Friday, April 11, 2014

Wisdom as a Path to Evangelization

Fr. Father Blake:

Most Catholics, including priests and therefore one might also suggest bishops too, I would suggest are unconvinced about the need for Evangelisation, the notion of universal salvation, an empty Hell, have taken hold so tightly that there is no reason to Evangelise. It simply doesn’t have a supernatural, salvific or teleological purpose. Universalism means that really evangelising people just ties burdens on people, alienating them from their culture and imposing unnecessary moral burdens on them.

A second not unconnected reason is that we do not know how to evangelise. We do not know what needs to be communicated. Do we actually dare to say that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and without him no-one can know the Father? Are we not more likely to suggest that Evangelisation is about joining a hand-holding, feel good community, with few moral or faith demands. Our problem is that there is so much confusion about what Catholics actually believe and how Catholics are expected to live.

I have had similar thoughts.

Once upon a time, all that was needed to evangelize was to go to the town square and preach. The Bible was a given.

It is no longer a given.

And that's why it's so hard to Evangelize. We don't know what the hell we're doing. How do you talk to people who don't believe in Jesus, and in some cases are completely closed to religion altogether?

I've been musing over this topic in mind for many weeks now. And one thing that I think tends to work is to meet people's needs.

One need people have is for Wisdom.

Now they don't call it that. They call it "self-help", "life coaching", "pop psychology" or "spirituality".

But in Catholic talk, it's Wisdom.

People like to examine relationships with themselves. They need keys to happiness.

Instead of going to the Church, like they used to, they go to Self-Help.

It's very difficult to accept Christ when you don't experience his effect on you. Wisdom is a way to do this.

Let me give you an example. Consider this quote:

"If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it's like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than him.

-- C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis"

Now many people feel guilt in their lives for things they have done, and they don't know how to "redeem" themselves.

God's forgiveness is a source of healing, but even when people ask forgiveness, they feel guilty.

This little quote is a nugget that can help them overcome that hurt in their lives.

Now perhaps at this stage of their lives, people don't genuinely accept Jesus, they don't buy all the dogma.

But what they can "buy" are ideas that help them become more whole, and better persons.

Because most people are looking to do that.

When people apply wisdom to their lives, they're opening their hearts to God.

Now of course, this wisdom has to be translated into terms that they understand.

One writer whose quotations I find are little gems is Fr Henri Nouwen.

Now Nouwen is not my favourite author. I find a lot what he writes is psychobabble, and it's no substitute for genuine Catholic spirituality. He was a psychologist by training so he talked a lot about feelings.

Nonetheless, sometimes you can come across quotes by him that are very useful, even for people who are not very religious.

Consider this quote:

To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.

--Fr. Henri Nouwen

Now this is a very bland little quote. But implicit in it is a lot of wisdom. Sure, it doesn't really speak to the supernatural aspects of our faith. But isn't the rejection of our Faith have to do in part with rejection of suffering?

The quote puts a Catholic understanding of suffering in terms a secular person can understand.

Now this approach might turn you off because you think of the Faith as being about the Economy of Salvation-- and you're not wrong.

But I think the repugnance towards this type of approach has to do with the way liberal Catholics substitute that for genuine Faith.

Wisdom should be a path to Faith; and Faith should produce wisdom; but Wisdom (re: "Self-Help") is not Faith.

The neat thing about Wisdom is that it's accessible to many people, perhaps not all in its religious aspects, but there's a lot there that can be of help to those who are away from the Faith or who reject religion in general.

I think this (among many other things) is what's needed to pave the way to an acceptance of Jesus Christ. When people feel God's love and action in their lives-- through healing and personal acceptance-- they are far more likely to accept Christ. They don't see Christ as the path to happiness and eternal life, rather than as a burden.

People don't see the utility of being Catholic, and while it's not all about one's mental state, it's definitely an important part and a good stepping stone to an encounter with Christ.