The imperfect disciple of the Gospel of Life

 Friday, 19 August 2016

“I won’t do it perfectly, but I will do something. I am not going to keep worrying; but I am going to act. I do not want to come to Jesus empty-handed.”

These words were spoken by Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay to nearly 100 pro-life directors from across the country—including three from Nebraska.

These simple, yet powerful, words of Bishop Ricken struck me in a couple ways. First, my experience is that many of us (including myself) are often trapped by fear when faced with the work of evangelization, which is the work of spreading the love of Jesus Christ. Any number of concerns often creep into mind, most especially the fact of our insufficiency to do the work of evangelization. Falling into scrupulosity, we feel that we will not do the work perfectly enough. We become stifled by our shortcomings and imperfections. As a result, we fail to proclaim the Gospel of Life.

Second, I found that Bishop Ricken was echoing much of what Pope Francis describes in paragraphs 120-121 of his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. I have written about these two pargraphs already, but they bear repeating time and time again.

In these paragraphs, Pope Francis highlights two points. His first point is that all—every single one of us—are called to the work of missionary discipleship. By virtue of our baptism, regardless of our position in the Church or level of instruction in the faith, we are called to be “agents of evangelization[.]” We cannot sit idle as “passive recipients” of the Gospel.
His second point is that although we are called to “mature in our work as evangelizers” through “better training, a deeper love and a clearer witness to the Gospel,” we are nevertheless called to proclaim the Gospel of Life in the here and now of our present and imperfect circumstances. As Pope Francis insists: “[W]e should not postpone the evangelizing mission; rather, each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are…. Our falling short of perfection should be no excuse; on the contrary, mission is a constant stimulus not to remain mired in mediocrity but to continue growing.”

The Gospel of Life cannot wait for us to reach perfection. The reason is quite simple: on this side of eternity, we will never reach perfection. Every moment we delay our sacred call to proclaim the Gospel of Life is a moment we delay cooperating and working to promote justice and peace in our society. Thus, the tendency to wait until I have it “figured out” is a tendency that must be rejected. Place this tendency at the foot of the Cross and beg Christ for the virtue of courage, of a heart fortified for the great mission of love that seeks to protect the most vulnerable.

As Robert Frost expressively captures in his poem “Storm Fear”: “It costs no inward struggle not to go[.]” The call to “cast out into deep” as our Lord commands will be one that puts us in a position of discomfort—or, again, to steal from Frost, will give rise to an “agitated heart.” After all, the work of evangelization is not easy; it is not for the faint of heart. Yet, the beautiful fact is that evangelization is a work that the Lord has called us to bear as a response to His unfailing love. And, precisely because God has lovingly commanded us, He also promises to be with us. Thus, we should never find ourselves alone or without the power of God by our side in the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Life.

I highly encourage you to seriously reflect and pray about those things which impede your work of missionary discipleship for the Gospel of Life. Ask for the courage to overcome the impediments and follow our Lord in the imperfection of your circumstances. Pray for the zeal to winsomely defend the unborn and their parents, assist the widow and orphan, protect the poor and marginalized. Returning to the words of Bishop Ricken: Quit worrying and “do something” and do “not come to Jesus empty-handed.”