If we want to evangelize, we can’t be hypocrites
A Reflection for the Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? (LK 6:39-42)
As a wide-eyed, recent theology graduate in 2012, I attended the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization under Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. It was my first big media assignment as a young journalist. In hindsight, it was an even more historic event than it felt like in real time: A few months later, Pope Benedict would resign, paving the way for Pope Francis and an epoch of church reform.
For all of their apparent differences in personality, pastoral and liturgical sensibilities, and methods of governance, they both believe something fundamental about the church. Perhaps Pope Benedict said it best in his homily at the opening Mass of the 2012 Synod: “The Church exists to evangelize”.
Are we Christians able to let go of our compulsion to be right, to own the truth, to correct and “save” others?
The question facing the Synod on the New Evangelization was how to evangelize today. Compelling prescriptions were offered by the synod fathers, but the most consequential events for the synod happened when Benedict resigned, Pope Francis was elected and he published Evangelii Gaudium (Francis’ blueprint for evangelization). It seems that Benedict was so aware of the importance of that synod that he realized he did not have the energy to lead its implementation. Pope Francis took up the mantle, and we are now living in a critical moment as the church everywhere is actively rethinking, questioning and learning what it means to evangelize.
Today’s Gospel from Luke is an account of a first or “new” evangelization. Jesus is preaching his great sermon on the plain to his disciples and the crowds. Listeners were hearing the good news for the first time. What, according to Jesus, does evangelization look and sound like? What does it mean to be a disciple? “You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”
It’s one of the great paradoxes of the Christian church that its mission to proclaim the good news begins in humble self-reflection and conversion. Otherwise, there is no credible evangelization. Church communities spend a lot of time and resources devising new strategies and programs of evangelization. But the prescription is already written. Are we Christians able to let go of our compulsion to be right, to own the truth, to correct and “save” others? Once we remove the beams from our own eyes, Jesus tells us, evangelization will happen.