In an era of increasing secularization, the question of whether it is possible to live the Catholic faith in a way that is authentic but also peaceful and attractive to nonbelievers is raised again and again. How do we share the good news without continually ending up in moral or legalistic arguments?
In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis comes to our aid and writes this: “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’”
Pope Francis also quotes from the encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi by Pope Paul VI: “And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
Pope Francis reminds us that although a saving faith must be solidly grounded in the teachings of the Bible and the Catholic Church, these are not the starting points for anyone, including ourselves, for coming to belief in Jesus. And that is good news when we fear that our efforts to evangelize someone will be filled with conflict.
A faith that is authentic, peaceful, and attractive does not introduce itself remotely through rules and regulations but intimately through love and joy. It is neither caught up in nor brought down by argument. Such a faith, while not avoiding the commandments of the Lord, does not allow these to replace sharing the joy and peace of having encountered the risen Lord Jesus.
The answer to the question of how to peaceably share the good news in our day is found in asking how long it has been since you have encountered the Lord yourself. If it has been too long, there is a good chance that any attempts at evangelizing will be marked by unnecessary tension. But the good news here is that you can be at peace by holding on to Christ, because God is good all the time. Holding on tightly to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, keeps you steady on your feet, even amidst currents that would drag you down. Peace is possible, peace is real, because it comes straight from the Lord Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
Yes, Jesus is our peace. It is he who opens our hearts to encounter himself and to joyfully and peaceably share that encounter with others. May you be strengthened to live faithfully and to share the gospel powerfully, patiently, and with joy!
This is a selection from Finding God’s Peace in Everyday Challenges by Heidi Bratton, published by The Word Among Us Press, 2015. Available at www.wau.org/books