In his great teaching on evangelization in the modern world, Pope Paul VI noted the importance of the sentiments of the human heart when it comes to pre-evangelization–the critical bridge of trust and interest before the Gospel of Jesus Christ is explicitly proclaimed and responded to (Evangelii Nuntiandi, §51).
We just ended the liturgical season of Christmas where the sentiments of the human heart were on peak display as many early believers experienced Jesus, God-Made-Man, in a new and unique way.
Think of the shepherds, who came to Jesus’ side in Bethlehem and spoke a message that left everyone amazed. The shepherds continued to glorify and praise God on their return trip home. Their hearts were moving and the sentiments of their hearts were simply overflowing (Lk 2:16-21).
Recall Simeon, who upon seeing the baby Jesus in the Temple, took him from Mary and Joseph and held him tightly. Did Simeon ask permission of the new parents? Or, did he just grab the baby in his enthusiasm? We’ll never know! But Simeon’s heart was on display as he immediately began blessing God in praise and thanksgiving for this encounter with Jesus the Savior and Light to the Nations (Lk 2:22-35).
Remember the magi–maybe two, maybe two dozen–the Scriptures don’t give us an exact number. But, we know they traveled a great distance to reach Israel. When they saw the guiding star stop they were overjoyed–completely overwhelmed and overcome with joy. Their hearts were bursting with emotion (Mt 2:1-12).
Sometimes we can be quick to discount or even downplay emotion, the “sentiments of the human heart,” in discipleship. We rightly recoil at the thought that the Christian life is about finding emotional highs or feeling good all the time. God didn’t send His Son to suffer and die on the Cross at Calvary to thrill our emotions. Not at all.
But, this doesn’t mean we need to squash out emotion or be afraid of being amazed, astounded, overcome with joy, or bursting out from our hearts, like Simeon did. In some circles, showing one’s sentiments of the heart when it comes to Jesus can be looked down upon–you know, as not being “theological enough” or “acting Protestant.” I wonder too, if sometimes our pride gets in the way as well. We don’t want to show how really moved we were by something God did in our lives or a particular prayer God answered. We want to keep up the outer appearance of complete self-sufficiency our culture promotes.
Regardless of our circumstances, the heart of the matter is that the heart matters.
Sentiments of the human heart are a means of pre-evangelization. We can’t hope to be used of God to spread the Gospel if we’re not open to sharing what’s really going on in our faith lives, of being spontaneously called to prayer like Simeon, or overwhelmed with joy like the Magi. This year, I’ll be trying more to pay attention to the sentiments of my own heart, and the hearts around me–and I invite you to do the same. The Holy Spirit may be preparing a bridge, using you for the pre-evangelization our world so desperately needs.