Incarnational Evangelization

I’m as keen as the next guy about apologetics, having a friendly intellectual dog fight, swapping proof texts and proving my point, but one of the things that is a bit worrying about the orthodox Catholic scene in the USA is a tendency to focus on the fine points of an argument or the precise definitions of a moral decision, doctrinal position or liturgical nicety to the exclusion of a real encounter with Christ.

Sometimes on Catholic radio the jabber is all about the precise, what if and why and who and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and we hear precious little about the need for a personal, life changing, radical experience of the risen Lord. We hear so much from a certain contingent about this particular liturgy, that way of doing things, and how everybody else who doesn’t do things our way is wrong. We hear so little about the need for each one of us to have the experience of meeting the Ancient of Days at the Burning Bush, hearing the still small voice of love or coming face to face with the Shekinah Glory in the Tent of Meeting.

In his encyclical Into the New Millennium, John Paul the Great emphasizes how important it is to the New Evangelization to ‘cast out into the deep.’ The very first step is not having all the arguments and winning all the debates. It’s not getting every liturgical rubric performed just right. It’s not even living the most morally impeccable life. The first thing is to meet Jesus Christ. The first thing is to plug into the power. The first thing is to meet the Son of God and Son of Mary. The first thing is to contemplate the face of Christ. Benedict XVI says the same thing, (I paraphrase) “Christianity is not primarily a list of dogmas or a list of rubrics or regulations, but an encounter with a living person–Jesus Christ.”

John Paul says first we contemplate the face of Christ. We do this through Eucharistic Adoration, through attentive reading of the gospels, through attentive praying of the rosary, through attentive listening prayer. Then when we have contemplated the face of Christ his radiance begins to reflect in our faces, and others see the face of Christ shining through our face and they are attracted to him.

This is incarnational evangelization. This is Christ shining through us to a needy world. This is what we pray for when we say at Mass, “By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in his divinity, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

"Catholicism has always defined the ideal but there are no limits on God's mercy and ..."

Tony Palmer: Is There Salvation Outside ..."
"With all due respect, Shaun, are you relegating the actual Faith to whatever the local ..."

Notes on Tony Palmer’s Funeral
"There are good parking valets and bad parking valets. There are good housesitters and bad ..."

The Case for Conversion to Catholicism
"did you vote for Bush Fr Longenecker? would you have?"

Understanding Iraq

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Amen! Preach it brother!

  • I used to think that about Saint Thomas Aquinas. A scholastic’s scholastic counting the angels on the head of a pin. Then I realized, this guy is smarter than me, and more devout too. I’m basically not fit to criticize the guy. So, sometimes the guy saying all the good stuff about the personal encounter with Christ is just covering for the fact that he’s got neither end covered. (Not that you are in that category. I’m just making the general point.)Warren

  • Absolutely. Just as intellectual games can help us avoid the encounter, sentimental subjectivism can help us avoid the need to do our homework. It’s both/and not either/or.

  • Thank you so much for this! How timely. I had a woman tell me the other day that Mass where I live is not as Holy as Mass where she is from. I said, “What?” I find the attitude absurd! Thank you!

  • I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a little while, but this is by far my favorite post.It touches a lot on what we are trying to do over at Intentional Disciples, a blog of the Catherine of Siena Institute ( stop on in if you can! I think you and your readers would add great things to the discussion! God Bless!

  • Robin Hunt

    How broad is the way that leads through incremental destructions; how earnest the distractions from that which is truly affirmational. “We can best unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice by joining in mind and heart with Christ, the principal Priest and Victim, . . .” Thanks for the good word.

  • I have been enjoying your blog for a while now. I particularly love the quest for truth coupled with humility and compassion.This article sums it up. Thank-you.

  • My first reaction to reading this piece was to echo David Palmer – if in rather more measured English tones [;>)]. However, on reflection I’d like to add this. How often have I heard exhortations from pulpits (of all kinds) that we must have ‘an encounter with the living Jesus’or words to that effect and thought ‘but what does that actually mean? What does it involve?’ Now you have of course set out some of the means which will make a lot of sense to those already committed. But what of those who are not? Faint hearted as I am, I’m not going to attempt to answer that here. But I do think preachers who adopt such a line need to stress that such an encounter is not going to be delivered up on a plate. Like anything else worthwhile, it requires commitment and effort and willingness to seek. And to the question, ‘why should I bother?’the answer is quite simply, ‘look around you in the supermarket or shopping mall to see the alternative. Is that all you want?’

  • Where was the picture taken and who took it? It’s one of the best I’ve seen.

  • Thanks for your comments all. Good point, Stephen. The ‘encounter’ is unique to each person, and each must be prepared to set out on their own adventure…by the way, David’s an Englishman too. C’mon…don’t be afeard of some good old fashioned enthusiasm! :-)Jeffrey, I grab photos from Google image searches. Am I a thief?

  • Great post, Fr. Longenecker! Thank you. Like Keith, I, too, hang out at Intentional Disciples.In response to Stephen’s comment, I’d remind us all of Jesus’ response to the disciple’s request that He teach them to pray (Lk 11:1-13). He gives them the Lord’s prayer, and then adds, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”I can’t help but believe that if I desire an encounter with Christ, pray for that encounter earnestly, and am willing to have my life changed in surprising and unexpected ways as a consequence of that encounter, God will respond. After all, where did my desire come from in the first place, but His prevenient grace?!

  • Not a thief, just a collector, as am I. From the look of that, I’ll have to see what else they might have.

  • Anonymous

    I believe the picture came from the coolest catholic youth site around, ( have it out there for sharing so I dont think they mind!

  • You know father, I’ve been around so many people as you have described in this post, and I’ve often wondered if the “argument” was the thing that made them feel Catholic instead of a relationship with Jesus. I also wonder if the church became exactly as they saw fit, if they would be bored and leave for lack of anything to complain about. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • Thanks for this. We need to hear more of this!