|Photo by David Falconer|
When I first became serious about following Jesus a couple of years before, I was reading the works of Billy Graham and Hal Lindsay. They have very different emphasis, but one thing they both stressed was the "sinner's prayer," the gist of which says, "Lord Jesus Christ, I am a sinner. I believe that You died and rose from the dead to save me. I accept you as my Lord and Savior. Please come into my heart and save me. From now on I belong to You." The goal of both men seemed to be bringing people to the point of praying that prayer. Once it was sincerely prayed a person was "saved" (note the past tense). The work of evangelization was done.
I naturally wanted to share with others the incredible joy and meaning that was coming to me through the Faith and so, I put the emphasis on trying to bring others to that point of "accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior." Very early on I also experienced what charismatic Christians refer to as the "baptism," or "release," of the Holy Spirit;" so I adjusted the goal of my evangelistic work to bringing people to the point of accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and giving the Holy Spirit permission to penetrate every area of their lives and release His gifts and charisms.
A couple of things struck me as very inadequate though. For one, I felt like all of my relationships had an "ulterior motive." Granted, I wanted to help people arrive at a good place, the "best place;" but my relationships with them felt empty. There was a feeling in my gut that, like the God I believed in, I should love them right where they were. I should be an authentic friend. The second thing that felt inadequate was how I was all about getting people to this spiritual climax of accepting Jesus into their hearts and getting baptized in the Holy Spirit, and then ... what? What else was there to the Christian life? Did we reach this spiritual high and then spend the next forty to sixty years just keeping the status quo until we either died or were raptured? (And "no," I no longer believe in "the rapture;" but that's a different post.)
Bob Capstick, the gentleman I mentioned at the start of the post, helped show me the beauty of the wider view, a Catholic view of evangelism and the spiritual life. As embarrasing as it is to now write, I had been looking at evanglism as hunting. I was out locking my sights on someone, wanting to "pull the trigger" of leading them in the sinner's prayer or laying on hands to pray for the release of the Spirit. But Bob helped me to understand that it was good to follow my heart's desire of wanting to build friendships and have fun with people; I didn't have to be in a hurry to get them to recite a certain prayer. God made us to love, to be in genuine relationships with others. I could just be honest about who I was -someone who loved Jesus immensely - and what I did - enjoyed reading Scripture and theology, talking to groups, etc. And if/when people wanted to know more or need someone to pray with them, then they will feel comfortable asking me. And from time to time, I feel inspired to offer a friendly invitation, or even a challenge. But it's real; it's relational. (Plus, I have a longer list of people I consider friends.)
The Catholic viewpoint also helped me to see that the sinner's prayer, and gifts and charisms of the Spirit, and even the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, were just the beginning of the spiritual life (Heb.6:1-2). God is in it with us for the long haul, with the end of the journey being when we become living manifestations of Jesus. And that can happen in this world! There was this whole branch of theology, mystical theology, that I never knew existed until years after I became serious about living as a Catholic Christian. The Christian life isn't about peaking early; it's meant to be, and it can be, a constant ascent. It grows through the years, as we pass through different periods - going out into the world, learning to lay down our lives for the ones we love, uniting our struggles to Jesus' own , experiencing new breakthroughs, falling and getting back up. Salvation is not a one-time, over-and-done experience. It's ongoing. It can be lost and regained through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and it can be progressively deepened. Through all of its stages Jesus is there to feed and strengthen us with His very Self in the Eucharist.
That's the Catholic life - a beautiful, sometime grueling, full, genuine life. It is the abundant life that Jesus came to give (Jn.10:10).