There is a uniqueness to our Advent this year in that it falls within the Year of Faith begun by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, last October. The pope has centered this Year of Faith on the Creed, calling all Catholics to re-examine the truths of our faith, our adherence to them and our willingness to share them with friend and stranger alike.
In his homily for the opening of the Year of Faith on Oct. 11, 2012, Pope Benedict spoke of the “desertification” of the world, describing society today as a kind of desert or void wherein godlessness runs rampant.
As we have seen in the recent defeat of the marriage amendment, today’s majority has turned away from the will of God, as known through revelation and the natural law, in order to seek lives built on self-desires and self-interests. Into such a secular context, this Year of Faith calls us to bear witness within society to the Kerygma or truth of the Gospel in new ways that are both attractive and persuasive.
Spreading the Gospel
One concrete example of this kind of evangelizing effort involved 12 members of the St. Paul Seminary who embarked during Holy Week last academic year on a mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to the campus of the University of Minnesota.
They had heard of seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., doing campus outreach at George Mason University and thought they might be called to undertake a similar venture.
So they began to pray over the course of several weeks, asking for the Father’s will to be known to them, and they were eventually convicted in their desire to spread the Gospel in a new way.
On Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week and again on Easter Monday, they went over to the University of Minnesota campus at 8 a.m. to spend the next five hours of that day simply initiating conversations with students, letting them know about the love of Christ, which was central to their own lives, and inviting students to consider a relationship with the Lord.
To their amazement, the responses of the students were very positive; they were hungry to hear about God and they couldn’t believe that this message was coming from Catholics.
They encountered about 150 students from a wide variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds. Among them were fallen-away Catholics, Protestants, atheists, Hindus and even students who simply had never heard of Jesus.
One seminarian encountered a young lady from China in a food court who said that all she knew about Jesus was that he was born in a stable and had a friend called Mary Magdalene.
The seminarian opened his Bible to John 3:16 and read of God’s great love for the world, including her. She admitted that she never knew of such a God and began to cry. They continued to talk. The seminarian gave his Bible to her and showed her how to connect with other Catholics on campus to learn more about Jesus.
Empowered by the Spirit
In reflecting on their experience, these seminarians, whom you will remember are not ordained and therefore still members of the lay faithful, spoke of the empowerment they received from their prayer to the Holy Spirit in overcoming fears of approaching perfect strangers.
They also discovered for themselves how to proclaim the heart of the Gospel that is the Church’s Kerygma. And, this experience awakened in them the daily need to evangelize persons around
While their own three-day mission was quite extraordinary, it should challenge each of us, despite the responsibilities of family, full-time employment and hectic schedules, to examine prayerfully where the Lord might be calling each one of us to bring the Good News to another person.
This Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Word-made-flesh, I urge you to think about who among your family, friends or neighbors you could invite back to church as a fitting way to commemorate this Advent season that falls within this Year of Faith.
God bless you!