The Glory of the Lord Is Reason to Evangelize
Epiphanytide is the perfect time for us to absorb the message of Christ’s coming and to bring his light to others.
There’s a line that hovers about during Christmastide, and belongs particularly to the season of Epiphany. It oftentimes appears in the Advent readings; it echoes in the background inhabited by Handel’s Messiah: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”
The verse comes from the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah; and in context is a prophecy of the spreading of salvation to the Gentiles. It is, in other words, an evangelistic text.
Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.
In this larger context, those first words — the command to Israel and, by extension, to the Christian faithful today — deserve special scrutiny. The command is twofold — not merely to “rise” nor to “shine,” but both at once and indeed, the one because of the other.
Jerusalem is not called simply to evangelize; that would be like the call to a man to walk without feet. Neither is she like a man who is simply given the welcome news that his missing feet are back, like the little boy who says that all he wants for Christmas is his two front teeth. Feet (like teeth) are for something; or, to change the metaphor back to the one that Isaiah employs and Jesus coopts: The candle placed on a candlestick or the lamp on top of the basket, is lighted or “enlightened,” not to be hidden but for a purpose. Its light is a joy and a gift to itself, but one which cannot but be shared with others.
The command to evangelize and the good news of Christ’s coming are inextricably tied together. Your Light has come! Now, rise and shine; for the “glory of the Lord is upon thee.”
Sometimes, looking around at the Church, however, it might not seem so. We are in an era when too many institutions seem to be failing. The Vatican struggles with its financial scandal; the USCCB deals with its share of internal policy dissensions; dioceses around the country are preparing long-term plans to consolidate dwindling parishes; liturgical differences are resurfacing as a point of division among not just ordinary Catholics, but their shepherds as well.
All that is merely within the Church. Outside it, the institutional decay politically and in civic life is quite as bad.
But all this institutional decay means that if we are to evangelize, if we are to change other’s hearts and bring them to Christ, then we cannot necessarily rely on the institutions within the Church to do it. Perhaps this parish or that has a thriving evangelistic ministry like Bringing Catholics Home or Opus Dei or FOCUS — so much the better. But in many parishes established groups are either nonexistent or are not doing the evangelizing work that they set out to do.
The obvious and terrifying solution is that we ought to do it ourselves. Practically speaking, that can mean a lot of things — so many, it’s hard to know where to start. And as with any task, not knowing where to start means that one never gets started. Fortunately, all God really asks of us is to start — to do something, anything — and he promises to do the rest.
What might starting an evangelizing moment look like? Here are a few suggestions, ranging from the softest of softballs to the more challenging and time-consuming.
- Be a good example of a Catholic on social media. If someone with whom you regularly interact says things with which you profoundly disagree, honor the truth by making your position known. (P.S. Mocking someone else is never a good way to honor Truth. After all, part of the truth is that even morons like you and I have dignity. ’Nuff said.)
- The next time someone compliments you on your handling of a situation (parenting kids through a store, completing a difficult task of work, etc.), tell them the truth: it’s grace. Find a line that doesn’t make you cringe. “God helps me;” “Jesus does the heavy lifting;” “My guardian angel works overtime”—almost anything will do. But it should be clear that you’re serious, even if you say it — as you probably should — with a smile and a bit of a twinkle in your eye.
- Be honest with lapsed or otherwise areligious family members about your religious commitments and beliefs — don’t soft-peddle them, but admit them charitably when the conversation leads that way.
- Invite a non-Catholic to a fun religious event — a Christmas party at your house or parish, an Easter-egg roll, a Lenten soup supper, a parish picnic, an All Saints Day party. Introduce them to a tactful extrovert and fade into the background if you must.
- Invite a non-Catholic to a vaguely religious event, like Lessons and Carols, or a talk being held at your Church.
- Invite a non-Catholic to a distinctly religious event, like Holy Hour or Mass.
- Organize a religious procession that takes place outdoors — ideally beyond your Church parking lot, if you can get civil permission — but even the parking lot is better than nothing. Corpus Christi is the standard feast for this sort of thing, but hardly the only time one can be held.
- Perform a work of mercy — e.g., visiting the sick, the homebound, the elderly, people with young children, the imprisoned. It’s easiest if you have a specific objective, e.g., providing food, caroling, reading a story or poetry, playing a board or card game, collecting reminiscences or funny anecdotes, taking shopping orders, or collecting errands to run. Pick something that you will enjoy doing with others — maybe tied into a personal hobby — you want to give the other person some human contact, and it can be hard to do so pleasantly unless there’s a more concrete thing you are also doing. And when someone asks why you do what you do, or when a personal relationship develops — well, see the earlier suggestions on this list.
All of this is sufficiently intimidating that, to be perfectly honest, I very nearly stopped writing this post. After all, if it is published, I might need to start doing these things myself!
Fortunately, the doing is not dependent on me, for all that I will be doing some of it. We are not called to evangelize without feet, or scatter glory without having first been “enlightened.” All evangelizing presupposes that attitude of faith and charity which allows a person to say, sincerely, “God helps me” to the lady at the cash register when she notices how full your hands are.
One is not, in fact, going to be comfortable doing any of these things, even the simplest, unless one really converses with Christ, the light within. If one is going to shine, he must be there first — just as the truest indication of his presence is that through you, his light shines among men.