Have you heard the good news?

“Have you heard the good news?” cried out a well-dressed young man on the corner of Main Street and Coffee Street.  His youthful appearance revealed a hint of anxiety as he stood alone on a Friday night announcing loudly these words with conviction.  He held a stack of pamphlets on his right hand.  “Have you heard the good news?” exclaimed once again the young man as I approached the metal steps behind him which led down to a coffee shop called Coffee Underground.

“Yes, I have heard the good news,” suddenly I heard my friend say to the young man.  I was stunned since I had already chosen to ignore the sidewalk evangelist.  “That Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save me from my sins.”  A conversation ensued which ended abruptly with pronounced silence and a perplexed face.  “Yes, I do attend a church,” said my friend, “I go to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church.”  The young man was stunned.  How did a Catholic know the answer to his question?

Tonight I walked by the place where this exchange occurred eighteen years ago.  I stopped briefly remembering the event, and realized that time had not passed – this moment had been frozen in time.  I saw the young man and heard him clearly exclaiming loudly on the corner, “have you heard the good news?”  It is as if almost two decades later, the young man has not ceased to ask every soul passing by Main Street in Greenville, South Carolina the same question, “have you heard the good news?”

I now admire the courage of the young sidewalk evangelist I once found fanatical and irritating.  We live in a world desperate to hear not just any good news, but the Good News offered by Jesus Christ.  The Church has been commissioned by Christ to preach the Good News to all peoples and to all nations, the Gospel that fills lives with hope, purpose, and meaning.  For many life has become a daily struggle to be endured rather than something to be actively embraced with joy.  The Center for Disease Control recently reported that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and that suicide rates have increased in almost every single state since the year 2000.

I cannot argue that suicide has increased in the measure that society has become more secularized, but I firmly believe that faith is part of the solution.  Saint Augustine wrote many centuries ago, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.”  Restless hearts have always existed, a restlessness that some come to believe can only be remedied by bringing everything to an end.  Many identify with Job of Scripture: the losses and burdens become too much.  Even Job reached a point where he longed for his flesh to see God, reaching almost a point of despair and loss of strength.

As a priest I have buried a fair number of men and women who committed suicide.  I have ministered to people who have attempted suicide and their families.  It is impossible to know what a person truly has in his or her mind, or what struggles they are enduring, so we are always called to love.  We must announce the Good News through word and deed: primarily that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way.”  God is near, identifies with our struggles, and takes an interest in our lives.  This Good News allows us to “approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Hebrews 4:15).”  God makes no mistakes; and He is with us through it all.

Picture belongs to Tim Snell, used with permission from here

 

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