Have you ever pondered the reality of hardened hearts and how to soften them? Jesus certainly did during his ministry. Undaunted by a culture that contributed to the hardening of hearts, Jesus waded into the world of the prostitute, the tax collector and others who were the subject of official scorn and rejection by Jewish Authorities. He did not advocate or organize mass rallies to protest the ideology of the day but rather reached out in love to touch the hearts of those with whom he came in contact. He was not always successful but the movement that he founded survives to this day.
As Christians, we are called to emulate Jesus in our outreach processes for if we are to reach those with hard hearts’ we need to do so in a manner that convinces those with whom we come in contact that we are Christian [Christ Like] – the hands, feet, heart, and voice of Jesus. We must have soft hearts and hard feet.
We do live in a post Christian era and the culture that has spawned this era is about 60 years old. We do not have to look far to encounter the pagan influences that today saturate our society. To a significant degree those who call themselves Christians have far too often failed to act on the Gospel imperative to “go and make disciples of all nations” [the Great Commission]. We Catholics are particularly vulnerable to failure in this area. Like the chameleon, we often seek to blend into the background of our culture not wanting to be different.
In this age, the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new Pentecost. To some extent the horrors of the COVID crisis are opening doors for us that may have been solidly closed in the pre-COVID period. We know that people are anxious, and many are searching for meaning in life. For those of us active in Christian ministry, we have been forced to go on-line to connect with members of our community, our family, and others. The new norm we will experience after COVID will be different than the norm of the pre-COVID period as it will undoubtedly incorporate aspects of our virtual experiences.
We need to have a hard look however at the method of our outreach processes. Movements such as Black Lives Matter are conceived and develop out of the recognition that social justice requires us to respond to discrimination and injustice and as Christians we need to respond to these needs with love and determination to help bring about change. Unfortunately, any movement for change can introduce elements that invoke violence and anarchy and we have seen that in this movement.
As Christians we are what the secular culture calls “social conservatives”. We oppose anti-life attitudes, social structures and legislation that is, in the Christian view, anti-family and anti-life. That we do so is an imperative of our Christian commitment. How we do so however is another matter.
Confrontation can lead to a greater hardening of hearts and can defeat our efforts to successfully promote our culture of love based in the truth and in compassion for the struggling. The New Pentecost [spawned by the New Evangelization] calls us to focus first on the person of Jesus. In doing so, we invoke the Holy Spirit to direct our efforts. We face two immediate obstacles: ignorance [not knowing or understanding the truth] and apathy [who cares?]. In the past, in our Catholic communities, we have often presented catechesis or teaching to our parishioners [to present the truth and dispel ignorance] without carefully considering the other obstacle which is apathy. You can have all the knowledge in the world but if you have not fallen in love with Jesus, apathy may well rule your spiritual life. The new evangelization seeks to improve its’ methodology to evangelize the heart and up-root apathy before it focuses on a catechesis that will properly form the seeker as a disciple. This new methodology is experienced in processes such as Alpha where the cultural expression of the outreach vehicle [Alpha] is decidedly directed towards the creation of a soft heart and one amenable to an intimate relationship with Jesus and caring relationships with one another combined with an ardour to share Jesus with others
In sharing Jesus with others, we recognize that the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting as the Spirit will soften the hearts of those who really encounter Jesus. Teaching can follow the capture of a seekers heart. That is why the belong, believe, behave model of Church makes so much sense. Rather than focus on confrontation we focus on dialogue all the time being adamant about our views on issues [all issues] that are anti-Christian. If we are going to win the culture wars, it can only be done by reaching out and sharing Jesus with others.
In or COVID environment we have realized that our outreach processes can reach an audience that perhaps was not recognizable in the pre-COVID world particularly if our parish community was focused exclusively on maintenance rather than on an outreach that sought to introduce others to Jesus. We are now beginning to understand that there is an audience which we might call a shadow audience [open and curious] who can be reached virtually. We have noticed that our streamed Masses are pulling in those who are not, yet members of our community and our on-line Alpha initiatives are reaching those who might not darken the Church Hall to attend a live Alpha. This realization excites us and motivates us to further develop our virtual presence which we are now calling our parish digital front door.
What is important is the outreach and the New Pentecost that engages the call to a new evangelization [new in method, expression, and ardour]. These principles prompt us to a personal transformation first that we might become missionary disciples committed to changing the world by beginning with personal transformation and then a renewal of our parish community.
It is a tall order, but it is one that the Holy Spirit is directing. Are you on board?