"Juxtaposition" is one of my favorite literary devices. When teaching courses in Creative Writing, I point out to my students the powerful emotional jolt that a reader receives when seeing two unlike images joined together. Take, for example, T.S. Eliot's images of "garlic and sapphires in the mud" (
The Four Quartets
, "Burnt Norton" II) or my own image of "bride, soaked in pearls and blood" (
, "Bridal Party"); the shock factor disturbs, makes one pause to think, to feel, to look for deeper meaning.
With the Fourth of July coinciding with this issue of
I feel compelled to juxtapose two starkly different images: the first is of a military parade which is guaranteed to have an exorbitant price tag when so many government agencies have had their budgets slashed; the second is of the shocking conditions under which migrants are being kept in detention at our borders.
Shocking Photos of Migrants
On the one hand, there will be a dazzling display of armaments and fireworks; on the other, we have men, women and children being kept in filthy, unsanitary cramped quarters. On July 4th, money will literally go up in smoke, briefly illuminating the sky but not penetrating the moral abyss that is contemporary America. There will be a fly-over with "no cost estimate" and massive tanks will be parked at the National Mall.
Now, it's not that I'm against parades. My dad, a colonel in the Royal Malta Artillery, was often on parade grounds, reviewing the troops, either with government officials or else with visiting dignitaries. Though a pacifist myself, I loved the marching bands as well as the display of patriotism, discipline and military readiness. As a small Mediterranean island that was almost blitzed out of existence by both Hitler and Mussolini, Malta has a proud military history and military parades, then, have their place in local culture. In fact, you can see footage of a Maltese parade in honor of Republic Day.
You will notice that the focus is on the troops rather than on weaponry and that the event brings church, state and people together. The cost to tax payers is minimal and there is no danger to Valletta's streets or historical monuments.
But back to juxtaposition. In our first reading, God promises to comfort those returning from exile. Jerusalem will give birth to a new people, and God will create new heavens and a new earth:
"As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort."
The city that welcomes the poor and the oppressed is holy and the sign of her holiness is the comfort she offers. Let us remember that military might is no substitute for compassion and that a display of power is no indication of a nation's greatness.
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he intended to visit.
He told them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.
Go on your way, but know that I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
LK 10: 1-12, 17-20
When Jesus speaks of "the Harvest," he is not referring to fruits, vegetables or animal fodder, but to those who are looking for that "something more" which will connect them more deeply to meaning, purpose, vision, and, above all, to God's unconditional Love. This "abundant Harvest" is comprised not just of Romans, Samaritans and other Gentiles, but of those who feel marginalized within Judaism -- the poor, the sick, those with disabilities, those considered "unrighteous" by their neighbors, women, tax collectors etc. The "Good News" that Jesus proclaims and commissions his disciples to proclaim is the message of God's inclusive Love: all are welcome in God's Kingdom, regardless of status, gender and occupation. There is no litmus test for worthiness, for all are God's children; moreover, Jesus promises that God's gift of eternal life is not just a future tense reality but something one can experience in the here and now. He assures the crowds that hardships, tragedies and illness are not signs of God's disfavor; on the contrary, God desires fullness of life for all people.
THE HARVEST TODAY
Today's Harvest is no less abundant than it was in the time of Jesus. On the one hand, there are those without a faith tradition who are completely lost, often having no positive role models or ethical system to guide them. Of course, there are also those without a faith tradition who rely on humanistic values to get by in life and who successfully contribute towards building a better world. Then there are those who have been alienated from their tradition of origin -- how many times have I heard people of all ages say, "I was born Catholic but no longer practice"? Sadly, some of the people in this category have not only abandoned their faith (often for good reason!) but may have lost their trust in
religion as well as their belief in a just. kind and merciful God. And then there are those Christians who remain faithful but are not being spiritually nurtured at the parish level, simply attending church out of loyalty, a sense of duty or the conviction that there are no better options for worship.
Please note that I don't claim the above list of
"nones," "the unchurched"
"bored and indifferent"
as accounting for all groups in need of evangelization, but it is a starting point.
THE LABOR FORCE!
"One size does
not fit all"
when it comes to evangelization.
Before going door to door in the neighborhood, before posting costly media ads inviting former parishioners to "Come home for Christmas," we need to be familiar with each group and how best to reach that particular demographic. The
or those who have never had a faith tradition are most likely to respond when their own friends invite them to learn more about Christianity in a safe social setting. The
need to be listened to -- what hurtful events caused them to leave their faith behind them and what guarantees are there that things have changed for the better? Finally, the
"bored and indifferent"
deserve more relevant homilies, livelier music, more prayerful liturgies and greater inclusion in terms of lay ministry.
Evangelization involves two primary questions:
1) What is this group or individual seeking?
2) Are we ready to meet that need?
If we are to reap a bountiful harvest, it's not enough to have good intentions. There is no point asking the lost and forsaken to join the bored and indifferent-- that would be a toxic mix! We will not attract new membership unless we, ourselves, and our faith communities are in an ongoing process of transformation. If we have nothing to offer but rote liturgies in a dying parish, then we may as well close our doors.