In today’s post on Go and Make Disciples, the bishops look to the consequences of individual conversion. They suggest that individual conversion will lead to a conversion in society itself. Is this realistic? The Lord’s mission (Matthew 28:19-20) suggests a universal task. If our goal isn’t change in society, if not the world, have Christians settled for too little?
GMD 17 opens with:
But faith is not something that only happens to each of us individually or privately, within ourselves. The Gospel also speaks to society itself, with its values, goals, and systems. The Gospel must overflow from each heart until the presence of God transforms all human existence.
This can be effected in two ways. Believers, at least the prophets among us, preach to the world. The bishops also write that “more often” the faith witness of any Christian, in how she or he might “speak, think, and act.” (GMD 17)
GMD 18 describes the fruits of evangelization as …
… changed lives and a changed world—holiness and justice, spirituality and peace. The validity of our having accepted the Gospel does not only come from what we feel or what we know; it comes also from the way we serve others, especially the poorest, the most marginal, the most hurting, the most defenseless, and the least loved. An evangelization that stays inside ourselves is not an evangelization into the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It’s not just about knowledge and emotions. By knowing about Jesus, we might feel close. By feeling strongly about the faith, we might possess an emotional tie to the Lord. The bishops suggest that part of evangelization, perhaps the most ordinary expression of it, is simply in the imitation of Jesus Christ. And with regard to the public witness of the faith, this makes sense. Our knowledge can never be perfect. In fact, what the most astute theologians don’t know vastly outweighs what they do know about God. And emotions can be fickle. If we “love” Jesus with the love we have for other human beings, we will also find ourselves in frustrating times where the “good” feelings will give way to anger, distrust, resentment, and other such emotions.
And our actions may never be perfect. But God, so we are told, seems to be able to work within our weakness to graced effect.
We must be careful when we speak of the new evangelization that we do not instantly speak of others or point fingers somewhere other than ourselves. We must remember, in all honestly and humility, that when Jesus, the Good Shepard, left the 99 in search of the 1 he was, and still is, looking for us.