Holiness is contagious. Human beings are attracted to those souls who radiate the love of Christ. They may not understand why it attracts them. That light may also induce fear and shame, but there is nothing more contagious in this life than holiness. Holiness does not, however, come about through an idea or philosophical system. We do not become radiant in love through our intellectual pursuits or our politics. Holiness begins with a radical encounter with the Living God.
The Church’s primary mission is to bring all nations into conformation (communion) with the Most Holy Trinity. To lead people on the path to sanctity, which answers the longing deep within every human heart to be loved and to experience joy. Holiness is communion with the Most Holy Trinity. It is to be a close friend of God’s. He wants all people to come to Him; to find their rest and blessedness (beatitudo). The Church does not primarily transform the City of Man through natural means, although she is called to do so through the missions and vocations of her disciples. She transforms the world through this call to holiness, through discipleship.
The world today, especially in the West, poses unique challenges to our evangelical mission in a way the Church hasn’t encountered in previous ages. We are no longer primarily evangelizing polytheistic people who sought to worship transcendent gods outside of themselves. Instead, we are faced with the task of evangelizing peoples who have predominately caved in on themselves and been fed the philosophical lie that truth is set by the individual, thus rendering each individual their own god. Leading people from the darkness of relativism and nihilism—which dominates through the will to power—is extremely difficult.
The answer to how we evangelize always has the first starting point in every age: Jesus Christ. We must seek to bring Christ to all people. This cannot be accomplished through an over- reliance on political posturing or even moralism. This is not because the moral law doesn’t matter. It is because we cannot expect those around us who have not been given the supernatural gift of faith to see the truth clearly as we do. We must lead them to an encounter with Jesus Christ first.
The reason for our faith is not the moral law. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI repeatedly pointed out that Catholicism is not a philosophical or moral system. It is a lived encounter and relationship with Christ. The mistake many of us make is in thinking that the moral law is everything. We forget that our own conversion and our own daily conversion is difficult and it is only possible through our relationship with Christ. We love Him and we want to serve Him, so we beg Him for the grace to persevere in order to grow in sanctity.
One of the dangers in the Church today—as well as in previous ages— is to foolishly attempt to lead people to the moral law before Christ. It is nearly impossible to evangelize people without leading them to Christ Crucified and Risen first. People cannot know the truth until they come to love Jesus who is the Truth. They will not submit to what seems to be an arbitrary set of rules until they know God. A man and a woman come together in marriage because they love one another and they choose to sacrifice everything for the other. The same is true in the Christian life.
This same method is used when a primarily political understanding is placed above our evangelical mission. Political systems are simply another type of philosophical system. Politics aid us in bringing about the common good, but our political convictions are not the center of our lives. In our current divisive and vitriolic political climate, it is very easy to turn politics into a false idol. It is also impossible to evangelize through political means because it will automatically alienate the other side. The Church transcends politics even as she transforms society.
The reality is, we very rarely are able to convert souls to the truth in Christ Jesus through our political posturing. Instead, we often aid in the hardening of hearts because we forget that the truth is not primarily political and we forget that those who cannot see the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. do not have the full light of faith and truth to guide them. We expect from them what it is not in our power to give. We are guides, not the distributors of grace.
St. Paul tells us the Cross is folly to the wise. Why? The Cross we are called to is a total relinquishment of self in love to God and for our neighbor. Given that it is natural for human beings to protect ourselves from suffering, the Cross looks like pure insanity to those who do not have the supernatural vision of faith. How can suffering redeem? Why should I give up my contraception, premarital sex, and other pleasures of the world for a philosophical system?
Until someone has had an encounter with Christ, they will fight back against this relinquishment. They will not see that the Church says “yes” far more often than she says “no.” As Christ’s disciples, we must seek to lead people to Jesus Christ who is made present on our altars. This is accomplished through a life dedicated to holiness and the mission that Christ gives to each one of us through our baptism. Holiness is the starting place for transforming the world around us, not endless debates about politics or our vote.
St. Teresa of Calcutta did not stop to ask the political beliefs of the poorest of the poor. She sought to love and to serve united to Christ on the Cross. St. John Paul II boldly proclaimed the truth, but in a manner that was centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Both of these saints were radiant in their person. This radiance drew people towards the Living God who is Light Itself. We are called to be this light.
The divisions of our day cannot be solved through deeper entrenchment in our political ideologies. We must seek to heal the ruptured communion that exists within the human family. Christ seeks out the lost, and our culture is lost. He admonishes the Pharisees most of all because they had been given the law and yet they failed to lead the nations to God. We run the risk of falling into this trap when we mistakenly believe that it is only the law that can save us. We run this risk when we place political ideologies above Christ. The Jews of Jesus’ day fell into this temptation repeatedly.
Christ issues invitations to sinners. He only flips tables once, but He repeatedly seeks the lost sheep of Israel and the world. The woman caught in adultery is an example of how we must approach the wounded and lost in our own culture. Jesus is not standing over her admonishing and chastising her. Rather, he is crouched down in the dirt. He admonishes those who want to stone this woman through his questions about their own sins. Each person present drops their stone and walks away aware of their own sinfulness. Jesus then looks up with His gaze of love and frees this woman from her sins. She is then transformed by His love. He is below her and looks up at her. His love reveals her sinfulness and she accepts His invitation of love. How often do we instead stand over our political or moral opponents Lording over them?
A few years ago, weeks after my fourth miscarriage, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion. I was in the throes of intense grief at having lost another child, a son, after seeing his heartbeat twice on the ultrasound monitor. It was then that Christ showed me a woman in greater need than myself who was scared, unsure, and being pressured to get an abortion. Our lifestyles were very different. She had a past of petty crimes. Our moral understanding was polar opposite. She did not know Christ other than in the fact that she had heard His name, but didn’t know Him personally.
It would have been impossible for me to help her avoid killing her own child if I had used a philosophical or moral worldview rather than seeing her with the eyes of Christ. Instead, I had to walk with her and help her in whatever way I could. I had to be a radiant light in the darkness to her. I had to emptying myself completely out in love for her.
She chose life for her son and I was blessed to hold him in my arms shortly after he was born. Afterwards, she chose to end our relationship even after I tried to check in on her. I did not change her moral view. She didn’t have a radical conversion. Instead, I planted seeds and then had to leave them to God to tend. Her conversion isn’t up to me. It is up to God and His timing.
Screaming at one another on social media or around the family dinner table accomplishes very little in an age of division. As a mother and a spiritual mother, I’ve had to learn the hard way how often the only thing I can do is seek to be constant, loving, and patient with others. We can’t ram the truth down anyone’s throat. We can share it boldly in love, but we cannot force anyone. That isn’t love. God doesn’t force us to love Him and we can’t force others to love Him either. We can’t make people see what we see. We must pray for the gift of faith for others and for ourselves. More than anything, we must live the truth in such a way that any light within us leads people to Christ.
This is why I am against the over-emphasis on politics by so many Catholics today. Not because politics don’t matter. They do matter in the measure with which our political system can be directed towards the common good. Politics do not make up most of our lives, however. You couldn’t tell based on social media threads.
We cannot evangelize through a political lens, nor is being Catholic primarily political. We are Catholic because we have encountered Christ and fallen in love with Him. We want to serve Him. We want to dwell forever with Him in eternity and to lead all souls to Him. We see the truth because we have been given that gift from the Holy Spirit. We didn’t earn it. We accepted the invitation He has given to us. The same invitation we need to help others accept in the measure we are able to in accordance with God’s will and timing.