A number of years ago, I belonged to a parish that brought Communion to a local hospital each Sunday. One Sunday, as I approached one of the rooms and looked in, all I could see were white sheets covering a mound of pillows. Coming around the bed, I discovered a small, emaciated woman in a fetal position, all but lost among the bed linens. Her eyes were open, so I approached and said: Good morning. My name is Ann, and I’ve come to bring you Communion. She gave no response except to stare directly at me. I thought perhaps she was hard of hearing, so I repeated myself, only louder. She stared; a tear formed in the corner of each eye. I’m sorry, I told her. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I stood quietly for a few minutes, praying. The tears began to spill out onto her wrinkled cheeks.
Finally I said, You’re scared, aren’t you? She nodded. Why are you scared? I been so bad. I been so bad. I sought clarification: You’ve been so bad? She repeated, I been so bad. It was difficult for me to imagine this shriveled up old woman having committed serious sins; but it occurred to me, she hadn’t always been old and shriveled up. Have you been to confession? I asked. She nodded and said again, But I been so bad.
Near the end of her life, this sick woman had been churched, but she had not been evangelized. She didn’t know about the love God had for her and his readiness to forgive her, and she was scared to death of death.
Evangelization means sharing with another the irrefutable fact that God loves that person, regardless of how bad he or she has been. It’s not very complicated. We’re not talking about standing on street corners shouting, or forcing people to listen to a prepared script about God’s plan of salvation. We offer the good news of God’s love, both verbally and by the way we live.
Right after Jesus’ baptism, Mark reports that he went into Galilee, where he proclaimed the good news. When John’s disciples asked Jesus who he was, he told them to tell John that among healings and other miracles, the good news was being preached. That is what Jesus did, and it is what he wants us to do. Jesus told us we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, and that he would be with us until the end of time. He chose us to go and bear fruitfruit that would last. What kind of fruit will last longer than that associated with eternity?
We evangelize where we are, at home, at work, in the neighborhood, in our extended families, in our volunteer work. And it is a process of sowing, watering, cultivating and reaping. We do our part by living our faith in such a way that it is evident and by being ready to talk about it when an occasion presents itself or can be made. In 1 Peter 3, Peter tells us: Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully (1 Pet 3:15-16).
Knowing about God’s love for us makes a tremendous difference. Two years ago my husband and I were on a New Year’s cruise down the western coast of Mexico. In one of the port stops, we took a city tour. We were window-shopping on a pleasant street with evenly paved sidewalks. Somehow my husband fell forward off a small step, hit his head on a concrete pillar and immediately became a quadriplegic.
Within a matter of hours we were on a medical evacuation plane to our home hospital. The plane accommodated my husband’s ventilator, a defibrillator, IV equipment, two physicians and me. I sat in the corner and held the defibrillator. At home, the neurosurgeon stabilized his neck and inserted permanent throat and stomach tubes. Because of the extent of the damage, my husband would never move or breathe on his own again. The surgeon told my husband, if at any time he no longer wanted to live this way, they could discontinue the ventilator.
My husband’s three sons came. Each of us spent time with him individually. He was completely alert, but could communicate only minimally.
On the sixth day, with all of us at his bedside, he told us, End it. I asked, Are you sure? He indicated that he was. The ventilator was discontinued, and he died in a matter of minutes.
My husband was both churched and evangelized. He knew God loved him and would take care of him. He went peacefully to a life that was changed, not ended. His pastor said it best at his funeral:
Perfectly conscious, perfectly clear, it was a strong man of faith and caring who said, End it. Turn off the ventilator. Peacefully, with the assurance of his faith and trust in Jesus the Christ, this quiet man of integrity on Saturday passed from this earth into the presence of God in heaven.
Was his death painful to me? More than I can sayand it still is. But St. Paul said in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, We want you to be quite certain about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus; God will bring them with him (1 Thess 4:13-14). I, too, am both churched and evangelized. I believe in God’s love.
Does evangelization make a difference? It makes a profound difference, not only in eternity but in this life, as we face the inevitable. Should we evangelize? Jesus said we should, and in Romans, St. Paul asked how anyone will come to believe who has not heard.
Could it be any clearer?