by Catherine Doherty.
This was written 30 years ago, and the delightful examples Catherine used from her childhood and from Harlem in the 1940’s are even older. But as always, her message is timeless.
“Evangelization” is a word that I often hear. Catholic and Protestant magazines use it almost indiscriminately, a synod in Rome discussed it, learned men write learned articles about it, and people dealing with the religious education of children, youth, and adults seem to examine it from all sides.
But it seems to me that “evangelization” is absolutely the simplest thing on earth.
Perhaps my approach is exceedingly childish, though I hope that it is childlike. Be that as it may, I seem to remember that God said to everyone present at one time, Go and preach the Good News (Mk 16:15).
That sentence even to this day, after so many years of reading it again and again, thrills me to the very core of my being.
The invitation is extended by him to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D., an M.A., or a B.A., if you are learned or unlearned, if you are a manual laborer or a professor, a banker, a candlestick maker, a grocer. It doesn’t matter.
You can preach the Good News if your heart is filled with it, and if you hug that Good News to your heart like a mother hugs her child.
You just go and preach the Good News from the moment you begin to understand even a little of what it means.
I remember a story that happened to me when I was six. My mother was very fond, of all things, of salted herring. We were in Switzerland at the time, and there was a little shop that sold salted herring and periodically my mother sent me to fetch them. The shop was poor and they wrapped the herring in a piece of newspaper with its head and tail slipping out.
As everyone knows, salted herring taken out of a barrel drip, and there was I holding this fish at arm’s length so that the salty drippings wouldn’t taint my dress.
The kids that I played with used to say, “ha, ha, ha” pointing their fingers at me. “Look at her. She buys poor man’s food. Ha, ha, ha.”
This reduced me to tears, and I explained it all to my mother. She simply said to me, “Do you love Jesus?” And I answered that of course I did.
“All right,” she said, “Go and preach the Good News of Jesus’ coming to those children. Here is another ten cents to buy another herring.”
Reluctantly I did as I was told, and when the kids started their little song and dance again, I stood up and in a quaking but clear voice announced that Jesus was poor, too, and that they should be ashamed, and Our Lady and St. Joseph probably brought Jesus salted herring when he was little. And what was the matter with them that they were ridiculing me for being poor like Jesus!” which I wasn’t but they thought I was because of the herring.
Maybe this isn’t preaching the Good News the way all the wonderful writers write about it, but today many, many years later, I think that the only way to evangelize others is to evangelize oneself.
What do I mean by being evangelized oneself? In utter simplicity I mean being in love with God. If I am in love with God, I won’t be able to help talking about him and telling all that there is to tell. Then evangelization will take place gently, unobtrusively, simply, for God is love and where love is, God is.
Perhaps someone reading these lines will think that I am talking nonsense. But forty-four years in the apostolate of Friendship House and Madonna House, and the encounter since 1964 or 1965 with over thirty-five hundred young people (18 to 21 years of age and over) confirmed this strange belief of mine that, in order to give Christ to another, one must be in love with him.
Then the going is simple. Then the evangelization presents no problem, as it doesn’t in Madonna House these days. Nor does it in our mission houses where small groups of people belonging to Madonna House are in love with God.
Maybe I am talking nonsense, but I don’t think so. I’m talking about a rather obvious way of evangelizing. The way of love. The way of sharing one’s own heart with another. The way of taking, symbolically speaking, the hand of another and running toward Jesus Christ.
I remember teaching so-called catechism to the first, second and third graders in Harlem, New York. How quickly they caught the spirit of the Lord. We used drama and we used other catechetical techniques, and they were good. But nothing, nothing equaled the dialogue, if you want to call it that, between them and me.
One day as I was telling them about Jesus Christ and how he loved us and what he did for us and about the Father and the Spirit, they suddenly jumped up and said, “Let’s love Jesus Christ. He loved us. He was a little boy and he must have liked to run. Let’s hold hands and run around the block.”
And so we did, and the kids started singing, beautifully: “I love Jesus. I love Jesus, and Jesus loves me.”
Is that evangelization or isn’t it? I wouldn’t know. All I know is that a heart full of burning love for God attracts everyone, for all want to warm themselves by that fire.
Adapted from Restoration, December 1974.
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