Sunrise over city

Sunrise over city

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reflections on Evangelization, II: Spiritual Growth through Evangelization

Yesterday I walked the streets for the final time before my wife has our baby boy.  It was a spirit-filled experience, not least because I read the second half of Matthew Manint's free little e-book, Like a Dove in the Cleft of a Rock.  It is a beautiful spiritual meditation by a consecrated layman with a special devotion to Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  I found myself repeating the plea to our Lord,

"Draw me after you, let us make haste."

Lord, draw me up after you, and help me follow your quick steps up the holy mountain.  Let us make haste, the time is short.

I'm happy to say that my prayers have not been in vain.  The Lord has drawn me up after him, and the vehicle of my sanctification has been my ministry on the streets.  In fact, I have been the great beneficiary of my own evangelization efforts!  I only wish I could say that those on the street have benefited as much.

One way to witness my spiritual growth is to consider some of the changes in my perception of the ministry and it's challenges.  One shift in perception concerns how I inwardly respond to verbal abuse.  When I first began the apostolate, I was mildly disturbed by hostile stares or angry shouts from passing cars, but I would consciously offer it up to God the Father as a small sacrifice.  Then after a few months I ceased to be disturbed, and walked on in peace--happy to be of some use to God, but sorrowful for the sake of the angry person.  But yesterday God gave me the grace to take things a little deeper.  A shrill voice yelled from a passing car, "Go to hell!"  And for the first time I realized, "Lord, I'm not worthy to be despised for your sake.  Who am I to be given such a great grace as to be despised for doing your will?"  That thought had never occurred to me before, but now it seemed so obvious.  I used to think I was a splendid candidate to suffer for our Lord, how could I have been so presumptuous?

A similar shift in perception concerns my attitude toward the apostolate itself.  When I first began the apostolate, I did it largely from a sense of duty and curiosity.  But I quickly discovered that it was painful to walk the streets: the weather was often bad, my feet and joints were tired, the tunic was awkward and I stood out amidst passers-by, there was the occasional abuse, and the spiritual combat was especially draining.  I even had to fight off feelings of resentment, "Thanks a lot God for giving me this thankless ministry."  But I grudgingly endured it, and forced myself out the door, week after week.  Then the gloom broke and I began to be at peace with the ministry, and it just became a part of my weekly schedule and who I am.  Then yesterday God gave me an even deeper grace.  For the first time I realized that I was blessed to be given this ministry.  It was a conviction of the heart, and not an intellectual exercise.  I didn't even give myself reasons, I just knew it to be true.  

In just one short year I have progressed from resenting and grappling with the ministry to embracing it as a great blessing.  It seems paradoxical that evangelizing others would offer a considerable source for our own sanctification. After all, we presumably evangelize out of love for others and God, and not for our own sake.  But when we commit ourselves, week in and week out, to share the Gospel with those who lack it, Christ slowly saturates our own hearts with his love.  In making this sacrifice for the sanctification of others, we are doing what Christ did in becoming man and accepting the cross for us.  By imitating him, we become more like him, the "holy one of God".  At first our hearts are small and hard, but if we persevere then they swell and grow until they begin to more closely resemble his own.  Then the more closely they resemble his own, the more efficacious our efforts at evangelization.  He is always trying to build us up since he desires to do his work through us, but we always slow the progress!

So if you want to be holy, then sacrifice for the sanctification of others.  Evangelize the streets, evangelize and pray for your friends and neighbors, pray and counsel outside Planned Parenthood, and you'll soon find that you are growing closer to Christ.  It's a paradox of the spiritual life, but then again, most of the deep truths of our faith are counter-intuitive.

5 comments:

  1. You have broken through to the true heart of your apostolate, where you realize the work is for God, and that magnificent cause cannot be belittled by anything the world can put up against it.
    I went through a similar experience in that when I began my apostolate work it came after thirty years of living in my community as a member of a prominent family, sitting on several public commissions and boards of directors, with virtually no one but my immediate family knowing of my past as a professional criminal who had served twelve years in maximum security prisons.
    Once I began my apostolate, everyone soon learned, and I went through a dark period wondering if I had done the right thing and maybe it was better to live with the burden of my past hidden.
    Then I broke through and realized that this was the work I was meant to do, as a Catholic and as a person.
    Continued blessings on your work Scott.

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    1. Thanks for sharing more of your story. I don't think I've ever seen your conversion story posted any where. Did I miss it? I know of a few Catholics with fascinating stories who have blogs or ministries but they haven't shared their full stories (they just drop bits here and there). I guess I'll have to wait till I get to Heaven to see how grace unfolded in their lives.

      BTW, you're a better man than me. If I did 12 years in the joint, I probably would have ended up back inside.

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  2. Well, my 12 years was in three stretches, whereas yours was straight.

    Wow, you’re right, and though I have published my conversion story in my first book—the first forty pages of The Criminal’s Search for God—I have not published it online, so I’ve remedied that oversight and it is now posted on my blog, The Catholic Eye, at https://catholiceye.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/my-conversion-story/

    Take care, and have you ever read the book, The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard O.C.S.O…powerful.

    David

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    1. Thanks, I just read your story. Fascinating. There are many similarities between our stories: a brief but real conversion behind bars, an attraction to the existentialists for a while, we saw crime as a thrilling, superior alternative to regular life, etc. I did wonder what happened to your Dad, and prison was more brutal in your day (though some of the ethnic gang activity in recent decades can be a mess). Thanks again.

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  3. My dad got married again, left the criminal life behind, started the first Volvo dealership in Sacramento and lived a full life until he died several years ago.

    We remained close until his death and I was at his bedside when he passed.

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