Thought for the week - 4 July
Evangelism may not be a dirty word, but for many if not most ‘ordinary Christians’ especially British ones, it is a word, a concept we mostly want to avoid. Evangelism for us so often smacks of, if not standing preaching in the market square, well, wearing our heart on our sleeve, or even worse, come across as a ‘holier than thou!’ We Brits especially think of ‘Our Faith’ as a private matter, something really, to keep to ourselves. But if we look carefully at what our Faith tells us, this is an impossible line to hold with any integrity.
Perhaps we might find evangelism easier if we thought of it as an invitation to join a community – or even just come to a party!
Christianity is a corporate faith. We are Baptised into a community of faith. Yes, of course we must have an individual faith in Christ, but we express that faith as part of a community of faith. To believe can be individual, but to be a Christian means to believe and practise our faith and worship as part of a community. Of course, we can and should pray as individuals, but our principal act of worship, what makes us the Christian Church is to gather round the Table of Jesus at the Eucharist or Mass.
Fr Paul McPartlan puts it like this:
(Father Paul McPartlan on the Centrality of the Sacrament)
“The Eucharist is at the very core of the life of the Church and gives the Church its identity.
The Church is the Body of Christ, and, as St. Augustine taught, we receive the body of Christ in order to become the body of Christ: "Be what you see and receive what you are."
The whole mystery of Christ and of the Church as his body is what we receive in the Eucharist. This sacrament therefore renews our life together in Christ; in other words, it renews the Church.
"The Church draws her life from the Eucharist," as Pope John Paul II said at the start of his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia."
The life that we share in Christ is the life of the Trinity, because Christ is the Son of God incarnate, and that life is one of perfect communion. The phrase we use about receiving the Eucharist is really very significant; we say we are receiving Communion. There is such a lot of meaning concentrated in that phrase.
We are receiving Christ himself, but the life he shares with us is the communion life of the Trinity — the very life that calls us out of our own individualism and draws us together as the Church. The Eucharist renews the very gift that makes us to be the Church, and it follows that the community dimension of the Eucharist is of the utmost importance. It is really communities, and ultimately the Church as a whole, that receives the Eucharist, not just lots of individuals. We should always be conscious of those with whom we receive; the Eucharist renews our life as brothers and sisters, caring for one another and working together to bear witness to the communion life of the Kingdom of God.” (Zenit, 2005)
Our life in Christ begins, of course, with baptism, and people sometimes think that an emphasis on the Eucharist as making the Church detracts from the importance of baptism in making the Church. We must avoid any such impression.
Baptism and Eucharist are both given to us by Christ and therefore there can never be any rivalry between them. Rather we must understand how they fit together. What baptism begins in us, the Eucharist renews, strengthens and sustains.
For instance, in every Eucharist we are washed by the blood of the Lamb, as it says in Revelation 7:14; it is a washing that renews the washing in water that we received in baptism. We must never forget that there is forgiveness in the Eucharist, particularly expressed when we receive under both kinds and drink from the cup of the Lord.
In a sense, the Eucharist keeps the grace of our baptism fresh in us until the moment when it is consummated at our death. As we pray in the Mass for a deceased person: "In baptism she died with Christ, may she also share his resurrection."
At our Baptism, we are brought into the Community of the Eucharist – and at the same time we are told that we must go out into the world to proclaim the Good News and to draw others into the Eucharistic Life of Faith. In our Baptism Rite and indeed at the end of every Sunday Mass we pray, as one Post Communion prayer puts it:
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so, we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name.
To spread the Good News, to live the Christian life is not easy. Ezekiel, Paul, even Jesus himself found it difficult to evangelise in communities where they are were known. Even Jesus was seen as ‘An Offence’ and ‘He could do no great work there.’ If we try to spread our faith, we can expect people who know us to say of us as they did of Jesus ‘Who does he think he is!?’
But like Jesus, like Ezekiel, like St Paul, we must try. And as it was for St Paul, so it may be for us. We are certainly not called to set ourselves up as some kind of example – unless that is example is one of weakness as St Paul put it.
We are called to express our faith whenever we can.
We can talk about the hope we have of forgiveness, strength to cope with life’s troubles, & the hope of eternal life. We can make it clear that we see and experience Church as a refuge for the weak, rather than a bastion for the strong; as a school for sinners rather than a club for saints, a home for hypocrites where there is always room for one more!
And that’s enough to be going on with isn’t it!?