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February 7, 2021
[St. Pius X Church, Manoa]
I am fascinated with the Spanish word for “teach”: enseñar. It literally means “to put into signs” and is related to the word “insignia.” We all know that a teaching is best received when it is most concrete, when examples of it can be given; in short, when it can be accompanied by signs. As we see the healing miracles and the casting out of demons, we know that in those very acts Jesus is teaching some valuable lessons: that God has power over all spirits, good and evil; and that he is God. He could have just said what I just said, but people believed his teaching because they could see it carried out in these very concrete signs.
We are here today with the Diocesan Evangelization Task Force. Over a year ago, I asked Dominic Olaso to chair this Task Force, with the charge of gathering people who already do evangelization and have them put together some concrete ways that people in the pews can be motivated and trained to be evangelizers themselves. I thank Dominic and the Task Force members for all your work.
As you know, we Catholics are not the best when it comes to evangelization. We have wonderful parishes with dedicated people and many beautiful programs – for those who come to us. But we have very little for those who do not come. And, of course, it is the essential mission of the Church to preach the Gospel as missionaries. As St. Paul reminds us, it is “an obligation that has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it.” So we need to learn how to accept this mission and to improve our dedication to it, so that Jesus may continue to bring healing and freedom from the powers of evil to the world.
Perhaps you have heard the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” This goes back to the concept of preaching the Gospel “in signs” (enseñar). So, reaching out to the sick with a visit, a phone call, or delivery of a meal can be one way of preaching the Gospel. Lending an attentive ear to someone in distress and loving that person even when it is difficult can be another sign of the Good News. Lovingly challenging someone who is going astray is not usually pleasant, but it can be yet another way of helping free a person from the powers of darkness. Sometimes just listening to a person vent about the difficulties of life can be a way to help them carry those loads, as it was for Job as he complained and lamented about the unjust fate that had been dealt out to him. (Of course, here we have to be careful we do not fall into gossip or pessimistic whining, while remembering that we all need to vent from time to time.) Teaching your children and grandchildren about God’s love can also be a very effective way of putting the Gospel into signs. And, of course one of the greatest signs of the Gospel is joy.
There is a temptation here, however, that we must avoid. Jesus worked many signs and wonders, and indeed this did open the hearts of many to follow him and be his disciples. But some got caught up in the signs and did not make the connection that they were given to lead them to a relationship with this person who had come to give them eternal salvation. After he had fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, for example, people followed him, but when he spoke of himself as the Bread of Life, that was a different story. People loved the signs and the miracles, as if he were a kind of circus act or magician, but they missed the miracle that he himself is. So while we need to preach the Gospel in signs, as Jesus did, we also need to learn to be explicit about this person. After all, we are not just kind Muslims, Jews, or atheists, who can do many noble and selfless things for others. We are disciples of Jesus, who is the Savior of the World, and people will never know him unless we are the ones who speak of him.
In order to have the courage and the ability to speak of him, we need to spend time with him, as did Peter, Andrew, James and John. We need to let the Word of God speak to us today just as he spoke to them then. We need to encounter him in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, just as his two dismayed disciples did as they lamented his death, only to realize he was truly risen and present with them right then and there. And the best way to know something or someone is to realize you have to teach others about it or share with them about the person you love. And so he calls upon us to be his evangelizers, by expressing his Good News in signs and wonders and by sharing our joy that Jesus is Lord!