Evangelization used to be a scary word to me. I thought it meant that I must convince another of what to believe in or, on the other hand, that I, held captive, would be the recipient of a sales pitch about another’s faith. Both situations make me extremely uncomfortable.
I have come to feel differently about this intimidating word, “evangelization”, through the insight of Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, shared in spiritual direction and guided retreats on the topic. He captures those thoughts in his newest book, Be Yourself! The Call of a Christian. He writes, “Faith is about what I believe, who I am in my innermost heart…It isn’t good to constantly hold back what is in our hearts. If your heart is full, let it overflow!” What evangelization really means is “to get the word out…to share your joy.”
Sharing one’s faith is simply being our truest self. How and why we share our faith makes all the difference. The best place to start in evangelization is exactly right where we are—both emotionally and experientially. It should not be to change another’s opinion, belief, or understanding, but instead, Wilde posits, “If we show our faith, we do it only to ease, enable, prompt, and prepare the communication between God and the other person.”
It’s quite okay to feel that the task of sharing our faith is just “too big”. Wilde writes, “A slight insecurity about what I have to say in “holy” matters is good because it opens me up to the living God who sends us. It saves us from self-serving justice, false self-certainty, arrogance, and a dangerous over-identification with the religious.”
Indeed, who am I to know what or how another should believe, to know that I am indeed right in my own belief, or that I can even find the appropriate words to express my faith? And, as a life-long questioner, being the recipient of another’s evangelization causes me to become defensive, to take a “devil’s advocate” position, and to engage in the war of words that rarely brings peace and, likely, has never changed a mind or heart. Ultimately, God does the work, we plant the seed.
What a relief it is to not be responsible for changing another—to understand that it is not even desirable. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was taught my religion was the “one, true faith” and, later, in a brief experience with fundamentalism, the imminent rapture was the approach used to share the Gospel, to convince others that they should accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior” in order not be “left behind.” Neither of these experiences fit the faith I have grown into. Feeling judged, wrong, inadequate or afraid does not bring love into another’s life.
Being open to hearing who God is to another brings an appreciation of diversity. Just when we think we know for certain who God is, we presume to know God’s desires for others or that God is for us and not for others, or that I am better than another who seems less religious or spiritual. Wilde shares that even monks can offer diverse viewpoints, “The different voices reflect different perspectives on faith, they give listeners the freedom to choose, and they show something of God’s variety and richness, which can be expressed in so many ways.”
What a comfort (and not in a lazy, everything-goes kind of way) to hear that God is open to diverse ways of seeing and expressing our faith. It is important to try to see another viewpoint and to challenge our own beliefs. We do not betray our religious, political, and cultural beliefs or opinions by challenging our own assumptions. Quite the opposite, being absolutely certain about something is probably the biggest sign of ignorance and self-righteousness.
“So how can we find the right, fitting, respectful language with which to express something of our faith?” Wilde continues, “If we open up and show ourselves to others in faith, we should do it only in such a way that they later feel themselves more loved and accepted, more regarded and respected, a little more whole, joyful and satisfied.”
It is not our job to convince someone of believing just this or that—our faith is shared only to bring peace and perspective. Love is meant to be shared. “Love wants to express itself…God doesn’t want to keep his divinity to himself. He wants to share it. He is ultimately inclusive, one might say that he wants all to have life, divine life, in abundance,” Wilde writes. If sharing one’s faith is not done in love, it is not from God. Perhaps this could be said for anything we share.
I am forever grateful for the years of insight shared by Fr. Mauritius–through a variety of retreats, podcasts on the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, spiritual direction, and most recently his first book in English, Be Yourself! The Call of A Christian, which I highly recommend.
“In place of self-righteousness…seeking God” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB
“The Monk, the Missionary Spirit and Evangelization” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB
Wilde Monk, Cherishing Christ Above All, a blog by Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB
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