Most people in this country have heard the Christian message. Not enough of them get moving. What is lacking is not the purr of the engine, it is the communication of that power to the axles and wheels.
I used to think that evangelization was the transmission of the Gospel, but recent events have taught me that it is the Gospel’s transmission. Confused? Sit back for a moment.
I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the house of a very generous and patient friend. The plan was for me and my two oldest sons to pick up a car in Phoenix and drive it back to Kansas. The car is a gift from my mother-in-law, who after losing her husband (please pray for the repose of the soul of Dr. Joseph Rapuano who passed away 2 years ago) no longer spends the winter in Arizona, and is selling a house they had there. My boys were so exited for a vehicle they would be able to use. We picked up the car and were to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Albuquerque. It is January 2nd, going on 3rd, and I am still here.
Four hundred and thirty-five miles into the 440 mile first leg of our trip, the transmission decided not to shift anymore. In fact, no gears are available. The thing purrs like a kitten, just a quadriplegic kitten.
We are driving home in a rental, and the car will be here a week while I hock my furniture on e-bay to pay for the repair… I have to take this with a joyful spirit, though, since it is minor compared to the problems of so many people. I got to see the cathedral in Santa Fe, built under Archbishop Jean Lamy, whose life is portrayed in one of my favorite novels,Death Comes for the Archbishop. I marveled at the famous miraculous staircase at the Loreto Chapel in Santa Fe, where an unknown carpenter built a winding staircase to the choir loft and left without taking a dime for it. (The wood isn’t even a known species!)
I am not holding my breath for an unknown mechanic who rebuilds transmissions with other-worldly non-corrosive metals and vanishes before he swipes my Visa. The spiritual fruit from this mishap is not a miracle, but greater knowledge of the importance of a transmission, which leads me to evangelization.
I used to link evangelization to transmission of the Gospel, like the broadcasting of a message. Yes, it is true that the Christmas angels are the first to use the word in Luke’s Gospel, where they announce the birth of Christ, so the Good News was transmitted. But, more importantly, the shepherds got into gear and went to Bethlehem. It was not a lot of “Gloria in Excelsis” and no movement. They got the message and they got moving.
Most people in this country have heard the Christian message. Not enough of them get moving. What is lacking is not the purr of the engine, it is the communication of that power to the axles and wheels. The gears are not sufficiently engaged. Evangelization is not measured by the announcement (transmission in the broadcast sense) but by the movement (transmission in the motor sense.) So evangelization is not the transmission of the Gospel, it is the Gospel’s transmission. Get it now?
What did the angels say to the shepherds that got them moving? They promised them joy. They announced the joy of the presence of a Person, not a moral code, not a satisfying intellectual experience. They announced deep down fulfillment. And the sign was the poverty and simplicity of that Person. Swaddling clothes and a manger.
What does Pope Francis tells us is key for evangelization? We need to share the The Joy of the Gospel. If we don’t, we are spinning our wheels. Actually, they aren’t even spinning. We are stuck in neutral.
Haven’t read that document yet? Take some time in prayer and do so. Reflective reading is clutch. It is the pause that lets the transmission engage. It will overjoy you. (Yes, clutch was sort of a pun. The car is an automatic, but all evangelization is manual.)
Now get moving, and pray for three wayfarers 800 miles from home. And thank God for good and generous friends!
By the way, Albuquerque is beautiful…
Edward Mulholland is Assistant Professor of Classical and Modern Languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.