How Do We Proclaim the Gospel During These Challenging Times?
by Diocese of Des Moines | January 13, 2021
It feels to me that we are living into an extraordinary, precipice moment. Perhaps we have not faced as great an existential threat to our nation since Pearl Harbor or perhaps the October Missile Crisis. I use the word “moment”, but what we are experiencing on our social-political landscape will, of course, ripple out over the months and years to come.
I am grappling with how we, as the Church, best respond to this moment and faithfully proclaim the Gospel to Catholics and to the world. No doubt, many of you are likewise in discernment on this question. How can we thread the needle in this treacherous environment and yet not fail to be prophetic voices? How do we hold the middle and yet speak Christian truth?
A core facet of Jesus’ mission and ministry is both seemingly safe and yet entirely radical: It is never okay to hate. Or, put more aptly in the positive: Always and everywhere, we are called to love. Indeed, we are even further commanded by Jesus to pray for our persecutors (Mt 5:44).
In this extraordinarily tenuous moment, I think we need to lean into this simple but extraordinary Gospel precept in all that we say and do. This unmistakable message of Jesus must be delivered with clarity, repetition and increasing ardency to counter the din of vitriol that is capturing our culture, the fruits of which include alienation and violence.
I believe that tripling-down on this core tenant of Christianity in this moment accomplishes two things:
1. It challenges people (all of us) to search interiorly and ask God, in his mercy, to root out all vestiges of hate therein, so as to prepare the way for love to rule our hearts and guide our actions.
2. It invites us to measure all messaging that comes to us (from friends, social media, etc.) against the divine imperative to love, so that anything grounded in hatred will be exposed as a lie profoundly opposed to the person and mission of Jesus.
I also believe that if Catholics can well learn and model the command to love (especially those with whom we disagree), there will be no more powerful witness in our society to the saving power and truth of Jesus Christ. If Catholics, one by one, shine in this moment (and testify that our love flows from God’s love), conversion of hearts and the repair of social fabric will result. However, Catholics who succumb to hatred in this moment will be a scandal to a country so in need of light.
Can it be so simple? Isn’t it ridiculously naïve to think that love can change everything? Well, yes and no. From a natural perspective, there is so much work ahead of us to stabilize and move forward constructively. God yearns for justice and healing and we must participate in both. However, as believers in a divine reality, we know that all the efforts in the world, without God, will ultimately fail. In our tenaciously-held supernatural worldview, we trust in God’s providence and power. So, we pray that God will cleanse and expand our hearts. And we love with the love of our crucified and risen Savior.
Love does not mean abandoning values and accountability. Love is not the absence of hatred or mere indifferent acceptance. Love is active, constructive, courageous-unto-heroic. It reaches across chasms to offer reconciliation in families and communities. Love becomes possible only when we take the time to get to know another. Love is a complicated holy mystery and it is demanding! Now is a great time to revisit Paul’s simple-yet-profound treatment of love: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
What will be the Catholic contribution to the American experiment in this moment of extreme tension and division? If we refuse to hate, history will judge us well. If we choose to love, by God’s grace we may begin to evangelize our neighborhoods and our workplaces and help to heal our nation.
Tom Quinlan is the executive director of the St. Joseph Educational Center in West Des Moines.