Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Evangelization: Knowing Who You are Really Up Against

    In The Catholic Church, an increasingly popular character is the exorcist.  An exorcist is a cleric who is officially charged with combating demonic forces who have possessed a person.  It is not the business of B movies, schlock TV shows, or parlor games. It is real. Make no mistake about that.  However, no exorcist merely saunters into an encounter with demonic forces unready. He has spent much times in prayer, abstinence, and fasting.  He makes regular use of confession and the Eucharist.  Why?  He knows what he engages in is God’s work first.  He knows he is the tool, the weapon, with which battle will be entered.  He prays for his own steadfastness and fearlessness in encountering the hopelessness that is evil.  He knows that victory over the devil and his minions rest not on his power but the power of God.

    What on earth has this to do with evangelization?  Am I saying that those who have fallen away or are unchurched are possessed?  No.  However, in doing the work of evangelization, we are doing battle with demonic forces who have no interest in the conversion of human beings and will actively fight it.  Jesus understood that in the preaching of the Gospel, that the devil had an arsenal of weapons to stymie its growth.  We also know that Jesus was prone to pray much.  As to the weapons of the devil, let us look at Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23: The Parable of the Sower.  It tells us what we are up against. 

    Jesus speaks about the seed that falls on the footpath and is eaten immediately by the birds of the air.  These are those who hear the word with no understanding.  These are the indifferent.  Satan’s weapon of indifference is a powerful tool.  These are those who see no reason for conversion.  No matter how much of a mess their life is, either pride or anger have blinded them to the need for Christ.

    Jesus speaks next of that seed which falls in rocky soil and withers quickly for lack of roots.  These are those who hear the word and initially are provoked to change, but it dies off quickly.  These are those who know they need conversion, but to do so would require change in their lives.  Change that would require their letting go of their favorite sin.  They resent having to change or doubt they can change.  Here the devil uses the deadly sins, habits that prevent a person from change.  We know vices are hard to break. Good habits are harder to form than bad habits.  The devil convinces the person that either they should not have to give up their bad habits or that they can’t.  Thus they fall away.

    Jesus then speaks of the seed that falls among the thorns.  It grows but is choked off by the thorns.  These are those who hear the Word , allow it to start to transform them, but it choked off by anxiety and worry.  The devil will use anxiety and fear to stop conversion dead in its tracks.  He will use despair paired with pride and doubt to choke off growth.  In all of this, the devil and his demons will fight any seed you try to throw.  That will not suffice for the devil; he wants the sower to grow despondent and believe that they cannot do it.  He will tempt us to despair, frustration, and even abandonment of the evangelical call of Christ.  It is a good bet he is tempting you now with thoughts of how silly, foolish, and unrealistic this ’demon thing’ is and how medieval all this nonsense is.

    This, my friends, is what we are up against.  That said, be not afraid.  However as an exorcist wisely gears up for battle, so should we.  If we love the friends and family we are calling back or reaching out to, we will do these things.  We do them  because we love God, we love them, and we want their good.  People tell me they ‘have tried everything’ and yet what they do falls on deaf ears.  Might I suggest a different approach with a look at what exorcists do to prepare themselves.

    First, we pray.  We pray for the good of the individuals we are seeking to bring in or bring back.  This is not a one and done prayer.  This is a habit developed through the grace of God.  In doing so we are using this grace to invest ourselves in their good. As evangelization is not about ‘winning’ or gathering trophies, the disposition with which we come matters.  Love and care for a person and their soul cannot be synthesized. It must be real.  Without that love, the devil can easily ward off any and all attempts. In this we seek the help of the saints and angels in joining us in intercession for these people.  We do not attempt to go into battle on our own.

    Second, we fast and abstain for the good of these people.  This builds on the investing ourselves in other people’s good.  They are powerful weapons.  Remember, though, that Jesus tells us to keep our fasting and abstaining between you and Him.  This is not about publicly trying to show the person you love them.  Because we are willing to disrupt our lives and change our own habits through God’s grace, the devil knows he is coming up against a formidable opponent who is in union with God.  That does not mean he backs off; to the contrary, he will step up his game.

    Third, we make ample use of the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.  We believe that the Sacraments are the prime conduits of grace by which we receive the strength and courage we need to engage the devil, his temptations, and his lies.  In Confession, we ask God to heal us of our sin; a sick physician is hardly a good healer.  The devil loves wounded prey.  Sin becomes first his toehold, then foothold, then method of conquering.  We can give it no quarter in our lives.  It is said the Satan knows you by your sin, hence we must strip him of his knowledge.  The devil also likes a weakened foe.  Hence the regular reception of the Eucharist in a state of grace, provided by Confession,  is so very important.  Use of the Sacraments reminds us, like the exorcist, that we are not engaging in battle on our own, but we are with our brothers and sisters, both here and in heaven, and with Christ Himself.

    Finally, like the sower in the parable, we do our part realizing that the one who transforms hearts is Christ.  We live lives that show the transformation that is possible.  That life is authentic if we stay connected through prayer, fasting/abstinence, and the Sacraments.  Holiness can not be faked.  In all these things, we set the example, be a bridge of trust, and an open door.  Remember that these are the prerequisites for engagement and not the totality.  Let us begin here though, turning not to our power of persuasion, but to the grace of God.  If we tire of poor results, we must then start with good beginnings and approach. 

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