In this beautiful homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly looks at the question of how to evangelize. Listen, because his answer will surprise you!
First Reading: Amos 7:12-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14 or 1:3-10
Gospel: Mark 6:7-13
In today’s gospel, this is Jesus, for the very first time sending his disciples, all by themselves, into the villages and towns where he himself had preached before. But he sent them up two by two, which has become sort of a tradition.
And of course two by two is much better than one or three. Why? Because two by two are kind of companions for each other, and they, since it’s the first time, they’re going to have to tell the Good News to the people and explain all the wonderful things that the Messiah is bringing to them.
Because of that, they were a little bit of nervous, especially since they had no education. We forget that. They were fishermen. They were trained to fish and that was about all. Some might be able to read a little, write a little, not much. And here they go all into these strange places. And they are to do what Jesus does. He has come to bring the Good News to all the people.
And what does he give them in this journey? Well, if we went today in our world, we would all have to go to school for a few weeks and be told exactly what to do and explain theology and philosophy and all the different things. And then, of course, we’d have to be told just about everything, and we would go heavily armed with books and pamphlets and all the paraphernalia that comes with modern evangelization.
This is an amazing story. Jesus just takes twelve fisherman and he says, “Okay, go to it now.” Why? Because the future is yours, not mine, you see. “I will be with you all days, even to the end of time.” That is true. “I will comfort you. I will never leave you.” And yet you must do it alone, or you will feel that you’re doing it alone, because the only way the word of God will reach the ends of the earth is through, not Jesus, but through men and women who take their lives seriously and who live their lives seriously, because this is the way, by their work and their prayer and their commitment, that the word of God is spread, and spreads out through the whole world and from generation to generation.
So never ask: “When is God going to do this? When is God going to do that? When is the parish going to do this? When is the parish going to do that?” Because the answer is you’re supposed to do it right now. Right now you are supposed to do it and you can do it with your whole life.
Does it work? Well, if you look back in Jesus’ time, nothing has survived to the present day of that whole community, the whole world, except one thing: the voice of Jesus, the gospel of Jesus, the words of the Messiah. And that is as fresh in your ears and in my ears as it was to Peter and all the others who took this challenge and said, “Yes, from now on it is not my life but His life, and I am to labour in the vineyard of the Lord as one of his disciples.”
We’ll talk a little bit about modern evangelization.
We are all called to spread the word of God throughout the whole world in our own small or large ways. And so there’s a couple of things that sometimes are overlooked, but that are absolutely necessary for the spreading of the gospel – at least I think so.
I’ll give you the first one. It’s a story, and I think many of you have heard it before. But these are little suggestions about how to change the world.
The first one is about my grandfather. My grandfather was an Irishman and he was in charge of the Lord de Freyne’s manor in Ireland at the time. And he had a lovely little girl who followed him every place, which was my mother. And she used to sit with him in the place where he did business. Now, he was the provider for all the lands that the Lord de Freyne had, given to him. So he was very responsible. But he would sit in this little place and there was all kinds of stuff around. People would come in and buy this, buy that, doing business with the Lord de Freyne.
Well, to make a long story short, he would be sitting there with my mother sitting next to him. And he was a lovely man, but he died young. He died when she was only seven and she never quite got over it. And she told me this story.
She was sitting there in this kind of a shop, place of business, and there was a gentleman came in, a rather raggedy little fellow, from the town in which they lived, which was in … Frenchpark was the name of the place (because of the Lord de Freyne – he was a Frenchman from France who became an Irishman through the generations).
Anyhow, he was a little raggedy man but he had a kind of love of my grandfather and he used to chit chat about everything. But the main thing he chit chatted about was treacle.
Do you know what treacle is? Treacle is like you take sugar…Treacle was very important in the old days. If you have a big barrel in your… you know if you’re selling things you always have a barrel of treacle. It’s sort of made from sugar. It’s a greasy brown ugly looking thick mass of stuff. And you give treacle to dogs and cats and chickens, and you give treacle to people.
Anyhow, he is an expert on treacle. This man who was probably one of the poorest men in town, but he’s got one thing and it’s treacle. And so he’s talking to my grandfather about treacle this and treacle that, and treacle up and treacle down, and the uses of treacle and the things about treacle. And my grandfather’s very patient. He just sits there in wonder at this poor man.
Anyhow, in the meantime, he had a wife who was a very snobby lady because she (inaudible). And she’d come in and she would come yelling from the end of this shop. “Mr. Kelly!” She always called him Mr. Kelly and she was always called Mrs. Kelly.
And Mr. Kelly, he was listening to the treacle man, so he was distracted. So she got angry and she walked out. And then five minutes later she walked back in again, trying to get his attention. And she couldn’t get it because he was talking about treacle, and she walked out again.
Well, finally the treacle man had had his say and my grandfather shook hands with him and he said, “That was very interesting, you know. I really enjoyed that conversation.”
And then, of course, his wife came in after the man left and she was really angry. She said, “Look, I came in three, four, five times and you were talking to this guy, and what is he? He’s a nothing. He’s a nothing in the village. He’ll never be anything. And not only that, but he always talks about treacle this and treacle that and treacle up and treacle down and I’m so sick of it.” Anyhow, she finally had her say and my grandfather smiled and my mother was looking at this.
And she walked out. She walked out and my grandfather turned to my little mother, who was just a child at the time, and he said to her, “Sarah Jane, remember this for the rest of your life: Never steal from any man his song.” Think of that now. “Never steal from any man his song.”
What he was saying was: this poor, poor, poor man, his only thing in the world, his song, was he an expert on treacle. And so my grandfather recognized that. And the whole world could have broken out in flame and he would still sit there kindly and thinking about the man and giving him a whole audience and sending him home free and happy that he had been listened to by at least someone in town.
What has that got to do with evangelization? Well, it has everything to do with evangelization, because to evangelize means only one thing: you treat people with the respect that God has given them, and you care for people with the respect that God has given them.
And if you can do that, you could leave all your books behind, all your wonderful sermons, all your hard work. What you must learn to do is to love him as Jesus loves him, not as you love him, but as Jesus loves him.
And so the first thing in evangelization if you want save the world is: sit and listen and learn from people, especially the ones who need to be sat with, and you need to learn from them and the ones that you will learn deeply and you will love them.
And what do they find? They find that they have spent time with Jesus.
Now, Pope Benedict in recent years told us how, as a community, we can actually put into practice this idea of respect for the people that we might hope to convert. That word “convert” is not used too much any more, and rightfully so.
What our Pope Benedict has said is, “When people who enter into inter-religious faith and they come, and we all should, we should get to know our brothers and sisters who are believers in Jesus but they have a different way of expressing it and a different way of showing it. Or they don’t have any belief at all except maybe they believe in something different that’s quite different from all of us.
Anyhow, what the Pope says, “We must sit down and talk to each other.” And you say, “Yes, because we have to convert all those people. Right?” No. It has nothing to do to with conversion and I am quoting him now. He said the only reason that we sit down and talk to each other, the only reason is not for us to talk but for us to listen, to listen to what they have to say about their own religions, their own ways of believing, their own ways of acting. And he says, “And you will find a great richness coming out of them. And this is their gift to you. And what you give them is the same thing. Only speaking what you believe in, what you care about, no (inaudible), no argument, so that when both of your groups get up to go home, both of them feel they’ve been enriched by each other and have indeed become brothers and sisters in the Lord. That’s a wonderful concept now.
So, we are not …
I remember when I went to Taiwan for the first time and I came back to New York, and one of the sisters there, an Irish American sister said, “Did you covert anybody?” And I said, “No, but I’ll tell you this secret. I spent seven years there and they converted me.” And she was a little bit shocked. But I was in little villages all the time and I was talking to these wonderful people who worked so hard and loved so hard and cared so much, and self-sacrifice was an ongoing thing in a little village because they were poor and needy, but they felt that they were rich because they had each other.
And so now when we think of evangelization, what we’re saying is we must become like Jesus. We must learn to love like him and care like he does and wonder with him and walk with them and become a part of other people’s understanding and other people’s lives. And if you do that you will have found Jesus, because this is the only way that Jesus comes to us, not out of the sky, not when you’re all alone praying your little prayer, which is very important, but when, two by two, you gather with each other and you share without even talking about religion. You share the love and care, forgiveness and concern of Jesus the Lord.
And this the only way you’ll ever be able to really see this world with all its trials and sadness, all its problems and all its wars and all its harebrained ideas. In all of this, the only thing that will bring us together is Jesus, who asks nothing from us but gives us what? He gives us God’s love, God’s caring.
Now I’m going to end this. This is a reflection written by somebody else: “Working for Christ.” And that is the subject “To work for Christ.”
To do the work of Christ is really quite simple.
It means to be faithful in little things,
for to be faithful in little things is a big thing.
It means to do one’s task,
no matter how humble it may be,
not only thoroughly but joyfully.
It means to make oneself available,
yet never to seek the limelight.
It means to strive to make oneself useful
without seeking to push oneself.
It means to carry one’s burden,
without, as far as possible, becoming a burden on others.
In a word it means to be at one’s post,
helpful and faithful, loyal and constant.
(Saint Mother Teresa)
Lord, make me an instrument for the building up of your Kingdom, now and in this world.