follow, if we can pass this gate. If we convince someone to turn themselves over to God instead of to despair, the formation of faith and all the detail of religion will follow through reason and zeal.
In order to convince men and women of the good news, we must be prepared to let the Holy Spirit move our lips: to testify directly to the Truth without filter or distortion. This requires an intimacy that will be uncomfortable to most of us. Our deepest thoughts during the highlights of our lives are a contradiction: they are both the hardest thoughts to share and the threads which tie us all together and to God—which must be shared. Without the free sharing of these, all evangelization will be superficial. It takes a kind of courage that is quite rare in order to share such intimacy. However, the hardest feats for a man are nothing for God, and faithful prayer will always lead us into dialogue with God’s inexhaustible courage.
The correct disciplining of the self lies in faith, and the correct sharing of the self with the other lies in love. This correct praise avoids the inherent mistakes of the self: pride, both internal and external. Internally, pride breeds selfishness and a navel-gazing that turns one’s mind away from God and His good people. It denies us our natural existence that in part extends into the other. Externally, pride exerted upon the other becomes tyranny. We often find ourselves in the economy of force instead of the economy of faith—in the world of politics more than worship—when we desire to impose ourselves on the other and rule over them. Instead, as evangelists and everyday people, we must commit the self and the many to a transcendent third. The self should be faithful, and through faith the self becomes the one who loves, who seeks the beloved.
Hope: We must draw out the personal story of the people we evangelize and their great moments of joy and proximity to God
In order to pursue the salvation of souls and the perfect zeal of the Holy Spirit, we must eliminate pride from our efforts. Where the devil scatters through pride, Christ gathers and collects the good to Him. Make no mistake: pride is a curse, an arrow we shoot at our brother out of ill-will. It is not a sin whose effects we bear alone. Satan manipulates the distinctions between us, and where there should be complementariness he builds division. Where there should be diversity, he builds resentment. Resentment creeps up in tragedy, when our pride lashes out for a victim to blame.
In this way, we see how a man who witnessed the errors and tragedy of the fall of Kabul could have raged in pride at his enemy, his government, his leaders after such an incident. He could have raged in such a way that would have consumed him, but this day the scatterer did not win. Instead, he gave himself freely to God. Our brother prayed, not just for himself but for the eternal life of the men and women who were taken from us. His hope was put on the stand and tested by the evil one, and it prevailed.
As we continue to defeat our pride, we must build a bridge of hope between us and those to whom we will testify. We must look into their story and their lives for those same moments and flashes of divinity that captured us into this faith. We undo the works of evil through the restoration of hope and the building of a bridge between us. Even the most fallen of souls still are capable of redemption. It was difficult even for the Apostles to accept this idea, and it is no less a challenge for our reason.
Our faith is tested by those whom we seek to evangelize, for they are fully aware that among the tenets of our faith is that all are made in the image and likeness of God. Should we treat these people as lost or beneath our efforts, when God’s own Son dined with them and gave them everything, we will be transparently hypocritical. We must seek out hope, then, in everyone and take a step back into humility, lest our zeal be manipulated into pride.
We evangelize to people whom we may not call Christians, but all of them without exception are an individually distinct piece of the whole reality of God. There are seeds of the Word in all that is good, true, and beautiful, and there is that in quantity in each person we come to know. We must judge not lest we be judged, and listen to the good, true, and beautiful in the person we are evangelizing, for their unwitting testimony is a wholly unique perception of God unlike any other in the world. We each may not have our ‘own truth’, but we are all freely given Grace in abundance in a unique way. It is to what extent we accept that gift and return it to others which saves us.
We will encounter different kinds of people, and this is a fundamentally good thing. Even the most frustrating personalities have a role to play in the co-creation of the world. We must not be so vain as to assume that all annoyances and coarseness in the personalities of others are inherently vices: it is far more likely that they are but differences which challenge our own personality and force it to contend with another testimony of the Truth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are compelled also to listen to the testimony of all to God, whether it comes from the meek, the coarse, or the brash.
If piety truly divides us from them, we must show them by example how to pray. When we praise the Father rightly and petition in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, we call upon the Holy Spirit to ruin in us the things which separate us from God. We can take this into our evangelization by reminding people of those times when no separation existed between them and God, when they held on to hope for but a moment. They may not have ever known that these moments were close personal encounters with Christ, but without exception everyone will have some memories of pure-hearted acceptance of Grace, however buried under sin and severed from God.
We can show them how to return to these moments of testimony through example, through a brave intimacy and wholly selfless trusting of them with our own stories and moments. By this method, we might show those whom we evangelize that the only barrier between them and having hope again is the ruination of their own, self-erected barriers in their hearts and in their minds. We might show them that there is a future in which they might look out into the whole world and see nothing but the embrace of the God who is love.
Our brother’s story of the Fall of Kabul testifies that even and especially in the face of death, true hope remains. Whether one loses one’s life is of no consequence to hope. What is of consequence is belief in the power of Christ’s passion and resurrection. Our brother could have despaired, he could have lashed out in many worldly ways in rage against the doom of that day. Instead, he prayed. He hoped not by reason alone, not for some personal sign, not some personal revelation. No, he prayed. He gave himself over to God, and upon his return witnessed God on the stand to his neighbors.
The correct disciplining of two people lies in hope; hope to find the true and the good in each other. When we share hope, the differences between us bring us closer together, and we rejoice in our diversity. The forces which seek to divide us cannot overcome that common spark of hope that bridges the divide between two minds and souls. Many of the people we seek to evangelize are lost, suffering, and desperate. They have been alienated from their hope and from each other. They have forgotten the joyous searching for God of their youth. For them, evangelization is charity and a freedom from sin.
Charity: We must patiently and kindly weave both our stories into God’s own love, into one story
This is the key: evangelization is love. It is charity. The love that God is forms a third person between us and whom we seek in evangelization. God is the transcendental third under which alone the one and the other, the lover and beloved, can know each other and themselves. This is why we don’t just ask people to believe the Truth in private; we invite them to join us and see how we live, see how we give alms and charity for God’s good people. Our faith is a social faith, always seeking a going out and a growth. After we do the works we have learned from Christ Jesus, then the peace of mind will follow and our souls will sit upright.
Before you all go to glorify God, I will close with a few points about charity written by the author of ‘The Calling” after coming back from Kabul, and coming back to our Church from a far off land:
We are compelled to do good, to have open ears to the Holy Spirit and an open heart to Christ, that the three persons of our triune God remake us into virtuous men; thereby we are led to Caritas.
We are compelled to do good, in part to stymie evil’s designs and the greatest of those designs is to keep men from the Church, therefore we evangelize in the spirit of Caritas.
We are compelled to do good, to approach those who spurn God’s freedom for the Enemy’s chains and slavery with a firm but gentle and fervent love in the image of God’s love.
We reject the temptations of fear, evil, pain and even death to lead us away, bending and turning us away from God. Rather, we carry our crosses, friend leaning onto friend, in imitation of Christ that the world may know His glory and seek to embrace it in their hearts.