Calling those around us to discipleship Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Thursday, Jun. 11, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
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Note: Bishop Donald J. Hying is serializing his Pastoral Letter on the new Evangelization Initiative being launched in the Diocese of Madison. This is the second part of that letter. For the complete letter, go to the Diocese of Madison and Catholic Herald websites.

We may be tempted to consider the preceding exercise in recalling God's deep, abiding, and personal love and our own response to that, a simple thing.

As basic as it may seem, however, Christ's infinite love for us is absolutely fundamental to every aspect of our existence, stretching from why we are even alive and extending to our hope for true and lasting happiness. Therefore, internalizing the reality of God's love for us is essential if we are to bear fruit in our efforts to evangelize others and sanctify the world for Christ.

Importance of relationships

God desires relationship. He desires relationship with us, and He desires relationship among us. Because that is how He created us, that yearning for authentic relationship is present in all of us. We want to love and be loved. The deepest human fear is to be radically alone and unloved.

I recently saw a young man wearing a shirt which proclaimed, "Yes to Relationship. No to Religion." I wanted to tell him that the etymology of the word "religion" is "relationship."

While the number of individuals who have never had exposure to any organized religion of their own is on the rise, so many of us still have been raised Catholic (or at least Christian) from our youth. As such, Church has been part of our families and our local communities.

We may have gone to Catholic school, or attended religious education, made our First Communion, and been Confirmed. We have worshiped at Mass, supported parish events, and dropped some money in the collection basket. These activities are all good, of course, but Church can easily become a "thing" that we do, part of our life but not necessarily the central reality of our existence.

We need to act in the name of Christ, certainly, but Church also needs to be a "who" that we are as well. We need to reclaim our identity once again as that "community of believers" described in the Acts of the Apostles2 and to be Christ's Body -- living and loving on earth.

Malaise in Church and society

We can perceive a certain malaise, not only in society, but even in our Church and in our parishes in these last years. Fear, uncertainty, depression, and loss of meaning afflict many. Because we love the Church and the human race, we want to change that!

Pope St. John XXIII recognized the malaise, seeing how a stagnation had settled in the Church, even as a vibrant Christian culture was waning in the West. This concern motivated his launch of the Second Vatican Council; he called on the Holy Spirit to renew the Church, so that she, in turn, could renew the world. He wanted to animate the vast energies of global Catholicism, to reclaim who we are as the anointed community of believers in Christ, and then to go out to the world to set it ablaze with the truth and love of the Gospel.

The New Evangelization

Each of our popes since then have echoed and built upon that call and in a particular way, they have called for a New Evangelization -- new, Pope St. John Paul II said, in its ardor, method, and expression -- but not new in its core message: that we are created by God for loving relationship and that the Son has come into the ruin of our world to reconcile us to the Father and to invite our response to believe, love, and follow Him.

This New Evangelization, St. John Paul said, should be particularly aimed at cultures where a flourishing Christian presence has been supplanted by secular ideologies. Pope Francis, in turn, urges us to go out to proclaim boldly the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person we meet, especially those on the fringes of society and not simply serve those who approach the Church. The New Evangelization involves every single one of us. "What you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops."3

There are a great many people in our own families and communities who now embrace only portions of the Christian message. To supplement and fill out their worldview, they draw from pieces of teachings reflected in other religions and with various aphorisms and slogans from near and far.

The result of this amalgamation is a largely polite society on the surface. Tolerance, of a sort, seems to be the supreme virtue. Acceptance of others is a good thing, but without a connection to the love and the truth which IS Jesus Christ and His full and lasting message, our society has gradually begun to disintegrate.

People are rightly alarmed by the malaise in our society, but only haltingly do we consider that we often are attempting to find a permanent cure in the wrong places -- no matter the promise the latest fad may hold. Many people look to political leaders, self-help gurus, material success, and to every sort of drug and elixir to satisfy the thirst that only the Living Water can quench.

In some ways, this dynamic is present in our parishes as well. There has been an attempt to look out to the world for a way to "save the Church." As a result, many have concluded that it is easier to live by the world's wisdom, adjusting our faith to its standards. We must engage in a new evangelization, reminding ourselves of the Gospel message, putting aside that which does not satisfy, and offering this Truth and Love to others anew -- beginning with those around us -- and calling them to discipleship.

Jesus gives us the model

Jesus gives us a model for doing this. Consider the way Jesus calls St. Peter to follow him. You may recall the Gospel accounts of Matthew4 and Mark5, wherein Jesus encounters the fishermen brothers, Andrew and Peter. In those accounts we hear Jesus simply say the words, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men," and Andrew and Peter drop their fishing nets and follow him.

It's simple, it seems. Jesus shows up in their lives, He calls, they follow.

But, John's Gospel expands the lens to see how we arrived at the moment of Jesus' call to them and their response. At the very beginning of John's Gospel,6 we see John the Baptist spreading the good news that God's Anointed has come. One of those listening to John the Baptist is his disciple, Andrew. When Jesus walked by, John turned to Andrew and another of his disciples and proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God."

After staying with Jesus for a little while, Andrew goes immediately to his brother, Simon (Peter) and tells him, "We have found the Messiah!" And Simon Peter then encounters Jesus himself.

The same goes for each and every follower of Jesus. They are called to faith through the mediating help of a trusted person in their life.

Reflection question: Who are the people God has used to call us into relationship with Him?

2Acts 2: 42-47; Acts 4:32
3Mt 10-27
Mt 4:18-22
Mk 1:16-20
Jn 1:35-42