The Flowering of Evangelization
In speaking to my wife about evangelization, we were comparing how other people either drew us closer or pushed us away in the way they embodied the gospel to us. Whether it was in the way they spoke to us or in the way they acted toward others; both their deliberate and unintentional actions spoke volumes of how they perceived and lived their faith. There were those who claimed the title "Christian" and wanted us to be saved, but disparaged our Catholic faith because they didn't think it was "Christian" enough. There were others who appeared to live uprightly, but spoke badly of others under their breath.
These people didn't live the faith they professed, yet somehow thought since, it was "right," we ought to give them a hearing. We were actually pushed away from their faith by such poor ambassadors. How ought we ourselves witness to our faith?
The Catholic tradition teaches three "theological" virtues: Faith, Hope and Love (or Charity). They are often metaphorically depicted as a flowering plant. Faith in God is the root of this plant. It is where the bedrock of mundane knowledge and the upward stretch of faith meet. It is a departure point and a return point, a place from which strength is drawn and growth begins as well as a sure center on which to "ground" oneself. Faith in God looks upward while non-faith is content to stay on the ground where all seems secure. It is often said that the stirrings of faith is that yearning for ultimate meaning or purpose which, of necessity, cannot be found on the ground.
Hope is the virtue that allows us to leave the ground and push upward. It is a strong belief that we are on the right track and we can trust the path we are on. Trust is another word that describes Hope. We trust that the faith we have will not fail us. It is Faith being put to the test. We cannot clearly see the end to which our faith leads, but when we rely on it, slowly at first, then with stumbling steps, leaving the safe and secure behind, we trust that there is another stepping stone out there in the dark on which to place our feet. As we become more confident in that hope, as we trust more and more to the promises of faith, we grow. It's a positive feedback loop. Hope, then, is the stem of the plant. It is the strong branches and spreading leaves that both uphold us and allow us to take in more and more of the sunshine.
Love is the flower. It is both the culmination of faith and hope and the means of reproduction. It is the beauty of the soul and the passion of sexual love. It is the fulfillment of the promise, the telos (goal) of our existence, the way we become all that we were meant to be. It is beauty, firstly, because others can see that beauty. It makes visible the invisible potential within us. It does not simply dress up an otherwise ugly plant, it actually shows the reality of that plant. The plant is a beautiful thing in itself, but the flower allows the merely physical senses to know it as well. It is the means of reproduction because a flower that has germinated, is ready to spread its seeds of faith.
This is where the discussion on evangelization comes in. If I want to share my faith with someone, I don't tell them about my faith first or how much theology I know or how wrong their ideas are for not believing in God. Nor do I tell them how much trust I have in God, how I left my job hoping God would make it all work or how wonderful I think heaven will be. I show them the flower. I show them my love. I give them the flower of my love and let them know I trust them with it and that they may have it unconditionally.
I simply love them. From that point, it may be that they want to know from where this love comes. What is the reason for this abundant love? What is it inside me that makes it grow?
From within this loving friendship, I can then talk about the reason for my hope. I can explain how it springs from my faith. I can explain how my faith is rooted in the world and how I got here. However, it is all made possible through the flower. We all meet and make true contact with each other at the point at which we love.
Flowers in a field blow in the wind all together, the flower tops swaying and touching, reveling in the release from the ground. Dancing in the breath of air that animates them, which carries the seeds where it will.