If we were to believe the statistical charts and reports so commonly quoted these days, a single conclusion is inescapable: we, the disciples of Jesus, are not winning the world, we are losing it! That is, of course, if we are to believe those statistical charts, because quite frankly, figures can be quoted, twisted, used, or misused, as we have seen in recent months, to prove virtually anything. It is never easy to know just how reliable or accurate any particular survey is, at least not until we know the background and bias of the agency or individual responsible for it.
But without quoting any specific numbers or sources, or relying on any so-called “scientific studies”, we must be honest with ourselves in acknowledging that we Catholics are not living up to the expectations so clearly evidenced in the first three centuries of the Christian endeavor. In the period immediately following the resurrection of Jesus, it appeared that the teachings of Jesus captured and carried the day. Even those hostile to our faith admitted that the disciples of Jesus were “turning the world upside down” and total victory for the values and principles of Jesus seemed imminent.
So what happened since then? What caused us to gradually lose the dynamic and the momentum of those early days? And again, for those among us who may protest that this is an unfair judgement, all we ask is for them to look out into our world today and decide for themselves about the present day power and influence of the Christian faith. Clearly, things are not the same now as they were even fifty years ago when the transforming power of the Gospel was in the process of claiming the world for Jesus.
Without becoming identified with the chorus of critics who forever are found shouting about the weaknesses and failures of the church, could we nevertheless admit that an altercation of method may have neutralized the Gospel of Jesus of its greatest power? What were the primary strategy and the principal approach of Jesus and the Apostles in their attempts to turn people from darkness to light, from death to life?
Unless we are careful and exceptionally discerning, we might tend to attribute the early success of the Christian message to the exercise of supernatural, miraculous powers. Many people unquestionably were attracted to the Christian faith by reports of the signs and wonders which accompanied the disciples of Jesus.
However, any permanent result of the Gospel comes not by any overpowering, external display of mystical, supernatural power, but by the faithful proclamation of God’s truth and values through preaching. The scriptures remind us that Jesus came preaching! He sent out His disciples to do the same. Speaking out on behalf of the Gospel truths and values has always been central in God’s plan to reach and win the world.
It is only when people have sought to substitute their ways for His way; to rely on wealth, prestige, organization, institution, human strategies, that the Christian faith has suffered the reversals and retreats which are so common these days. The method of Jesus has always been to proclaim the truth and values of God with authority and certainty in the full confidence that this message and way of the Lord would be affirmed over and over again in our human experience. Whatever else might occur, we must never vary speaking the truth and values of Jesus in our attempt to reach others. Jesus came preaching! We must continue speaking out and proclaiming His truth and values to this world and His truth and values will indeed set us all free!