December 13, 2012

The New Evangelization: Love

By Fr. Anthony Co *


There are three components to the love of God: He wants to be close to us; he puts himself aside to bless us, and he wants to enjoy us without possessing us. Jesus educates and enables us to love like him. Love is another form of power.

God wants to be close to us. When God looks at us he delights in what he sees. His heart beats for us. His fascination with us is the reason he wants to draw close. He makes himself small and vulnerable so that we do not get scared. Taking on human flesh and making himself the Eucharist are signs that he desires to be close. His desire to be close moves him into action.

God puts himself aside to bless us. He is willing to sacrifice himself for our own good. He is so moved by our beauty that he is willing to die for our salvation. His love for us endures and unleashes all things.

God wants to enjoy us without possessing us. God loves our freedom. He loves our creation. He never wants to flatten, suppress, or manipulate us. He is willing to see us fail. But his hope and greatest joy is seeing us come into our own.

When we encounter Jesus we experience love like this. The experience of love allows us to see what he sees. We begin to delight in others and are so moved that we want to draw close, like when St. Francis embraced and kissed the leper. Our hearts grow and we want to bless others. We are so moved by affection that we are willing to sacrifice so that others can experience the Father’s heart. We begin to love and honor people. God’s love is pregnant with risk because it can be rejected. But this does not stop him. Constantly refreshed in his love it does not stop us either. We are willing to love others without trying to possess them, even when they fail us.

There are two things happening in us when we love like God. First, it really becomes our own love. God delights in allowing us to claim the love we live as our own. While the origin is from him we can truly say, “I love you.”

However, what is most remarkable is that the love we share is really God loving others. When Mother Theresa picked up dying babies on the street it was not just her hands holding the children. God is so united to us that it was his hands as well. We are not simply replicating his love.  Jesus is personally loving through us.

There is great power in love like this. It breathes life into people. It raises them up and reminds them of their worth and value. It blesses people for blessings sake, no agenda attached. Hope and a sense of destiny are its byproducts.

Love like this gets people’s attention and puts them in contact with Jesus.

Bringing Others to the Next Level

Jesus has a one track mind. He always wants to give us more. Some receive it like the woman at the well who was offered Living Water. Others are not ready for it, like the rich young man who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The gaze of Christ sees all our needs and desires.

This is the way of the evangelist. The evangelist sees with the eyes of Christ. When he looks at poor beggars he is not only concerned about their food and shelter but also the needs of their hearts. The evangelist desires to offer them Living Water.

People are not projects. We are so united with each other that we are already family. Moreover, we love others’ freedom so much that we have no agenda for them. We only want to care for their needs in the ways they allow. If they allow, there are a few things needed to bring people to the next level.

First, the evangelist needs to ask for it. We need to ask for Jesus to arrange divine appointments. If he is going to entrust us with the privilege of inviting people to the Father’s love, we need to have readied hearts.

Secondly, we need a sustained prayerful disposition. Before and after activities we bless the Lord. We walk blessing the world and allow our hearts to sing the Lord’s praises. A prayerful heart allows us to see more. We are more aware of our surroundings and the lives of others. We become more interested in others’ needs. Then, our heart is ready to be interrupted by others. We confidently await Jesus to answer our prayer to share his divine power throughout the day.

Thirdly, when we meet the person we want to listen very carefully to what they need. We gently invite them to voice deeper needs. Then we assess what needs to be prayed for based upon their comfort and openness.

Fourthly, bringing others to a deeper level of grace often requires us to pray with them. Jesus was not known for saying, “I will pray for you.” Rather he prayed for people on the spot. When we pray it is helpful to touch on four areas: We address God how we see him; we speak of how God sees the person in need; we describe the need, and we pray for the need. Praying with people is a game changer because Jesus will always show up.

Fifthly, when Jesus prayed it is important to understand that he declared blessings. As the Son he spoke with authority, “Little girl get up!” We are invited to pray like Jesus because he is truly in us. Most Christians will be squeamish about praying like Christ. It is much safer to say, “We accept the bad situation and want more blessings to accept it.” However, it is more consistent with Jesus to say, “In the name of Jesus, arm be healed!” This is a paradigm shift that requires the Christian to face fears and preconceptions about faith.

Recently, a friend and I walked a person who was homeless and addicted to alcohol through prayer that changed his life. He was enslaved by the spirit of fear and anger because a couple nights earlier he was viciously assaulted while sleeping in a graveyard. We helped him to ask and declare God’s blessings on his life. While he was doing this we got to see Jesus free him from fear and anger. He ended up blessing his attacker and inviting in the Father’s peace.

We all agreed on the blessing and so did God. The homeless man had glimmers of hope and his destiny.

Finally, bringing others to the next level means inviting them into a community of people who live in God’s authority and power. We need companions who are tender and gentle towards our destiny. We need a community of people who look at us the way the Father looks at us. Some churches are asleep but that is not a limitation for God. It only requires two or three to change others.

Training, Practice, and Encouragement

Living out the Great Commission can be scary. It often requires untrained and passionate lovers of Christ to step out in uncharted territories. While the American Catholic church is having a spring-time in the area of teaching, we do not have a culture of evangelization. This means many evangelists have to self-train. God puts on their hearts a dream to rebuild the Church. Moved by their love for Christ they spend considerable time praying, researching, and experimenting. In time they have some experience to share with others. With willing hearts, God always gives the church what it needs to advance the Kingdom.

The Catholic Church will have to depend on these few zealous evangelists. They will need the Church to stand behind them and give them the freedom to make mistakes. This will pay off since it will allow them to be bold and learn from their experience. This in turn will allow them to offer proper training to other Christians. Moreover, courage is contagious. When followers see leaders act with courage and boldness it opens up new possibilities.

New evangelists need practice. The best place for practice is among socially rich environments. It is hard to practice evangelizing when stuck in a small cubical. However, those in school, for instance, have great opportunities to share the authority and power of Christ.

We all need encouragement. Without constantly hearing successes and laughing off failures, we will soon give up our efforts. Evangelists need small groups of friends to share their experiences and learn from their mistakes.

The New Evangelization

“Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever! Amen!” This prayer will not only be sung at the end of time but here and now. We can bring all these things to a world thirsty for Living Water. During this time of the New Evangelization we are invited to bring the authority and power of Christ. He promises to work through us. He will show up. And we can trust that he will renew the face of the earth.

This piece is the third in a series of three columns on the New Evangelization. Read the first column and the second column to learn more.

Fr. Anthony Co was ordained in 2005 for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. Currently, he is an assistant chaplain at the St. John Catholic Newman Center ministering to the students at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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