The time is at hand!By: Braun Fr. John
“Hurry up, please, it’s time” —T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
For many of us, talking about “evangelization” is like teaching a child to tell time using a digital watch. (I should stop there, because going further would come under the heading of “laboring the point,” but to labor making the point is, well, the point of writing.)
What is obvious to some is not necessarily obvious to many, except perhaps for a few self-evident truths, or things we take for granted: like time. But I get ahead of myself. My point is: In general, many things become “obvious” only after someone shows us what they are, or even that they “are” at all.
What is self-evident, obvious?
For example, let’s consider the time and context in which Thomas Jefferson proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal: the overwhelming majority of the human race, in that time and cultural climate, would have found that statement preposterous, not self-evident, and probably responded “Really? Not so much.”
Many today may argue whether children even need to be taught how to tell time anymore given the fact that fewer and fewer wear a watch and rely on their “smart” phone to provide them with a digital read-out of the time. But before we can even begin to teach a child “time,” we must teach them some fundamentals: “This is a clock;” further, that there is a distinction of “a.m. [morning] and p.m. [afternoon/evening]” Even with a fundamental foundation, it will take a few years for the child to understand the concept of time, much less its telling. Finally, once they do know about time, they won’t give it much thought, if at all, unless they have an appointment and want to be “on” time.
Death, time, and evangelization
There is little, if anything, more fundamental to our existence in the world than time: We live “in” time; we “spend” time; we wish we had “more” time; we “set” time aside; you get the idea. The moment we “exit” time, or are ultimately “out” of time, we call that time “death.” Incidentally: we’re mistaken about that, by the way, which is why we need to know more about evangelization.
One of the consequences of the gospel and the living presence of Jesus Christ is that death no longer has any power over us. And that statement is no more obvious—nor are we able to attach any meaning to that truth—than the concept of time is to a three-year-old.
There are a few kerygmatic* statements of the gospel, none of the meanings of which are immediately obvious, though they can open up insight into the concept of time and/or death. A few examples of kerygma: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here;” “Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins, and now we can be forgiven;” “God raised him from the dead, he’s alive, and death has no power over you, and you will live forever.”
When Jesus was, like us, in the world, his announcement of the gospel was the kerygma. We all know how that ended: they killed him.
The commission to evangelize
You will be glad to know that most likely no one is going to kill you for announcing the kerygma, but that doesn’t mean that it’s obvious to most of the members of the Church that they in fact have a commission to announce the kerygma. Any one of us can evangelize, but how many of us know that it’s not necessarily one of the graces specific to or conditioned upon the Sacrament of Holy Orders or ordination?
A man is ordained a priest by the bishop to help him, “to teach, to sanctify, and to govern.” I was not ordained to evangelize or proclaim the kerygma: I was baptized to do so. And so are you.
It is by the gift of baptism that each one of us is called, commissioned, and sent to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Right now, some readers might be saying to themselves, “But the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, are ordained to proclaim the Word.” Well, sure enough we are, but that particular “proclamation of the Word” happens inside the church. In a broader sense, evangelization happens outside of the church.
Evangelization is like teaching a child to tell time. We still, even today, should and do teach children how to tell time. If we don’t, they’ll never know (on their own) what time is, much less how it relates to the events of their life. Similarly, most members of the Church need instruction on how to share that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has risen from the dead. One cannot “evangelize” a person by merely telling them something. For that, a teaching model is not the appropriate method. First, something for sure has to happen within the evangelist, but second, something also has to happen within the recipient of the proclamation that prepares them to be evangelized. That “something” is the kerygma.
Clear as mud? In a future issue of The Mirror, I hope to offer more about evangelization and particularly the upcoming evangelization training opportunity on Sat., April 28 in Cape Girardeau (see the PSA-type ad on this page).
Prose to ponder
In closing, I would like to offer two quotes from two treasured poets with whom I hope you are familiar.
The first tells us of an attitude toward religious life that many maintain:
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1899, Heaven—Haven, A nun takes the veil)
Reflection: Through baptism, each of us has taken “religious vows,” though perhaps not the veil [consecrated religious life] or the collar [ordained priest or deacon]. And the nature of our vows put us very much into the “swing of the sea,” not out of it, sitting idle and as spectators.
The second poem set the theme of this essay:
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Goodnight Bill. Goodnight Lou. Goodnight May. Goodnight.
Ta ta. Goodnight. Goodnight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
(T.S. Eliot, 1888-1965, The Waste Land)
Reflection: Bill, the bartender at the local pub, has announced that it’s closing time and that the sweet ladies must now leave, immediately. Just as with his announcement of “last call,” they have missed, without the hint of a guess, Christ and His Church: “The time is at hand,” but they are in the wasteland.
*Kerygma, from the ancient Greek kerygma, meaning “proclamation,” “preaching.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ,” often relating to the core of the early church’s oral tradition about Jesus.
Fr. Braun is the Pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Fredericktown and a major Cardinals baseball fan.