Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Candle in the Window

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 But instead she is very withdrawn and avoids easy conversation.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?


kc bob said...

"Can evangelism be deliberate or does the act of evangelizing in itself become manipulative and showy?"

I think that evangelism is merely a reflection of the inward work of God in one's heart.. we love because we experience His love.. we connect because we are connected.. we speak because we have heard His voice.. we are lights because we have "The Light of the World" in our hearts.

I have been turned off so much by (so-called) evangelism because it was all about methodolgy and technique. I think that if we are unashamed of who we are then we will love transparently and with vulnerability.

Just a few thoughts.

Happy Saturday, Bob

Therese Z said...

Agree with everything, but the question remains: must we seize the opportunity and speak out, to be "ready with the reason for our hope?" Yes, we can love, and trust, and be humble, and, as you say, that makes us light because we are illuminated by His Light, but that's not outwardly directed, not a deliberate reaching out with the Gospel.

kc bob said...

We love because He first loved us.

If love isn't the operative word in evangelism.. if it doesn't define our motives and our methodology.. then I think that we are just selling Amway.

In other words, the way we get past our fear of speaking up is to engage that love in our hearts (if it is there) for the one we are speaking to and speak the truth with a loving motive and in a loving manner.

If the love is not there in our heart then we would do well to pray silently and not say anything.

Tausign said...

You mused….”Does a Christian owe the world an open face and an open hand of greeting?”

I’m a lay person who has attempted to follow the ‘way’ of Francis for quite a long time. Francis was elevated to the clerical state of Deacon primarily because he was asked to preach at Church. His words and his life certainly had a powerful affect with those whom he came in contact. But not words alone. One true story tells of him and a companion going to ‘preach’ in a certain town. When they arrived they proceeded through the town, said nothing and continued on their way. Francis’s companion noted their silence and queried why they had not ‘preached’. Francis explained that they had – with no words.

One of the hallmarks of Franciscan spirituality is that we bring Christ to others in our presence. Consider this saying of the Seraphic Saint: "We are mothers when we carry him [Jesus] in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example.” That statement seems simple enough but it’s taken me most of a lifetime to implement and I’m still working on it.

Regarding how we evangelize: It’s not a matter of being extrovert or introvert, talkative or quiet. Some people who talk incessantly are great evangelizers and yet others say nothing with their lives. Some people who are shy and demure speak volumes with their example while others hide their light under a basket.

If you want more on this, visit ‘Perfect Joy’ []. I recently took this topic up over two reflections just last advent. ‘Carrying Christ Unseen’ and ‘Being Mothers to Our Lord Jesus’. It’s not quite Chesterton, but easy to digest.

Peace and all good.

Therese Z said...

Thanks for all the thoughts. If we witness our own joy in Christ without deliberate intent, it is without any question the greatest evangelism of all.

But we have to preach "in season and out of season" and "always be ready to give a reason" and that means holy boldness and/or just plain courage. If you have nothing inspirational to share, you still have to share, don't you, and that's where I am muddled.

To go back to my opening example, that woman with the pretty name, the downcast eyes, and no words of witness, does she OWE others a witness? I'm not planning to tell her what to do, I'm just struck by her faithfulness and her utter non-communicativeness and find her a handy example to rest my eyes on in this thought.

And would this be related to a wife who faithfully keeps her household and raises her children, but never says "I am so proud of my husband" to anybody else? Is she therefore less of a good wife than she could be? NOW this example I like as one that gets across what I'm trying to say.

Tausign said...

Your question really begs a second question which is...'Who' intiates the 'evangelization'? My own thought is that it's really the role of the Holy Spirit who knows when and to whom to inspire. He gives us the 'what' and the opportunity to speak. We of course need to be ready with our witness and our transparent selves that allows the incarnate 'Jesus' to be seen in us.

Doesn't this also remind you of the teaching of Jesus about 'knowing' what to say when being persecuted. He said something like this..."don't worry what you are to say as the Holy Spirit will guide you" [very loosely paraphrased].

Of course if our 'primary' vocation is evangelization wherein the Church calls us to ministry then the dimension of this changes slightly. We take more initialtion: but even then it's really the Holy Spirit behind it all. (Are you sensing some type of 'calling' to evangelize in a more systematic way?)

Beyond all this - If you feel 'inspired' to say something at a particular time - than for sure; say it. Peace and all good.

Roz said...

Very thought provoking post and comments Thank you, all.

Regarding "owing" others a witness: Is "witness" synonymous with "outward presentation"? I think the syntax may be tripping us up.

This woman seems to demonstrate to us that "witness" is not a verb but a noun. Jesus said, "You shall be my witnesses," not "I instruct you to 'witness'." She is a witness of the action of the Holy Spirit inside her. As are you, Therese, with the gifts God has uniquely given you (as I can attest at length and with much enthusiasm).

I think I see things the way Bob beautifully expresses in his first comment: "We love because we experience his love, we connect because we are connected, we speak because we hear his voice . . ." I read this, not as motivation but as description. We do speak out of what God has put in our hearts. Period. If we don't like what we hear ourselves say, it may be an outward expression of an inward reality deserves attention. Perhaps, it may remind us, drawing nearer to the person of Christ would be a good thing.

As if it ever isn't.

Anyway, just some additional random thoughts.

Therese Z said...

Some profound witness right here. Thank you.

God's Love makes all of us testify to His Truth in beauty.

Whether that silent dark little woman should be making an effort "to witness" or not, I'll leave to God's good time. Watch, she'll run up to me now and just babble and babble and I will pray for silence!



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