Ministry Tip of the Week
I read an awesome book recently! (and it was short, which made it even more awesome :) It has given me some incredible insights into the ever-changing trends of modern culture, and a clear solution to boot. The solution, in a nutshell, is authentic community, but that's not the topic of this post. Somewhere in the middle of the book, it talks about a much needed move "from evangelization to immanuelization," and that's what I'd like to focus on here.
Basically, the point is that our culture no longer engages truth as it once did. People today aren't looking for arguments for faith, they're looking for witnesses to faith.
As Frank Mercadante puts it, "the medium is the message."
"Immanuelization" means becoming God's presence in the world. It means evangelizing the world through God's presence in us. If we're going to convict someone of the power of the Gospel, we must do so not through rational argument but through a living witness, through the way we carry ourselves, and through the way we give ourselves. Rational argument is still very important, of course, but it's no longer the normal gateway to accepting the truth of Jesus Christ. Modern culture is saturated with neatly marketed products (and lifestyle choices), and the Gospel is being filed away as one option among many.
Immanuelization shatters this paradigm because it's "God with us" and acting - noticeably - in us. We are the Gospel! And, insofar as the people in our lives actually come to recognize the unequivocal truth of Christ through us (according to my new favorite book), this will come about in two key ways.
First, it comes through our ability to accompany people on their personal journeys of life. I've mentioned Pope Francis' call for this in earlier posts on The Art of Accompaniment and The Art of Listening, but we can never be reminded enough about this basic virtue of human relationship.
Jesus is truly and fully present to us. He became one of us. Christian charity is first about letting Jesus become flesh in us, and then it's about using that divine strength, now alive in us, to imitate Christ's love and allow our lives to become incarnate in the lives of others.
Basically, it means cultivating our ability to be truly present. Jesus is truly present to me. Am I truly and fully present to the people around me, to the person right in front of me? If I am, I do so only with Christ's help, and that means it's not just me they encounter but Christ in me.
St. Paul really brings this home for me: "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Then there's this quote from St. John: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). In other words, Christ loves us where we are, in our brokenness, in our sin, and in our rebellion even! That's the real victory of evangelization on our part.
If our goal is numbers in the Church, we have failed to answer the call. The goal, for us, should not be the conversion of sinners. We're not actually in charge of that (that's the Holy Spirit's job). Our goal is our love, experienced. When someone knows he is loved by me, right where he is in his sinfulness (and in his separation from the Church), I am victorious in my efforts. That's what our world needs to experience from the Church: our love, right here and now, regardless of whether or not they decide to "accept Jesus as Lord and Savior." There's no ulterior motive; we actually love them for who they are.
When we come to love others "while they are yet sinners," and they experience our love as such, they are encountering God in their midst. This opens the door to deeper encounters with the Lord and, God-willing, conversion, repentance, baptism, and all the rest.
This book, Engaging a New Generation, has truly been an eye-opener for me. It's written as a solution to frustrated youth ministry programs, but it's really for anyone and everyone interested in renewing the life of their parish, beginning in their own family. Echoing the wisdom of the Church, it's calling us to authentic human relationship.
Here's a link if you want to order it on Amazon: