Evangelization runs much deeper than just sharing the Gospel (though that’s an essential part, don’t get me wrong). Sometimes, it’s probing the depths of human experience that can be the most challenging to each of us personally as disciples of Christ.
For many of us, it’s easy to explain Scripture passages or comment on Church teaching, but to be deeply involved in someone’s life? That’s a tall order.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us:
“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others” (§24).
Touching suffering. For many of us, that’s what makes getting deeply involved in the lives of others so hard.
Suffering is complex, especially in our relatively affluent western culture. Suffering is mental anguish, pains of family separation and discord, isolation, intense feelings of inadequacy, and more. It’s not always easy to detect.
Despite the ubiquitous communication of social media and more, many sense that there’s something wrong with suffering—it’s not to be shared at the root level—maybe just venting about the symptoms is okay. That’s all friends want to hear, right?
But, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI challenges us, “It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness” (Spe Salvi,§37).
Coming face-to-face with suffering, through friendships and authentic companionship is what starkly reminds us that we do not have the power to end suffering in this world, “only God is able to do this: only a God who personally enters history by making himself man and suffering within history. We know that this God exists, and hence that this power to “take away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29) is present in the world” (Spe Salvi, §36).
Cultivating the compassion, tenderness, and audacity to actually care in a world that wants to turn away from suffering is what keeps us from becoming, “that kind of Christian who keeps the Lords’ wounds at arm’s length” (Evangelii Gaudium, §270).
Can we be joyfully proclaim the Gospel and still have the capacity to grow closer in love to those who suffer? Of course.
Living a more authentically Christian, evangelical life is rarely an either-or proposition.We encounter and grow in personal relationship with Jesus as we unite ourselves with those who suffer. We share the truth of the Gospel all the more earnestly because we’ve experienced Jesus Christ in the raw, complex, troubling, and heartbreaking moments of life when we can do nothing more than surrender to our Messiah, the one who truly knows human suffering.
So run out and find someone who’s suffering, right? No—probably not. There’s someone in your life already who is suffering. Pray that God will lead you to them and strengthen you to go toward, and not run from the suffering. In doing this, step-by-step, relationship-by-relationship, we become a truly evangelization community.
This post also appeared today at NewEvangelizers.com.