I heard the oddest thing from a Roman Catholic bishop this morning: He encouraged me (and about 100 or so fellow parishioners) to develop “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I’ve heard those words before, of course. But typically they’ve come from the lips of my evangelical Christian friends—and never, in my memory, from one who wears an episcopal ring.
Nor was that the only surprise Bishop Hermann had in store for us this morning, at our day of reflection focused on the topic of evangelization. Now admittedly, I was scribbling notes during his talk, not recording the audio verbatim…but I’m almost certain I heard him say that our call as Christians is not first to “follow rules, but to follow Jesus.”
In fact, that theme—the call to personal conversion—pervaded the bishop’s remarks. He noted that what he called “willpower Christianity” is pretty much doomed to failure: Jesus does NOT ask that we work harder, in order to become more appealing to God. Jesus did NOT say, “First, make yourself holy…and then I will make you into my evangelists.”
Rather, Bishop Hermann said, Jesus simply asks our permission to work on us; to work on our hearts, so that we come to experience God’s mercy – and in that process, we receive from God the grace and power to do good in the world around us. “Lives change when we discover God’s infinite mercy,” he said. “That’s when we can let Christ’s joy shine through us.”
In our time, as in Jesus’ time, “the greatest evangelists are those who’ve received the greatest mercy,” he said. We become holy – that is, “poked full of holes”—when we allow God to penetrate us, and allow God’s mercy to transform us. And as that happens, we become capable of offering someone else the hope that Christ has already offered us.
These days, Roman Catholic bishops often take the rap for imposing on people ‘burdens hard to carry.’ And yet, I heard the exact opposite message from this bishop today. In seeking to draw people to Christ, he said, we should not place burdens on another’s heart. Rather, we should show them how Jesus hopes to share—and lighten—the burdens that are already there.
I must confess, this is a different hierarchy of spiritual values than I’m accustomed to hearing from the leaders of my church. So bless you, Bishop Hermann, for sharing some really Good News with us today…and for encouraging the love of Christ to grow in our hearts!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.