Fr. Shields: It is time for us to go public with the joy of the Gospel

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As a priest I must say there is nothing richer than to see a life changed from the inside out. When the Gospel is applied to the mind, you think differently, when applied to the emotions you feel differently. When the Gospel is applied to relationships, you love differently — with more patience, compassion and greater sincerity.

Speaking of evangelization, Saint John Paul II once said, “Evangelization is the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and this must be our absolute priority.”

The mission Pope Francis wants to send us on is to preach the Gospel everywhere — in and out of season — in every culture and country. The pope wants a church that goes out, not one that stays home only to care for itself. God blessed us so we could become blessings for others.

Pope Francis is asking for a public faith, not a private one that only serves oneself. You are not to become holy for yourself but for others. We are called to preach, teach, defend and share the joy of the Gospel.

Evangelization needs three elements. It looks at who we believe, what we believe, and why we believe. All three are movements of the new evangelization that the last three popes have encouraged the church to begin.

First and foremost we need to help people embrace a public faith. A 2007 study by the Pew Forum revealed that 29 percent of Catholics believe God is simply “an impersonal force.” Further, 40 percent believe a personal relationship with him is impossible. And 43 percent pray infrequently or never. Those numbers are dismal and depressing, and have likely grown worse. They’re also a grim reminder that Catholic preaching has been less than effective for far too long.

None of this, however, means that real belief and knowledge of the faith are absent from parishes on Sunday mornings. It just means we need to focus on Jesus a whole lot more.

As Bishop Malone explained in a Our Sunday Visitor article, “People come to us for catechesis who really have not been adequately evangelized. They have not yet come to know the Lord.”

When people enter into a personal relationship with the Lord, catechesis begins to make sense. When this happens, faith deepens and Catholics can begin to defend the reasons behind their faith.

First, our parishes need to seriously focus on who Jesus is. Once this is established and believed, we can publicly share the Gospel with friends and family who find Christianity very hard to believe.

In order to share our faith, we need transparency, simplicity and bravery. This starts with our family and friends — people we know — simply sharing what happened in or life and our experiences with Jesus.

If we are not public with our faith and unwilling to give testimony, we hide who we really are. If Jesus is central to how we face problems, if Jesus sets our life’s priorities, then sharing this should be natural. If we hide who we are, we can be guilty of relationship malpractice.

Jesus says he is the way, the resurrection and the life. No other religious founder talked like that. Seek him, know him, rely on him — that is the Gospel.

We need bravery to share this. When we talk to someone about Jesus or his bride, the church, we can expect resistance. But this is not a reason to remain silent. If you had the cure for MS would you share it openly and enthusiastically? Of course. We have the cure for a disease much worse than any that threatens physical life. We have the cure for the deep wound in the human soul — sin.

I once heard of a story of a college setting where an atheist said he had no respect for any Christian who would not try to convert him. If we have the cure for an aching soul — as we claim — and we don’t try to help, we are hypocrites.

The world needs people to share the truth with compassion and humility. We do not preach because we are better than others, but because Jesus is better. In fact he is the best.

In order to be effective evangelists, we must encounter Jesus. Maybe it is time to really meet him and have our lives forever changed. We may receive him every Sunday in Holy Communion and never realize who we are meeting. He wants to change our lives — and he will.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.


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