Thursday, 21 May 2009

Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?

I wanted to offer a little reflection on evangelization in honour of the feast.

Gazing up to heaven and evangelization: getting the balance right

The last message of Our Lord recorded for us in the Gospels before the Ascension is the instruction to go out and evangelize: to proclaim the Gospel, baptize, and teach men to observe the commandments.

The angel reinforces this message when, immediately after the Ascension he asks the disciples why they are still gazing up to heaven.

There is of course a time of preparation first, through prayer, leading up to the time of Pentecost. We need that prayer time too.

St Bernard of Clairvaux argued that it was the monk alone who had the privilege of continuing to gaze up to heaven, praying in support of those who go out to advance the Church's mission.

I don't entirely agree - even the most hidden monks and nuns can play an active role in mission too, as the witness provided the film on the Carthusians, Out of Great Silence, demonstrates. And all of us need to continue gazing up at heaven some of the time - in eucharistic adoration, in lectio divina, meditation and contemplation -so that we keep in mind what our final end is, and orient all our actions towards it.

But I do think we have to keep testing ourselves to make sure we have the right balance in our own lives between gazing up at heaven and evangelizing.

The imperative for evangelization

The Church's mission - and ours as part of the Church - must, I think, always be spurred on by that terrifying statement in St Mark:

"He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned."
Evangelizing ourselves has to be the first priority - every day we are subject to the assaults of the enemy in the guise of secularism, militant atheism and heresy. If we don't constantly nourish our faith, it will die, and we too will be condemned. And we can't evangelize others unless we are fervent ourselves.

At the same time, though, if we do believe fervently, how can we help but want to save others? If we have any charity for our families, friends and the wider world, evangelization is an absolute imperative!

So how do we evangelize?

I would suggest that evangelization occurs by three main routes: immersion in a catholic culture; direct experience of true, good and beautiful things; and dialectical engagement.

Immersion works by exposing us to a set of values and beliefs which we absorb without realising it, and which slowly become explicit through a process of reflection and questioning. We all evangelise others through immersion when as spouses we support each other's faith; when as parents we provide our children with a catholic environment to grow up in; as teachers in making sure our schools are truly catholic; when we invite others into our homes and expose them to a catholic environment. We evangelize ourselves through immersion when we choose to attend pilgrimages (such as the annual Christus Rex Pilgrimage in October) and/or retreats (men, consider going to one of the retreats offered by the Flavigny monks in December!).

The most obvious means open to us of evangelizing through exposure to inherently true, good and beautiful things lies in the Mass, especially solemn masses which require so much effort by many people in order to provide beautiful music, vestments and ceremonial. When our community members support each other in times of difficulty, and provide a warm welcome to newcomers. And of course when we witness by our example, particularly in charity work to the disadvantaged.

But we can't overlook the need for dialectical engagement as well. One can see miracles, I think, as one form of dialectic. We need to seek holiness and pray for them! Other signs of contradiction to the values of the world, such as priests and religious committed to celibacy and wearing distinctive garb to proclaim their commitment, and actions such as prayer vigils outside abortion clinics also seem to me to fit into this category. Apologetics too, tackling error and explaining why we believe what we believe is crucial. So is active engagement in politics and public policy.

What to do?

Now obviously no-one is expected to engage in all of these ways. We have to discern where our own duties, talents and opportunities lie through prayer.

But can anyone doubt that they are required to engage in the mission of the Church to convert the world?

So take a little time today to gaze up towards heaven, and fix our eyes afresh on the goal of our endeavours, the God who gives us life and purpose.

Then start with ourselves, considering whether we are doing enough to sustain our faith each day.

And then, let's move on outwards, and work to convert our country, each contributing what he or she can!

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven."

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