If our diocesan Year of Evangelization were a football game, we’d now be starting the fourth and final quarter. Even though the clock is ticking and time is winding down, however, remember that many a game is won or lost in those final moments.
This simple analogy is a reminder that while our Year of Evangelization is coming to an end, we still have lots of work to do, and the Advent Season in particular provides us with some wonderful opportunities for evangelization.
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First, some of the primary Biblical figures of the Advent Season – Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary – provide us with excellent role models for evangelization.
While many of the prophets of the Old Testament spoke of God’s Kingdom, perhaps it’s Isaiah, whose description of the peace and joy of God’s Kingdom soars above the rest, who’s the best evangelist. Isaiah calls us to participate, joyfully, in the proclamation of the Kingdom: “Go up onto a high mountain, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Here is your God!” (40:9)
And then there’s the powerful persona and unmistakable voice of John the Baptist calling the people to repentance so that they would recognize and welcome the Messiah: “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Mt 3:1) John pointed to Jesus and said: “He must increase, I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30) What a fitting motto for the work of evangelization!
And in contrast to John’s fiery rhetoric, the Virgin Mary appears, evangelizing in her own quiet, humble way, welcoming the Incarnate Word and sharing it – or Him – with the world. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)
Isaiah, John and Mary – which of the three Advent personalities models your approach to evangelization?
Advent presents another opportunity for evangelizing – and that’s the need to evangelize the season itself. Even though the slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas” might seem a bit trite by now, its challenge is quite legitimate. As disciples of Christ preparing to celebrate His coming among us, we need to replace the awful banality of the “holiday season” with the beauty, power and grace of Advent and Christmas.
There are many ways to do that. You can spend a little bit of extra time in silence and prayer. You can attend Mass on a weekday, or spend a few moments in church before or after Sunday Mass. You can go to Confession during the Advent Season, especially important if it’s been awhile since you’ve received that powerful sacrament. You can share some of your material resources with the poor (our “Keep the Heat On” campaign is one option), or visit someone in a hospital, nursing home or private residence, or offer a helping hand to an elderly neighbor.
Each of these suggestions represents an act of evangelization; each one speaks of the presence and love of God. You can see how many opportunities there are to evangelize the season, to “baptize” the secular, pagan observance, and thus reclaim its spiritual heritage.
I hope that all the members of the Church will be personal evangelizers during the Advent Season. Pope Benedict has challenged Catholics to take-up the role of evangelization, to speak to others of Christ: “If you do not become His witnesses in your daily lives, who will do so in your place?” the Pope asks.
I wonder, is there one person, just one person – a member of your family, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker – who has drifted away from the Church, or perhaps has never been a Catholic, whom you could invite to attend Sunday Mass? Or with whom you could share some printed information about the Catholic Faith? Or for whom you could pray each day by name? Think of what a difference it would make if every Catholic became a personal evangelist. The Advent-Christmas Season is a perfect time to accept the challenge.
And in this Advent Season I also urge our parishes and schools to re-double their evangelization efforts. During this Year of Evangelization many of our parishes have embraced rather ambitious and highly effective programs to reach out to their neighbors, inviting them to visit the church. I encourage our priests and deacons, and other parish leaders to keep up their good work during this Advent Season. Find ways to reach out to inactive Catholics; extend a warm and gracious welcome to those who come to the church or rectory door; schedule some extra hours for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and actively promote it; encourage the personal and public witness of faith during your Sunday homilies; use the local media to publicize your Advent and Christmas programs and invite people to join you.
It’s true that evangelization is a year-round, round-the-clock effort, but Advent is an especially effective time to speak about Christ, to call people to faith, and invite them to return to their Church family.
So, we’ve entered the final period of the Year of Evangelization and the clock is ticking. Remember, though, that it’s the time when most games are won or lost. In this season of grace let’s redouble our efforts to evangelize – to speak of the presence and goodness of God and invite others to join us on our journey of faith.