Today is one of the great feasts of the Catholic year, that of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a feast that emphasises, among many other things, God’s passionate love for His people, and that this love is directed to each individual through the Heart of Jesus. So it is a good day to think about the major challenge facing the Catholic Church in many parts of the world at present: evangelisation, or more accurately, our continuing failure to evangelise. After all, love of its very nature flows outwards until it fills all things: the thought of the Sacred Heart should convince us that God’s love is destined to fill the world, and therefore we have a duty to do our best to make it known.
There will of course be endless debates about how we are to evangelise, but there can be no debate that we ought to evangelise. The duty to evangelise is inherent in the Christian message. What strikes me, in the light of today’s celebration, is the question of tone. The message needs to be uplifting, joyful, reassuring and comforting. It needs to do what Christ does – radiate love.
Quite often one makes jokes about the way evangelical churches “love bomb” visitors and potential new recruits, whereas, of course, if you go as stranger to a Catholic Church (as I have done, under deep cover, several times) no one, but no one, will talk to you, or if they do, they will do so in a way that is largely counterproductive.
And yet people have said to me that on entering Catholic churches they have felt a thrill, a sudden uplifting of the heart. The reason, they have told me, is the realisation that they are coming into the presence of God in the tabernacle. This is the Catholic equivalent of the warm welcome in which other churches specialise. It is the perception of the warm embrace of God.
When it comes to evangelisation the key thing to stress is God’s love for each individual, made incarnate in Jesus Christ. That means, among other things, rediscovering the theology of the Sacred Heart. This perhaps has already started. The Divine Mercy devotion of Saint Faustina is certainly a step, a major one, in this direction. So too was the recent 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, when each parish held a prayer vigil in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, giving an opportunity for a silent encounter between the Heart of Christ and human hearts.
Another dimension that should not be neglected is an approach to Scripture – not through intellectual study, but through reading with the heart.
Evangelisation sounds like a modern thing, but of course it is not. It was something that many of the great missioners of the past specialised in. Contemporary evangelisation needs to find its resources in the riches of tradition. There is no need for gimmicks, or trendiness, just a return to the ineffable riches revealed in Christ.