February 14, 2024 at 11:11 a.m.

Sharing the faith falls on all of us

This business of sharing the Gospel falls on you. It is you who occupy the spaces that the Gospel has failed to penetrate. (Unsplash photo)
This business of sharing the Gospel falls on you. It is you who occupy the spaces that the Gospel has failed to penetrate. (Unsplash photo)

By Tom Acemoglu | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The other night I was reflecting on the experience of being misunderstood. I have spent most of the last 23 years of my life sharing the Gospel to wide varieties of people. They’ve been spent before crowds of teenagers or adults. They’ve been spent before people who struggle to understand our tradition. They’ve been spent with people who don’t believe or have been outright hostile to the faith. I’ve been in front of people where the exchange goes very well, where they are engaged or express a genuine desire to understand. I’ve also been in front of people who were angry, not so much with the content of the teaching but who didn’t want to listen to anything with regards to faith.

It’s been both a tremendous joy and a tremendous cross. Paul says this in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). For Paul, the content of that Gospel is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and applying the truth that is Jesus to everyday life. It’s also a message that is rife for misunderstanding. Earlier in the same letter, Paul says, “we are fools for the sake of Christ.” (1 Cor 4:10). The message at the heart of our faith is just going to sound stupid to other people. Again, in the same book Paul says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are ­perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18). Every time I or any bishop, priest or deacon stands in front of a group of people to share the Gospel, they are inviting ridicule. And the closer you get to the heart of the truth, the more ridiculous it can sound by the standards of the world around us. And it’s precisely that seemingly foolish teaching that is supposed to speak to even the most indignant audience.

I share this with you for a few reasons. One is that the more you live your life in accordance with the Gospel, the more foolish you’re going to seem. It’s unavoidable. For example, you are hopefully convicted by the proclamation of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection from the dead. That belief changes how you live your life (because, among many things, it confirms Jesus’ teachings) and how you approach death (because you don’t see death as the end of your existence). These beliefs can give your entire life shape and purpose. But to the rest of the world you believe in things that are not under scientific scrutiny, namely a corpse being brought back to life after three days and in eternal life after death. Beyond that, the Church teaches many things that are at odds with how people live their lives today, from warnings to not amass great wealth for selfish gain to teachings prohibiting artificial birth control. The more seriously you take it, the more foolish you’re going to appear.

The other reason I share this with you is to recognize that if you take these beliefs seriously, beliefs that are extensions of the Gospel, it will often feel like a lonely road. You will not feel like you fit in and you will feel at least somewhat of a disconnect with people you care about. In this, I think we have good company with Jesus, who is disbelieved by his neighbors in Nazareth (Mark 6:5), so much so that he could only work a few miracles for them. He is abandoned by many of his own disciples (John 6:66) because they do not understand his teaching on the Bread of Life. Even his own family thinks he’s crazy (Mark 3:21). In other words, you are not alone when your own family and friends think you are a bit odd for how you spend your Sunday mornings and for how you live your life if you choose to take the Gospel seriously.

This was all to preface the last reason I share this all with you. This business of sharing the Gospel is not merely the businesses of clergy or parish faith formation directors. Truth be told, our reach is rather limited. We are usually guilty of “preaching to the choir.” The people we reach have likely already made some kind of commitment to the faith (generally) and to being an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ (specifically).

In other words, this business of sharing the Gospel falls on you. It is you who occupy the spaces that the Gospel has failed to penetrate. It is your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers who do not understand this way of life, probably because someone in their life lived it out poorly or obnoxiously or, as is more likely, they’ve never been exposed to it at all. In this, I dare you to live well and to live righteously. Not self-righteously, which is acting like we’re better than other people because we’re not. We are sinners sent among fellow sinners. But through God’s grace we are forgiven sinners. That same offer is extended to others but they’ll never know if you don’t dare to live differently, even foolishly. Because in this we are convicted that, as impossible as this might all seem, it’s all true. He brings the dead to life and proposes a way of life that is better than what we’d dream up. Dare to live differently. 

Tom Acemoglu is a pastoral associate for Evangelization and Catechesis at St. Ambrose Church in Latham. 


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