In this column I have summarized some thoughts and reflections of Michael Havercamp, one of the co-chairs of the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee, wherein he distinguishes between evangelical resources and evangelical relationships.
As important as they are, there is a shadow side of even the best articulations of evangelization because they are simply articulations. Since the Incarnation is not only a fundamental dogma but also a paradigm for life and ministry, it is essential that ideas take on flesh in relationships. As St. John says, “God took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”
To evangelize the person is to engage in relationship, to change the course of the day for that person, to seek out the suffering flesh of Christ in the broken lives and stories of real people. It is an unavoidably personal endeavor.
This is a pertinent point for the unfolding drama of V20/20. What we do, how we guide, will involve lots of ideas and lots of talking no doubt, but it also [will demand] pastoral action, the gritty and personal adventure of getting to know people, taking time for them, and investing in their lives. And I’m not talking programs. I’m talking PEOPLE. Mere [words and actions lead] us to uninformed and frenetic busyness, chopping at the tree of life with a dull axe, leaving us exhausted and without fruit.
Michael suggests that our evangelization might look something like this:
1) Spend enough time with Jesus until human misery bugs you, until you cannot contain your joy, until your heart sings in the key of the Kingdom, until you’ve entered the divine dance of the Trinity.
2) Read the signs of the times. Not by reading documents and dissertations but by placing yourself in solidarity with people, everyday people that we live with, work with, neighbor with. Smell like the sheep. How are they dealing with their loneliness, their anxieties, their restlessness? What are their distractions, the myriad of mindless occupations that occupy the mind but leave the soul empty? What are their desires and why don’t they seem to ever satisfy them?
3) The previous step already implies GOING, getting out of our own little worlds, our own comfort zones. GO. BE WITH PEOPLE. Notice people. Get up and go out of the way to say hello, introduce yourself, ask them their name. Overcome your fears and that tenacious tendency to keep to yourselves. Ask them questions, find their “rose gardens.” Invite them to dinner…. Just MAKE SPACE for another person in your life. LOVE them. As the late Cardinal Francis George said, “We’ll never evangelize who we don’t love.”
4) Welcome them into other, life-giving relationships. This could be an individual, a friend of yours with similar interests …. It could be a small group, a running group, a knitting group or a Bible study. Without question, when the time is right, welcome that person into the life-giving community of your parish….
5) Keep accompanying. Invest in the relationship. Build the friendship. PRAY for people and for their real situations. Be present, filled with attention, curiosity and anticipation. Watch God’s wonders unfold right before your eyes and BE TRANSFORMED as these relationships are transforming others.
Michael concludes his reflections with this point: “Resources will never replace relationships. We can’t outsource outreach. A book, a journal, a study, a conference, a program isn’t [going to do] it for us. ‘Plan A’ for God’s mission, his only plan, is to send us, the broken vessels we are, to be the body of Christ on earth. The question is, ‘Are we going to accept it?’”