Godtalk: Attracting People to Christ
We have all experienced unexpected acts of kindness from time to time. Surely the whole of life will be more enjoyable if we learn to value and appreciate the natural goodness that is in others, rather than think of the world only as evil, and that as Christians, we have a monopoly of goodness. Goodness is the fruit of the love shown by God when he created humankind.
God later came to us in the person of Jesus as a continuation of that initial love. This now enables those who receive him to bear even greater fruit by sharing in his divine and eternal life through the Holy Spirit, allowing us in turn to share that even greater love and goodness with all of humankind.
This is what Evangelisation is all about. The proclamation of the Gospel to others builds on the life, the love and the goodness given to all humankind from the beginning. Evangelisation continues the work of Christ's redemption, and that redemption was not a divine remedy brought to totally corrupt humankind. Redemption is offered to us all because, as individuals, we need to be freed (saved) from selfishness, the root of all sin. Redemption is not a rethinking of God's original creation or a suggestion that created humankind had a design fault.
We ask others not to judge the Church by the sexual behaviour of the Borgia Popes, by the faults of the Crusades and of the forced conversions in Sixteenth Century Latin America, by the scandal of pederast priests and the mistaken cover-up by the hierarchy of the Church, or by misuse of power.
Are we as Christians not similarly obliged not to judge humankind by malign dictators, by the financial corruption of big business, by the lack of compassion shown by those for whom medicine is a profession rather than a vocation, or by the unfortunate excesses of individuals?
Men and women from the beginning have deserted God, and continue to do so: but God has never deserted them. There is good and evil amongst all men and women in this world, whether or not they follow Christ.
Salvation (from selfishness) is through Jesus Christ. We proclaim it to fellow human beings in whom we admire the fruits of God's creative love, as we try to lead them to appreciate now the wonders of his redemptive love.
The last Council of the Church fifty years ago set out not to be condemnatory or judgmental, but to uncover God's goodness in humankind, to show that mercy (loving kindness) is not just one of God’s qualities but the essence of God. God is Love. (1 John 4.17 ) And if there is one feature of natural goodness which stands out in our brothers and sisters whether religious or not, it is their instinctive sensitivity.
Vatican II tried to emulate this sensitivity when it declared that the joys and the hopes, as well as the sorrows and worries, of the whole world, were the joys and the hopes, and the sorrows and the worries of the Church. (Gaudium et Spes) Today we can drive forward that sensitive approach by more open and enthusiastic recognition of the good done by those who do not share our Christian values.
In other words, our evangelisation will have a much greater chance of success if we can draw others to Christ through their admiration of the sensitivity, understanding and admiration we show for them, rather than by condemnation of the very world in which they, as individual non-Christians, lead lives of what is often sheer human goodness.
Peter Knott SJ