Today we live in a world where we are bombarded with confusing values. We encounter a ‘school of thinking’ that considers money as the highest value in life. We also witness many people, especially the young, being pulled into the rat race for money. When this school of thinking is pushed to the extreme, it even leads to the violation of the first commandment - money, and all that can be bought with money, becomes God. This displacement of God from the hearts of individuals ultimately destroys the society.
On one hand we can attribute these problems of the modern society to socio-economic and political reasons. On the other hand, a deeper analysis will reveal that the root cause of most of the problems - whether it is the ‘widening gap’ between the rich and the poor, or ‘global warming’ due to the ruthless exploitation of our planet - is the displacement of God to the margins. This displacement of God from the center of our lives results in unlimited greed, corruption, irresponsibility, violence and so on. If we look back to the days of Jesus, socio-economic and political action was even more relevant then. Given his value system and popularity, Jesus could have easily led a campaign against corruption or even a campaign for food security, health for all, for peace amongst others. However, in addition to His ‘redeeming work’ Jesus led a different campaign – ‘back to the Father’ campaign. Why? It is true that we need socio-economic and political interventions to sort out the problems of today’s society. However, I believe that such interventions will remain as symptomatic treatments if we do not strike at the root cause and bring God back right into the hearts of individuals and societies (back to the Father). This is one of the reasons why Evangelisation is so important.
There is another reason too. I have listened to the stories of many young people. Some of them find their emotional settlement in human relationships, movies, novels, sports, work, food, travel, etc. These are, in a way, healthy means for emotional settlement. However, there are many youngsters who find emotional settlement in alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography and the like. From experience we know that these means ultimately destroy them. All of us are aware that we are not supposed to find emotional settlement in unhealthy means. Therefore, I would like to focus on the so called healthy emotional settlements. Of all the above mentioned means of emotional settlement, ‘human relationships’ is considered as one of the most important and common means.
Here I would like to bring two characters from the Gospel. The first one is the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus initiates a discussion with her and in the course of that discussion He talks about the ‘living water’. From her basic need for water, Jesus leads her to her deeper thirst. Finally she had to acknowledge that ‘human relationships’ could not really satisfy her deeper need for belongingness and love. Even her relationship with her current ‘husband’ was not helping her to quench her deeper thirst. Finally, in her interaction with Jesus, she discovers that only God can permanently satisfy her deeper needs.
Another character that I would like to bring to your notice is Zacchaeus. This man had everything; a good Job with the Roman Empire (in today’s context it is like being employed with an excellent Multinational Company); plenty of money; big house, servants and all other comforts. However, he doesn’t seem happy. When he meets Jesus he discovers that beyond all the above mentioned superficial needs, he had a deeper need. Only God could satisfy that need. When Zacchaeus and the Samaritan woman allowed God - Jesus - to enter the core of their lives, they experienced joy and peace that nothing until then had given them. Wasn’t that the beginning of salvation? It is in a way going back to the Father; to the first commandment - giving God the prime place, the first place in one’s life.
Most of us have seen how even the most loving married couples have to finally go to God to quench their deeper thirst. No husband, no wife can fill the ‘bottomless abyss’ that is within each and every one of us. Some people dare to call this ‘bottomless abyss’ the ‘God shaped hole’ in us, which can be filled only by God. This is probably the same ‘restlessness’ that St. Augustine talked about - “our hearts are restless until we rest in you O Lord”. Therefore, evangelisation is important to quench the deeper thirst of every human being as well as for the stability and progress of the society.
The Church always believed in Evangelisation. She inherited it from Jesus. In fact Jesus is THE Evangeliser. Church, being the extension of Jesus in this world, continues His mission. During the Second Vatican Council, Church rediscovered that she exists for evangelisation. On 8 December 1975, Pope Paul VI published his Apostolic Exhortation: ‘On Evangelisation in the Modern World, Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN)’. It was inspired by the Synod of Bishops of 1974 and is considered to be the “watershed” document for contemporary evangelisation. I would like to highlight some of the key points of this document that could be meditated upon, for each day of this week and even beyond.
- What is Evangelisation: “For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new”. (EN 18)
- The core of the Good News of Christ: It is “liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One”. It is “the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him”. (EN 9)
- The importance of ‘proclamation by witness’: “Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization”. (EN 21)
- The importance of proclaiming Jesus: “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed”. (EN 22)
- The importance of the Holy Spirit: “Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones cannot replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without Him the most highly developed schemas resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless”. (EN 75)
- The importance of authenticity: “Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim”. (EN 76)
- The importance of love for those whom we evangelize: “The work of evangelization presupposes in the evangelizer an ever increasing love for those whom he is evangelizing... What is this love? It is much more than that of a teacher; it is the love of a father; and again, it is the love of a mother… A sign of love will be the concern to give the truth and to bring people into unity... Let us add some other signs of this love… Respect for their tempo and pace; no one has the right to force them excessively. Respect for their conscience and convictions, which are not to be treated in a harsh manner. Another sign of this love is concern not to wound the other person, especially if he or she is weak in faith... Yet another sign of love will be the effort to transmit to Christians not doubts and uncertainties born of an erudition poorly assimilated but certainties that are solid because they are anchored in the Word of God. The faithful need these certainties for their Christian life; they have a right to them, as children of God who abandon themselves entirely into His arms and to the exigencies of love”. (EN 79)
“Jesus Youth is a missionary movement at the service of the Church”. “Every Jesus Youth, a missionary”. These are some phrases at the heart of our movement. For those who believe in these words, how important is evangelisation! As a Jesus Youth we can be proud that we consider evangelisation as one of the important ‘pillars’ of our spirituality.
We are called to be in this world and minister to those around us. Being in the world we constantly come across aggressive campaigns that push people ruthlessly into ‘empty cisterns’ that aggravate their deeper thirst. Maybe some of them push people for their own financial gains. Maybe some of them do it sincerely because that’s all they know to do to help people satisfy their deeper needs. In this context, it is also important to remember that there is an invisible enemy, the ‘father of lies’ behind these aggressive campaigns to drive people away from God - the source of true life, the living water.
If we are called to be evangelisers, to lead others to God, we have to first learn to quench our own deeper thirst; we have to learn to find our emotional settlement in God, more than in the created things. We are fortunate to be part of a movement that urges us to be rooted in the six pillars of our spirituality, so that as evangelisers our ‘ministry’ will flow from our deep ‘inner life’. This is also one of the reasons why we give so much of emphasis on ‘formation’ in our movement.
Let me conclude with the following questions: How do we begin our day…? How do we end our day…? With TV/internet/mobile phone…? To be a fulfilled Jesus Youth; to be an effective Jesus Youth, we need to direct our ‘deeper thirst’ in such a way that we begin and end each day with the ‘living water’… the source that quenches our thirst forever and ever… May God bless you
Fr. Mathew Abraham C.Ss.R
Animator, Jesus Youth International Team