Pope Francis speaks frequently of the need to go out to the peripheries. While this can be interpreted many different ways, I recently I saw this lived out—not in the “peripheries” of the inner-city poor or on the faraway soil of a foreign country, but smack in the middle of Hollywood. Let’s face it. When it comes to places we like to point to as the center of all that is wrong with society, there are few places Christians like to point to more than Hollywood. If we wanted to list the “peripheries” of morality and goodness, I think I would probably want to put Hollywood somewhere near the top of the list. Then after writing the list, I would want to go hide in a nice comfortable commune of Christians who have similar lists.
A few weeks ago, I headed out to California to visit friends. And while the trip was simply for pleasure, I could probably count it as a business trip. Because I learned more about what some would call the “new evangelization” there than I would at any seminar on Evangelium Gaudium.
Here I saw a living, breathing example of evangelization in the form of a Catholic family. They likely don’t even know what they taught me. Why? Because they were simply living their lives. (And that’s kind of the whole point.) But here are four ways they showed themselves to be evangelizers:
- They love each other. I have never seen a family as close as this family. And I’m not referring to the fact that they still live in close proximity to each other. I’m referring to the way they treat each other. Whether it’s something small, like leaving a little note of encouragement, or something larger, like offering to do a load of laundry or secretly cleaning the house – they are constantly showing each other love. You don’t have to be with them more than a few minutes before you realize that they really care for each other. How often do we fail to outwardly show our own family that we love them? How easy is it to bicker or pick at the one you love the most? This doesn’t go unnoticed by the world, either. If “they will know we are Christians by our love,” what do they think when we can’t even love our own flesh and blood? I am not saying this family is perfect, but they certainly know how to show their love in outward deeds. And too often I fail at that.
- They love others. Their love doesn’t stop with each other. They love their neighbors. And this is what spoke most strongly to me over the weekend. They live in California, and they are active in the theatre world. To put it simply, they aren’t always surrounded by like-minded people. But this does not temper their joy and their love. Whereas I would be tempted to stay in my bubble with people who don’t challenge me, that was never part of Christ’s mission. Pope Francis reminds us, “Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. He said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’” (EG, 113). This requires us to leave our comfort zone and love even those who don’t think like us or act like us. It’s easy to be friends with those just like us … but Christ sends us out to dinner with everyone from the Pharisees to the Samaritans. Not to convert them, but to love them. And then to allow Christ to work through our love.
- They’re not afraid to speak. While they aren’t beating their coworkers and friends over the head with the Gospel, they’re also not afraid to speak of their experience of God. They don’t hide the fact that they pray, go to daily Mass, have friends in convents, or have certain counter-cultural beliefs. They’re not afraid to say things like “God has a plan,” to people who may not believe in God. Too often we use that ubiquitous quote attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words” to actually never use words. “I’m living the Gospel! That means I don’t actually have to speak about it.” But they don’t live by that cop-out. They live the Gospel AND use words. Because let’s face it… words are usually necessary. But they’re only effective if preceded by actions.
- They’re joyful witnesses. This is a family you want to be around. Why are people who live by different belief systems still attracted to them? Quite simply, because they’re fun and good. While the Gospel is hard and requires sacrifice, it also gives us joy. Too often we show the world dowdy faces of bitter apostles who are suffering under the rules and regulations of Christianity. No one wants to follow that! “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (EG, 10) It is not that this family hasn’t felt the cross that living the Faith entails. On the contrary, they face the cultural tide every day and haven’t given into it. The youngest daughter, for example, won’t accept theatre roles that would require her to compromise her morality or dignity. They aren’t willing to shy away from the hard truths of Christianity, but that doesn’t take away their joy. Christianity isn’t oppressive, it’s life-giving.
This family is a family of evangelization. They have helped people convert to Catholicism and they have welcomed fallen-away Catholics back home. Why? Because they live the Gospel and they live it in joy. While it’s tempting to flee into a protective bubble, this family reminded me of the importance of living the Christian Faith even in places where many would assume evangelization is futile.
They’re not doing it dramatically. They’re not preaching on street corners or making bold declarations of faith. They’re not pointing fingers at people they know aren’t living according to natural or Christian law. They are showing the world what it means to be Christian—loving God and loving their neighbor (even when they may disagree with that neighbor).
Everyone has different strengths, different callings, and different mission fields. Not everyone is called to live in Hollywood. But we’re all called to live the Christian faith in situations where it’s difficult. As Francis reminds us in Evangelium Gaudium, “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).
Where is he calling you today?