Although there are obviously exceptions—and perhaps even a significant number of exceptions—Catholics are not usually known for preaching on street corners, or actively recruiting new members for the church. Indeed, so much so that Pope Francis has felt the need to exhort priests and bishops to go out in active evangelizing ministry and not simply wait for spiritual seekers to come knocking on the church or rectory door. And if this reticence to actively evangelize is present among the clergy, it is generally equally true of the laity. However, it is well to remember that preaching on street corners or even utilizing other forms of outreach in evangelizing do not exhaust the ways in which we preach Christ and, potentially, draw others to him.
Andrew, who was clearly touched and changed by his brief afternoon-encounter with Jesus, goes in search of his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus in what will be a life-changing encounter for this chosen son of Jonah. Now although there may be specific instances where we feel compelled to do something similar, and bring another person to Christ, it is important to never forget that even without doing anything, we are—as Christians—either leading others to Christ or driving them further away from him. This reality is all-too-frequently confirmed by the various scandals that have beset our beloved Catholic Church—resulting in the falling away of so many of our brothers and sisters.
Nevertheless, it is not only estranged members of the church—or to outsiders—that we exert a positive or negative influence; in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways we are either supporting and affirming one another’s faith and commitment to Christ, or depriving our brothers and sisters of that support and affirmation. This is especially true within our monastic context where our community life and daily interactions cannot but influence one another. Thus, recognizing and serving Christ in one another is that gospel imperative that we either make easier or more difficult for one another. Holiness and purity of heart allow for that transparency of spirit through which the Christ, who dwells within us, radiates from our very being—leading others to more easily encounter Christ within us.
All of this is captured by that spiritual maxim—rightly or wrongly—attributed to Saint Francis: Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words. Fulfilling this exhortation demands that radical, demanding, total spiritual transformation by which we can say with Paul: I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. For then, all who encounter us and look upon us, behold Christ. And when we reach this ultimate goal, then in every encounter we will be imitating Andrew and leading another person to Christ, and thus furthering the great mission of evangelization by which we hasten the coming of the Kingdom.