ST PAUL CRIED IN THE BIBLE: ” Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”
The transformation of Paul from sinner to be one of the greatest evangelizers of all time is instructive.
One of the mandates of Vatican II is for all -from Pope to the last lay person to go out and preach the Gospel. It is not a “new Gospel” but a ” new effort” to present the message with new “ardor, methods, and expressions.”
The average age of priests has been growing northwards- there are fewer replacements than those who die or leave the priesthood. It is, therefore, not only right but practical, that lay persons should be immersed in the world of evangelization.
Practical – because there is hardly any place in the Philippines where no Christian lay person cannot be found.” Lay persons can reach places where the clergy and the religious cannot.”
One had likened such evangelization in three forms: to plant the seed, water the plant or uproot the weeds.
Planting the seed is reaching out to those who have not ever heard of God, the unbelievers, agnostics and the atheists. Watering the plant is to nurture the believers into a deeper personal relationship with God -and in their new-found holiness – prod them to reach out more to others for conversion- as a mission.
Uprooting the weeds is to remove the curse of those who are Christians baptized only in name -but live lives outside the Word and the Sacrament and, therefore, immersed in moral relativism and sin. Hopefully, they will come back as a new reborn seed to start a renewed life.
A “new Pentecost” occurs as these laymen receive the power of the Holy Spirit by Whose grace they are equipped with the “right tongues” to speak the Word and more importantly to display the fruits of the Holy Spirit in their actions as witnessed in the community.
Often, it is their behavior of Christia caring and love, -not so much the “words” they say- that edify others to join the flock. Notice how some persons -by their mere presence and attention -make people feel that they have encountered a piece of Heaven and God’s love on earth.
They often show “authentic love, concern, and respect for every person they come into contact with”- the first quality needed for an effective evangelizer.
The active involvement of the Laity in spreading the Good News is shown in the massive growth of the membership of lay organizations.
In the local scene, we see several active Catholic renewal groups acting as extended arms of the clergy and the religious in spreading God’s words.
We learned that the entry of CFC and the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) in Bohol came in the same year- thus the two communities are celebrating this week their 25th year anniversaries.
CFC’s silver year theme is “Strong and Faithful” while BCBP banners of the theme 25 years journey with Faith, Hope, and Challenges.
Have these lay organizations been successful in playing their role in evangelizing the island folks? Let us check the Catholic churches these days.
No wonder, we see Catholic churches jammed with the faithful every Sunday.
The St Joseph Cathedral, which is the seat of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, is (pleasantly) surprisingly jam packed with people from its first 4:30 am dawn mass up to its last mass at 8 in the evening.
One can literally see people fill up every nook of the cathedral, not to mention the several masses in all the 15 barangays which have their own chapels.
It is obvious that since the start of these renewal movements, the clergy also started feeling the deepening of people’s faith.
To many of these lay people, the bottom line experience is that God Who they knew to be a distant “something” in the past- has become so personal in their relationship so that their faith has been strengthened by various life experiences.
This may not be a welcome news to the Church. Because even the understanding of tithing or giving back to the Lord ( of 10% of one’s fruits) has been very well articulated by the lay people, much deeper than how the Church has explained over the years.
Faith- building is the key denominator of these lay organizations. And the bonus of this is that these lay evangelizers can not only quote the Holy Scriptures but will share of their daily personal encounters with the Lord- the ups and downs in life. Nothing theoretical and canonical.
This faith- building has even made the lay people look at trials as part of God’s blessings. Because of their personal encounters with the Lord, the Laity is beginning to believe that trials are God’s ways of wanting to have a more intimate relationship with man.
As it is said- what is important is not what happens “to us -but what happens -in us- when we undergo tribulations.”
It cannot be denied that man becomes closest to His maker when shaken with trials, be it health, relationship, monetary or whatever events that would seem to make one’s life a dead end.
And by their fruits, you shall know them.
No longer are they part of the great “corrupted and corruptor” tandem in their business deals. No longer is vile language attached to their daily conversation but soft, understanding verbiage.
Their family, once fragmented, is currently an epitome of unity and openness. Now they see their employees and helps at home as partners in the drama called life- instead of being persons to be exploited, belittled and insulted.
No longer are they sensitive, impatient and demanding to those people around them. They are a picture of serenity, forgiveness and slow to anger. They are always fun to be around with.
There are some members of these lay organizations who we playfully call as the “poster boys” of their groups. Named such -because in their previous lives- they were transgressors of every commandment in Moses’ tablet. These days – they are the walking proofs of uprightness, good decorum and reeking with the fear of the Lord.
Truth to tell -these are the very people which can attract more souls to the movement- than those saintly ones who became saintlier in the movement.
The transforming power of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit become glaringly evident in their 360 degrees turn to conversion by grace.
Some cynics question others in the movement- who are still living in some form of sin – and blast them as just joining a “social club” so as not to be left out in the community and are just “whited sepulchers.”
This is a narrow outlook because sinners -precisely yearn for a community of faithful who can help him change his course, nurture him back to the fold and be present in his sinful misery.
No one is perfect – only God is. And so what is expected of them- as the Rev Fr Tony Pernia so articulately said in one marriage homily- is only “progress, not perfection.”
Finally, we are edified by many of them who have taken the Eight Beatitudes to heart and have often taken the cause of the oppressed, the poor, the distressed and the lonely instead of just enjoying the ivory towers of privilege and social wealth which they have at their easy disposal. It is they -who have truly taken the heart of the Gospel of love – into their hearts.
Today, we congratulate with all our admiration the Couples for Christ and the BCBP lay organizations here.
As these lay communities mark their silver year of partnership with the church, we do hope that this journey will become more meaningful in the hearts of men. May God bless them all. Shalom!
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