In the liturgical year we are now reliving the first novena: the original nine days of prayer between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday. In that time, the disciples gathered in prayer and preparation for the day that they would burst forth into the world and spread the Good News. We are also called to spread that message. But in order to do that, we have to live out the three parts of the evangelist’s life: Die, Rise, and Go.
One of the main issues with trying to pass on the faith is that people try to jump to the third part of the process without spending enough time in the first two. I see this sometimes when parents try to instill the Catholic faith with little success. They bring their children to church and send them to a Catholic school, but the faith does not seem to take root. Part of the problem seems to be in the fact that taking them to Church and sending them to a Catholic school is the extent of their parental evangelization. They were brought up Catholic, so they are bringing up their kids Catholic. While the dynamic may be more complex than this, it is something that I have seen play out.
Christianity is not simply a set of theological precepts to which you subscribe, like a political philosophy. It is a lived out relationship with Christ. We need to live it before we can give it.
The first step is to die.
Before we can follow Christ, we have to die to our old selves. That is what the entire lenten journey has been about: putting away our past selves. In the Gospels, Jesus calls the disciples to repent. This involves the realization that I am not living the way Jesus wants me to live and I have to change. For those struggling with addiction, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. If you don’t admit your problem, then you cannot die to your addiction.
Most of us, if we are honest, probably think that we are doing okay. We may not be saints, but we are “good enough.” But we are not called to be “good enough.” In fact, if we were to do an honest assessment of our lives under the light of Christ, we could probably see how we have put ourselves before God and others. It is only when we recognize this that we can say that this old way of living must be put to death. This may involve uncomfortable changes in my life. I may have to give up more of my free time. I may have to break off certain relationships that are leading me away from God. Or I may need to swallow my pride and put the needs of other people first. But first and foremost, I have to die to anything that is keeping me from being the saint God is calling me to be. As stated earlier, Lent was the time to help us let go of our former way of life.
But that is not the complete process. In Christianity, death is only the beginning. There are some people who never get beyond the cross. What I mean by that is their focus is purely on dying to self and increasing penance for sin. While this can be part of the answer for some, it is not the whole formula. We do not die simply because we are bad and must extinguish that part of us. We die so that we can rise to new life.
So I ask myself: have I truly died to self?
Remember, Christianity is a transformation. God does not simply want people of repentance. He wants people who have found new life in Him. We are meant to be a new Creation. I think perhaps many of us have experienced the Catholic penance of dying to self. But I think fewer of us experience that amazing fulfillment of living a new life in Christ.
This risen life is not simply a different way of doing things. It is a whole new world. Some of us may have experienced this fire, where we feel His joy and His peace and then want to share it with the world. We want everyone to feel this, to experience this joy. And we cannot give people what we do not ourselves have.
I look to St. Paul who described it perfectly. Paul once persecuted the Church. But when he was struck blind by the light of Christ, he had to die to his old life. He had to abandon everything he knew to live a new life in Jesus. He wrote “For I have been crucified with Christ, and yet I live. And the life that I live now is not my own, but Christ lives in me. Inasmuch as I live in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20). In this we see Paul describing how he has died to his old self and is now living a new life with Christ.
Do I live my life knowing that I am alive in Christ? Do I live knowing that I am loved beyond all words and that the God of the universe lives inside of me?
That is the only way the third part of the program can work: to go.
We are powerless on our own. If I were in the space shuttle and then stepped outside into the void, I would be dead within moments. Inside I have the life-giving protection of the ship. I need to take some of that life-giving protection with me as I go out. In the same way, if we try to evangelize without having that life-giving presence of Christ, we will fail.
And we must go. We cannot remain on the mountain, simply experiencing intimacy with the Lord. That is what Pentecost is all about. We are hungry beggars who have discovered an infinite banquet and we must call everyone to this same fullness.
To be sure, this process of dying, rising, and going is not a one-time deal, although many of us experience some significant dramatic event that changed the course of our lives. But even after this event, this process is a constant occurrence in our lives. We have to continually die to whatever keeps us from God and constantly deepen our experience of being united with Him as a new creation so that we can go and share this experience with others.
Copyright 2020, WL Grayson