Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pull Them In!!! Catholics and evangelization

On April 15th, 1912, in the early hours of the morning, the luxury liner the ‘Titanic‘ hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Of the 2240 passengers and crew aboard the vessel, 1514 died that night.  One of the main problems was that the vessel did not have near enough life boats.  When inquiries happened as to why more life boats were not available, the main reasons were that the builders had such great faith in the technology of the time and  had such great faith in the strength of the vessel,  that they thought it unnecessary to have the needed number of lifeboats to accommodate the entire manifest of passengers and crews.  When the lifeboats were launched that night, many were two thirds full.  After the Titanic sank, only two of the boats went back to pick up any survivors whose groans could be heard in the now stillness of the night.  Many died that night of hypothermia in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic.  While many would not be able to be saved, some could have been, but as the majority of lifeboats stayed away, we will never know who would have survived after being pulled out of the water.
    For many centuries humanity has become enamored by its own power, wealth, and wisdom.  In our society, we are continually chasing after the newest technology, the newest research, the newest gadget, all in the hopes that these things will someone how make us better, safer, and happier. Faith is seen as a crutch, the spiritual equivalent of a security blanket, for those who have not yet grown to maturity and is regulated to the status of a pious hobby.  Like the builders of the Titanic, we believe our wisdom is sufficient to the task and that it will keep us from harm.  Yet, this society is one of the most dysfunctional in history.  There are so many who are wandering, floating, and even drowning among us.  So many, upset with the hole left when the money and power are either not forthcoming or are unable to fill the emptiness, will numb that emptiness with sex, narcotics, alcohol, risky behavior, and other such things that leave them ‘damaged goods’.  Sometimes, those wanderings have taken them to very dark places and the scars and mistakes are readily visible.  It is easy to look from our perch in the lifeboat and wonder if we want ’that type’ in the boat with us.  It is easier to focus so much on me and Jesus that we forget that when He was asked to teach us how to pray He directed to us to pray OUR Father.  No one was created to be outside the lifeboat; no one was created to be condemned.  We should be no more comfortable leaving these people floating out in the harsh world than we would be comfortable in letting a person float in the North Atlantic.
    The major reason why the boats stayed away from the survivors was fear.  Based on testimony after the fact, the reason the other 16 boats didn’t go back to pick up survivors was for fear than they would be caught in the suction of the sinking ship as it plummeted to the ocean floor and out of fear of being swamped by desperate survivors who knew they were only moments from death if they remained in the ocean.  Fear can prevent us from doing what is foolish but, more often than not, prevents us from doing what is necessary as well.  As followers of Christ, we are never to be ruled by any fear of anything of this world.  When we see someone struggling with life, we respond as Christ would: with hand outstretched.  So many times we back away from the job of evangelization, that is, the spreading of the Gospel, because we are scared of the response.  We may fear rejection.  We may fear anger.  We may fear getting in one of those “you Catholics…(worship Mary and the Saints, believe you earn your way into heaven, are led by nothing but pedophiles) and either feel we lack the knowledge or just don’t want to get into a fight.
    There also has to be a country club mentality that needs to be defeated.  On the Titanic, those who were of lower classes and rode in 2nd and 3rd class died in far greater numbers and percentage than those in 1st class.  While 63% of the 1st Class passengers survived, only 43% of 2nd class, and 25% of 3rd Class (which compromised 2/3 of the total passengers) survived.  It is easy to look at those outside our faith or who have dropped away and see them in a way that asks whether their joining/re-joining actually adds to who we are.  It is easy to treat those who are related somehow better than those who are not.  This is just human nature: we prefer to stick to the familiar and shun away from that which is different.  In the Scriptures, Jesus did not pick and choose who got to hear His message.  He healed all who asked.  He frequented the homes of sinners, tax-collectors, and other assorted riff-raff by the standards of His day.  He showed no fear in calling all those who were in need of His help and grace.  As Catholics, we must reach out for all in need of a home.  Like Christ, we don’t reach out for people so as to leave them there, but to lift them up from the ashes into a new life infused by God’s grace.  It does not matter whether they come from the right families, the right socio-economic class, the right race, or whatever else we use as separating influences to sort the invited from the uninvited.  Evangelization isn’t about picking the ‘right ‘people as if were picking pledges for a fraternity; it is about reaching out for all who are seeking, letting them know that we have a Father who desperately wants them home.  Because we are called to mimic the love of Christ in all things, we can never see anyone as beyond help or beneath us to help.  We cannot be in a lifeboat who will not go back to pick up the drowning because it is captained by fear.  By the grace of God, we are called to be better than that!
    My questions to each one reading this are simple: who will you give the chance to join us?  Who will be part of our faith because of your outreach?  How will you be the way that God reaches out to a lost soul?  Who will you invite?  Who gets into the lifeboat because you reached out?  Fear nor disinterest are options for those who follow Christ.  Only looking to my own salvation is unbecoming for those who have received the gift of new life from God.  By God’s grace you have been pulled into the boat.  Maybe you are one who needs to be pulled into the boat.  Either way, in the lifeboat you and those around you belong.  This is something we can measure concretely.  There is no shortage of those flailing in the sea drowning in the emptiness of materialism, sin, and addiction.  It is to such that God reaches out.  In the task of evangelization, a task we are given by virtue of our baptism, the target is anyone who seeks, anyone who needs to find their way home, and anyone who needs the safety and security of being pulled into the lifeboat.  Identify them.  Pray for them.  Model the faith for them.  Invite them!

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