For this Sunday's homily, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share the joyful news of a new evangelization effort that is going to be launched in our region of the diocese in the new year.
Good news worth sharing
This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, the day of great rejoicing. The scripture passages we have heard today all speak of exuberant joy and anticipation and of something wonderful that is to come. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the desert and the parched land will exult, rejoice and bloom (Is 35:1): indeed these words speak of miracles that are to come, but what do they mean in the context of our modern-day lives?
It’s a matter of preparing ourselves by understanding the great gift that has been entrusted to us. Each one of us has been invited to share a relationship with the living person of Jesus. Learning about this relationship is the process that the Church calls Evangelization. I remember my parents speaking about the days when they would learn their catechism by heart, but it seems that in the last few decades, the practice of memorizing catechism has fallen by the wayside, and many people have begun to question the teachings of the Church. One might say that we are indeed in a desert, and it takes great faith to believe that the parched land will one day bloom, but there is still hope.
Paul VI, who served as Pope from 1963 to 1978, was the first to speak of the need for a New Evangelization: finding new ways to share the good news of the gospel with others (cf Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975). John Paul II also spoke about the importance of finding new ways to teach the faith. Benedict XVI and Pope Francis (cf Evangelii Gaudium) have also continued this call.
If we want to teach others about our faith, we must first understand it ourselves. We need to be evangelized before we can evangelize anyone else. Many efforts have been put forward, and many programmes have been tried in an effort to evangelize, but none of them so far have continued to awaken desires to learn about faith once they draw to a close. In June of this year, after much prayer and discernment, I first heard about ChristLife. Like most other Evangelization programmes, I was skeptical at first, yet the letter of James urges us all to be patient (James 5:7-8) and to investigate all possibilities for doing the Lord’s work. So it was that six people from this region set out in September of this year to learn more about ChristLife at a training conference that was held in Syracuse, New York.
For two days, while the conference was taking place, we had a chance to meet others who, like us, were looking for ways to spread the good news of the gospel. We also had a chance to ask our questions. You might say that we were not unlike the disciples John sent to question Jesus. In many ways, we too asked: Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? (Mt 11:3) What we witnessed there was the joy of people who have heard good news, the enthusiasm of those who share their faith joyfully with others. I think we even heard the voice of Jesus saying to us: Go back, and tell others what you have heard and seen (Mt 11:4), and so we have returned.
ChristLife is different from other evangelization programmes. It has three components beginning with seven weeks focused on Discovering Christ; once we have discovered the person of Jesus, we can choose to Follow Christ; and having chosen to follow him, we can Share Christ with others. We are making plans now to offer the first seven-week session of Discovering Christ in this region beginning on January 24, 2017. More details will be coming soon, but I want to give you a taste of the joy that I witnessed, and the simplicity with which it is possible to tell others about our faith.