January 17, 2021 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42
Newly arrived as a first grader at my new school, at recess on the first day, my classmates initiated me into the simultaneously simple and ever-evolving ins and outs of a strange but wonderful playground staple that we hadn’t had at my old school: four square. They’d been playing since kindergarten, so they were veritable professionals, as long as they steered clear of the second graders.
No one sat me down to read through the rule book. In fact, I could barely read yet. And no one explained every last nuance of the game to me either. They just said, “Come on and you’ll see.” I gleaned the basics as I stood in line, and learned the rest by trial and error. Soon, I was dreaming and scheming of the day four square would become an Olympic sport. Still waiting on that one.
In third grade, I remember getting assigned to let the new kid shadow me. By then we’d moved on to basketball as our pastime of choice, and at recess I invited Rick over to the hoops to meet the basketball crew. We picked teams – Rick got picked last, of course – but he turned out to be pretty good, and by the end of recess, we were all excited to have another player in our mix. Rick also ended up becoming one of my best friends.
“Come, and you will see.” (John 1:39) It’s a pretty simple concept – one that grade schoolers understand instinctively in their daily capers. And it lies at the heart of evangelization.
It’s how Jesus initiates his call to the two disciples in our Gospel this week. He asks them what they are looking for as they follow him around. They address him as a teacher and ask where he is staying, presumably so that they can come under his tutelage. Perhaps sensing their own uncertainty as they respond to his question with a question of their own, Jesus simply invites them to “Come and see.” He doesn’t give convoluted directions to his house for them to embark on by themselves some other day. He just invites them to come over, then and there.
So often, people think they are not equipped to evangelize because they don’t know the faith well enough. They can’t explain everything as well as Father does or Sister does. If they start talking faith, they might get exposed for the gaps in their own understanding or the weaknesses in their own living out of the faith. They don’t know where to begin in giving “directions” as to what it means to be a Christian, so it seems better to just leave the topic of faith to the “professionals.”
But such an understanding of evangelization misses the heart of what evangelization is. It is not really about downloading into someone else’s brain or even heart a set of facts, beliefs, dogmas and practices. Rather, it’s about what Andrew does after his encounter with the Lord. He goes to his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus.
If you’re wild about Bob and wish Joe knew him too, you can tell Joe about Bob until you’re blue in the face, but the best way to have him actually get to know Bob is to have him simply come over and meet him. The rest will unfold in their own conversations and the unique relationship that they form with each other.
In order to evangelize, you don’t need to know everything about the faith, nor do you have to be good at articulating it all. All that’s needed is to encounter our Lord in your own life and then invite others to come do the same. He’ll take care of the rest. Such encounters happen most tangibly through the Sacraments and the profound gift we have in the divine liturgy where we meet our Risen Lord, but they can also happen in the experience of genuine Christian community. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
In today’s fractured world, Catholics need to cultivate the art of building what a spiritual father of mine, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, SJ, called “islands of communion,” or more simply, “islands of humanity” – oases of genuine Christian friendship, where the love of God and of each other is given space to nurture us.
Creating such an oasis might be as simple as collecting all the smartphones at the beginning of a family dinner and engaging in meaningful conversation with each other. In the days of COVID-19, it might consist of that closest circle of friends you’ve stayed in contact with and maybe even agreed to arrange play-dates for your kids. You might consider taking time to pray the rosary together with those closest friends about the needs of your families, friends, local community and the world.
Just this past week, I found myself stranded in a hotel as I awaited a COVID-19 test result required to fly back to my university. The simple act of lighting candles to pray in the morning and the evening each day made that hotel room an island of communion rather than a desert of loneliness.
Encounters like these with the Lord in our midst are distinct joys. To evangelize is simply to invite others into that joy to share it with you. Jesus does the rest. And who knows, in inviting them you just might gain a new best friend.