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Remembering Who(se) We Are

June 15, 2015

clear vision of a sunset

Last week on This Pilgrim’s Progress, I began pondering the question- “why don’t Catholics evangelize?”  This week, I begin a series of posts reminding Catholics (and all Christians, really) what evangelism means. Popes John Paul, Benedict and Francis have all spoken about the necessity of a “new evangelization.” To understand what this means and the role we play in it, we have to look back at the first evangelization – the good news of Jesus Christ as it was shared with the whole world.

A few years ago, my grandmother began developing the telltale signs of dementia. She asked the same questions repeatedly and told the same stories over and over. Although doctors were able to slow the process, it didn’t take all that long before her mind effectively betrayed her.

For a time, my grandmother would call my dad and aunts. She would tell them wild tales about where she was going on vacation or which long-deceased relatives had been by to visit her. There were times when we were almost joyful that she believed these scenarios to be legitimate, but there was also great sorrow as we watched her continually lose her orientation to reality.

That’s the thing about the dementia that’s fascinating. It’s my understanding that, by and large, people don’t forget who they are. They forget the circumstances in which they live. They disconnect from reality and lose sight of how they fit into that reality.

With this comparison in mind, I put forward the notion that humanity is, in many ways, suffering from a form of dementia.   It isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around almost since the beginning.

In the book of Genesis, there’s a familiar story about a man, a woman, a snake and a piece of fruit. But before we even get to the snake part, there are a few brief moments of perfection.  God created the man, then put him back into a deep sleep.  The man wakes up, looks upon the newly formed woman and says, “this one, at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”

You couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene than this.  There are two people in existence and they have a perfect relationship with one another.  And, not only do the man and woman have a perfect orientation towards one another, they also have a perfect orientation towards God.  They know they are His creation.  They know they were made for complementarity with one another. They have perfect grasp of who they are and the reality in which they live with one another.

Of course, all of this is about to change.  When the man and woman eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, suddenly their relationship towards one another becomes very muddy. They now think they need to hide from God.  Their orientation to all reality has been compromised. And we’ve all been living an effort to reorient ourselves, to overcome our spiritual dementia, ever since.

Flash forwards a couple of thousand years to the scene in which the angel of God visits a young woman named Mary. He calls her into the divine drama, promising that she will bear a child, though he is a virgin.   And, with her holy “yes,” she regains her orientation to God and others.

Late in the first chapter of Luke, we receive a song, or “canticle” (Luke 1:46-46) of Mary, in which she sings of her new found knowledge of where she fits into the eternal plan of God.  She sings of God’s faithfulness throughout all of human history of the role to which God has called her, saying “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

With this divine interaction, Mary recognizes the role she now plays in eternity – she is reoriented to her divine purpose. And, while it sounds fantastic and impossible, this same recognition should be the expectation for every man and woman who call themselves Christians.

As recipients of the grace and love poured out by Jesus on the cross, we have a role to play in eternity. Like Mary, we are called into the eternal drama. It is only when we forget the privileged place we have in this drama that we fail in our role to be active for God.  Because of sin, we often underestimate our roles, thinking we’re just not cut out for eternal good.  We think that holiness is simply out of the question (more on this next week).

The challenge for each of us is, first, a reawakening, a new realization that we are a part of the kingdom of God. We are a part of the eternal Church and we have a role to play in eternity.  God has called us to action and given us, through Christ, the means to answer the call.

If we are to be active participants in a “new evangelization” we have to start by asking God what role He wants us to play. Who are the people in your life who need extra compassion and love? What words of truth are you called to speak into the lives of others? Ask God these questions and, like Mary, be ready to say yes and find yourself in the midst of the eternal, divine drama.

Mary’s faithfulness echoed throughout eternity and we are called to similar faithfulness and obedience.  The only question that remains – Are you ready to answer the call?

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