Personality and Evangelism
I just finished reading the biography of St. Francis by G.K.Chesterton. It's a fine essay, the life of that amazing saint sketched with a sure and supple mind. Reading GKC is like swallowing an eel; it's complicated, muscly but smooth, longer than you thought, but if you relax and remain open, you find yourself receiving an entire idea from opening to conclusion; there are no loose pieces to grab at or lose in the process.
The image emerges of an irresistable man, magnetic not by calculating charm but in his simple and direct rush towards God. People could not help then, or now, but be drawn along in his headlong pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful at their Source. In a matter of a few years, first two, then a dozen, then hundreds of people joined him in his various orders for the vowed religious and the laity. Read the book yourself, good Lenten reading, and I can't do justice to the amount you can understand about the saint in such a short presentation.
What the book did for me in the end was to illuminate the path that saints take, and urged me to consider the question of saintly personality. How should a saint behave?
In our parish, we have a woman whose real name is quite a gift from her parents, something along the lines of Cecilia Rose Melody, a name that predicts graceful purity and beauty. In life, though, she is a little, dark, silent, pattering person, faithfully present at church for many devotions, including daily Mass and weekly Adoration. She may be shy; I've met her a few times at the grocery store, where I've met other parishioners who, relieved of the requirement of silence in church, are delighted to exchange names and friendly remarks. But instead she is very withdrawn and avoids easy conversation. Is this a sign of someone concentrating on an inward ecstasy or is she just dull? Is there something she knows about God that would be a valuable witness to me or others? Does she owe anybody that witness?
There are some Christians in my life who are magnetic because they are so open with their passion for Christ and His Truth. They have the courage and confidence to open a conversation with "I just learned a beautiful thing about God; let me tell you" and you are swept along with their discovery, framed with their particular intellect and education, heart and wit. I know others who are also silent and stay to one side, but whose joy and serenity are there for anyone to see when they meet your eye. I am attracted to them, waiting for and usually being rewarded by witnessing or receiving some statement or action that is really Jesus teaching me through them. There are still others, usually surrounded by their families, whose slightly frazzled happiness expresses itself in friendly but ordinary chats that last but a few minutes, before their loving and patient attention is claimed by one child or another, or whose endless generosity in volunteering takes them to the donut table or the book sale or the fun fair.
Does a Christian owe the world an open face and an open hand of greeting? Should there be a "candle in the window" to make a quiet house inviting? Or can they turn inwards, close down and ponder the treasure they have discovered, trusting community in His Spirit instead of social interaction?
This meditation grabbed me, I think, because I tend to be friendly, who is (sometimes unfortunately) not averse to the sound of my own voice. I think I'm a riot. When I am seized with the love of God, do I need to ask for courage and add that to my normal social style and witness to it, just like I might witness to the excellence of a local store, or the hilarity of a TV show? Or is the holier and more humble way to become quieter and more internal, "pondering all these things in my heart?" Which one is evangelism? Can evangelism be deliberate or does the act of evangelizing in itself become manipulative and showy?