“The West Wing” was a popular NBC television show that ran from 1999 until 2006 entertaining audiences with its whit and storytelling. One story from the show that still comes to mind for me from time to time occurred during episode 32 entitled Noël. The story was a plot analogy shared by the character of Leo, the White House Chief of Staff, and told to Josh, the President’s Senior Political Advisor, and was scripted out as follows:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we are both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
I love that story on multiple levels. But one sure reason is that it always reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Bible found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 2, vs. 1-5 – the story of the paralytic – which happened during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee:
“When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’”
What I love about both of these stories is that they emphasize the empowerment of the individual to create significant impact in the lives of those around them, and an empowerment that goes beyond relying on the traditional systems of their lives to make things happen. Specifically within the Gospel story, it was “their faith” that granted the paralytic grace; it wasn’t the paralytics. And it wasn’t their faith in the institution; it was their faith in Jesus. They didn’t just drop him off at the gate and let him stand in line. They didn’t just find a disciple and say hey, “Can you make sure our friend gets in to see the big J?” They dug a hole in the roof and lowered him down into Christ’s lap. They believed in what Jesus Christ could do.
So who were those four men in the greater scope of history? Who was Joe in the West Wing story? Well, surprise, they’re you and me, and that is what we are called to do as members of the body of Christ.
Now if you haven’t heard the term The New Evangelization, I pray you open your ears, your mind, and hopefully a book to those words because they are talking about you my friend.
Now the word evangelize tends to scare people; especially Catholics. It reeks of crazy people walking in front of public spaces wearing sign boards reading, “Repent, for the end of the world is at hand.” Or creates a nervous muscle twitch thinking about the last time we went to lunch with those three guys at work who all go to the same Baptist Church. But those things aren’t the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization started with Pope Pius the VI, and has ballooned in significance over the last three Popes into the War Cry of the modern Catholic Church.
And we – that’s you and me – have a role. We are the laity. What is the laity? We the people are the laity. The few, the proud, the ones occupying our favorite space in the pew so we can hear Father clearly, keep our kids from embarrassing us to much, and making sure we sit close enough to get wine this week. We who wonder halfway through Mass if there will there be donuts afterwards? We who hope there’s not a second collection so we won’t be late for our breakfast reservation at the restaurant or miss the kickoff of the football game. We…the laity.
So what are we actually supposed to do?
Well, let’s ask Pope Francis that question. Below is a response Pope Francis gave to reporter Jeffrey Tucker when asked just that question back in April of 2013:
“We priests tend to clericalize the laity,” Francis said. “[We] focus on things of the clergy, more specifically, the sanctuary, rather than bringing the Gospel to the world… A Church that limits herself to administering parish work experiences what someone in prison does: physical and mental atrophy.
“We infect lay people with our own disease. And some begin to believe the fundamental service God asks of them is to become greeters, lectors or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Church. Rather, [the call is] to live and spread the faith in their families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and beyond.”
The reform that’s needed is “neither to clericalize nor ask to be clericalized. The layperson is a layperson. He has to live as a layperson… to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself…. [He] is to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross—the cross of the layperson, not of the priest.” – Pope Francis
Is Pope Francis being critical of established norms here, maybe, but what he is also describing is the New Evangelization. He is challenging us to live out our faith proudly, and when it’s recognized for what is; share it.
Maybe even…hold on….wait for it….invite someone to Church!
Why would I do that? Oh my, here come the sign boards and the crazy’s again.
No; not at all. The big ask is to just live your faith. L—i—v—e—I–t.
Why just live your faith? Because we, the Laity, are the only ones who can evangelize in this way. What does a priest know about being a parent, being a co-worker at your work, living in your neighborhood, and dealing with your family? He’ll have some insight, yes, but your role is so much more important. Do you realize those who know you, and know you are Catholic, see what it means to be a Catholic from watching you? They see what your interpretation of being a Christian is by watching you. So even if you’re truly not living the faith, you are already carrying a message. So what message are you sending? Here’s a thought – how about a message of what living out what it means for people to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
The blessing of that choice is that by living your faith come the opportunities to share your faith, from sharing your faith come the opportunities to jump into a few holes and show people a way out, and from jumping into holes come the opportunities to carry those paralyzed by sin to Jesus Christ. Be who you are. Be what He has called you to be.
You can do it. He believes in you, and you were made for it. Mother Theresa was once asked by a group of listeners to share an idea with them that would change their lives. Mother answered with, “Smile at each other.” When later asked how does one become a Saint? Her simple response was, “Say yes to Jesus.”
Brothers, have you heard of the New Evangelization? Are you living it? What’s holding you back?