Many U.S. Catholics (probably most) who try to live their religious beliefs have over the past 20 years become increasingly hesitant in public demonstration of such a faith-life. But to live our Catholic faith we need to follow our Lord both within our hearts and in the public. Today’s readings bring to the fore that God relies on our participation in His mission of salvation. All three readings revolve around people, like us, going into the world to bring God to those who have never known Him or have forgotten His message. This can be a scary activity, especially if we think we have the whole weight of God’s plan on our shoulders – but we don’t. God only expects from us our witness of faith – the rest is up to Him. But, this is still a scary activity. What if I can’t live up to the truths I am proclaiming? What if my actions belie my spoken message? What damage will I do to Christ’s mission by failing?
But today’s readings show us that these fears are unfounded as long as our heart embraces Christ’s message. These people in the readings are normal people. Amos tells us that he was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores (which, by the way, was someone who went around and punched holes in an edible, but not very tasty fruit, days before harvesting). St. Paul of course was educated but was a tentmaker. The disciples were mostly fishermen and tradesmen. They were not great men in the eyes of their society – most were limited in their ability for discourse – and yet they accepted God’s calling and went out to proclaim. They were not afraid of messing up as much as they were afraid of not living up to the Lord’s commission; they trusted in the Lord. They understood, very well, the words of the prophet Jeremiah ‘But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’
Brothers and sisters, it is time to put down our fear of going out into the world and evangelize. Fear is the tool of Satan. Our words will suffice if we are united with God. So what if we make a mistake – we are not perfect. It is less the words than it is the conviction of our faith that will move hearts. It less clever arguments than the love we radiate that will spark a desire to know more about God. If you need more persuasion let me end with a comparatively current example from the great twentieth century British evangelizer Frank Sheed: He related a story about his fear to go Hyde Park in London and evangelize. It wasn’t that he was afraid of public speaking, but that he was afraid he would damage the Catholic Church by saying something wrong. The priest he was talking to replied (and I paraphrase) ‘There have been many men in the past two millennia smarter and more powerful than you that tried to damage the Church and her message and they failed. You will do fine if you keep God in your heart.’
As Amos, St. Paul, the apostles and Frank Sheed did so should we; speak the gospel message clearly, humbly, with love, and God will do the rest.