Evangelization is a term that is oftentimes misunderstood, taken to mean the desire to conform another’s will to our own, rather than lovingly introducing those we meet to Christ and the love he offers to all. So often throughout the course of Christian history, evangelization has been attempted by means of coercion, conflict, and domination, but this is neither desirable nor effective in sharing our faith with others.
When we begin to share our Christian faith, we first must be inclusive with every person we meet, resisting the temptation to impose our beliefs on another without first closely examining our intentions for evangelization in the first place. This process continues with dialogue, which means seeing others for who they are, each of us being created in the beautiful image of our loving God, with so many unique characteristics and qualities. It is once we have fully engaged with another and affirmed his or her individuality that we can begin to share the transformative experience of knowing and loving Christ in a person–not in an impersonal set of rules and tradition.
True evangelization begins with an encounter with the living Christ; once our hearts are open to receiving him, conversion becomes a reality.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites all Christians to a “renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (3). The Holy Father emphasizes that our loving Savior is continually waiting for us to take the first step toward him, to come back to him when we are lost, to return to his loving embrace.
Encounter means seeing the One we love face to face, bringing others to him by removing all barriers that may prevent them from feeling worthy or willing to approach Jesus, and by simply sharing the great treasure we have found in our faith.
During this Advent season of expectation, we prepare for the birth of Christ in a flurry of activity that sometimes misses the mark entirely. Distracted by gift-buying and holiday parties and the many commercial trappings that have become all too familiar and nearly impossible to avoid, we Christians are often accused of forgetting the “reason for the season.” Just as on that first Christmas, it is not amidst fanfare that Jesus comes to us; rather, he comes in the everyday events of our lives and in the most humble of circumstances.
When my parents were expectantly waiting for a baby to adopt right before Christmas 1974, my mother had purchased a paintable ceramic Nativity scene and spent over six months finishing it. Each piece is intricately painted with loving detail, from the shepherd with a lamb gently slung over his shoulder to the beautiful angel of the Lord, which has been broken and repaired more times than I care to admit!
I still like to picture my young parents in their first home, waiting – for the Christ child, of course, and for me. As my mother sat at her kitchen table night after night painting each member of the ceramic collection, my father built a stable out of wood with his own hands.
Every year at Christmas when I was a child, I would kneel in front of that scene and imagine myself actually there that first Christmas night, shivering in the cold perhaps with the animals or tenderly wrapping the infant Jesus in his swaddling clothes. Even today, I gaze at that Nativity scene with a sense of wonder and awe, knowing what it meant to my parents all those years ago.
What they didn’t know at the time was that the baby they were longing for was already conceived. My young birth mother was around four months pregnant, celebrating her 16th birthday, and about to face one of the most difficult experiences of her young life. The coming months would be extremely difficult for her, as she would be sent to live in an unwed mother’s home for the remainder of her pregnancy, give birth to and relinquish her first child, then spend the next 22 years wondering if that child was happy and loved.
It was a massive leap of faith for all involved.
I was born the following April, 1975 and my parents brought me home in June. My adoption was finalized on Christmas Eve 1975 and the judge told my parents it was the “best Christmas gift he ever gave.” Their waiting and expectation for a family had been fulfilled at last, as God always follows through with his promises. And so, my parents’ encounter with Christ during that particular year was most poignant, in the form of a baby in need of a family; what better way to demonstrate the love of Christ than to give the gift of a home and love to an infant in need– and at Christmas!
Evangelization, then, is not accomplished just in words. It happens in our lives in very concrete ways, each time we choose to bring the love of Jesus to those around us. It means encountering the true, living Christ, especially at Christmas, when he came to us as a vulnerable child. Perhaps the best model of pointing the way to Jesus through encounter can be found through the personage of his mother and ours: Mary.
In Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father directs us to our mother Mary, who never abandons us in our struggles. “Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As a mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love.” (213)
As we prepare to welcome Christ into our hearts and homes this Advent season, may we cry out with joyous expectation, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” But more importantly, let us endeavor to show that love in ways that will make it a reality for those who may never know Jesus otherwise. May we bring the true love of Christ to all of those who long for real love in a hurting and broken world, through acceptance, understanding, and a willingness to lay our own agendas aside and let the light of Christ shine through us.
Image: Adobe Stock. By o1559kip.
Discuss this article!
Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky. As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries. She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.