Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Our Lives Must Be About

Robert Barron - What Our Lives Must Be About

Robert Barron - What Our Lives Must Be About

Peace be with you. Friends, I want to focus this weekend on our second reading, which is taken from St. Paul's magnificent First Letter to the Corinthians. By the way, if you're starting with St. Paul, it's not a bad place to start. You'll find it right after the letter to the Romans in the New Testament. First Corinthians is full of so much rich spirituality and theology. But our passage for today, Paul is talking about what stands at the very center of his life. And it's the very theme that the last five popes have emphasized. I'm talking about evangelization.

So listen now to Paul. "If I preach the gospel, [there's] no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed [upon] me, and woe to me if I do not preach it"! It's magnificent stuff, isn't it? It's so typical of Paul. And he's laying out for us what stands at the very center of his life. It's preaching what he would have called the "euangelion," the glad tidings, the god-spell, the Good News. And the term would have had multiple resonances for Paul's audience, which was kind of a mixture of the Jewish and the Greco-Roman. To the Jews, they probably heard echoes of Isaiah: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of [those who bring] good news".

That's all about the return of the Babylonian captives from exile. It's a message of liberation from slavery. People in the Greco-Roman culture would have heard probably a different resonance, a different echo, namely, that of a Roman and imperial military victory. So after a great conquest, the emperor or general would send literally evangelists ahead of him, those with the "euangelion," the good news, that the emperor or the general has won a victory. So, if we combine these two things, we might say that Paul was talking about a great victory that's been won, which amounts to a liberation from captivity and a return from exile. That's the euangelion that he is obligated to preach. "Woe to me if I do not proclaim this good news".

Now let's state it very explicitly. He's talking about the dying and rising of Jesus. On the cross, all the powers of the world came upon him. On the cross, hatred, cruelty, violence, injustice, all of it, all of human dysfunction, came upon him. But then, in the Resurrection, the power of God over all these forces was clearly manifested. Therefore, God's won the victory over what bedevils us. God's won the victory over sin and death. And therefore, we're liberated. Therefore, the exiles can return. That's the euangelion: the proclamation of the dying and the rising of Jesus. Now, in light of that, let's look with perhaps fresh eyes at a famous passage from Paul to the Colossians.

Listen: "The dominions and powers he robbed of their prey, put them on public display, led them away in triumph". Now see, we might miss that in the twenty-first century, but no one, trust me, in the first century missed the reference. It was to the victory parade of a Roman general. Once he had conquered a power, he would bring the leaders of that army and that government back, and then to mock them, to humiliate them, he'd parade them through the streets in chains. So Paul is saying, what Christ has done: he's the great victor over sin and death, and he's parading these now conquered powers, humiliating them, showing God's triumph over them. That's euangelion; that's the Good News. And what he's saying is, "Declaring this victory is what my life is all about. Everything else centers around this great task". And everybody, so it must be for us.

Now, how does Paul go about his evangelical work? Well, he tells us in this little passage. Listen: "I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible". What's his life not about? It's not about aggrandizing his ego, not about finding worldly success, not about military victory, not about political triumph, not about becoming wealthy, famous, powerful. None of that; it doesn't matter to Paul. "Woe to me if I do not evangelize. Therefore, I'm willing to become a slave to everybody, to win over as many as I can". Paul puts evangelizing first, subordinates all his other concerns to that great concern. He goes on, listen. "To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some".

How many people would say, in his time or ours, "I'll become weak. That's the goal of my life". No, no; we all want to be strong, and successful, and famous. Paul says, "No, no; I'm willing to become weak". Why? "Because I want to reach the weak. I'll go to the most marginalized. I'll go to the smallest, the most forgotten. I'll become marginalized, small, and forgotten with them, because my job is to evangelize. I'll become, heck, all things to all people. I'll be rich with the rich, poor with the poor, midland with the midland. I'll go to those in the center of the culture". As he does. "I'll go to the marginal". As he does. "I'll become all things to all people, because I know fundamentally what I'm about, and I'll do practically anything to achieve that great good".

I think here of some successors of St. Paul, among the great missionaries and evangelists of our tradition. Think of St. Francis Xavier in that original company around St. Ignatius, one of the first Jesuits. And Ignatius, though he loved him as a great friend, he sent him, willingly, and never saw him again, sent him all the way across the world to India and to China. Well, Francis Xavier, when he was in India, realized that holy people dressed in rags, and lived among the poor, and were seen as bedraggled. And so that's how he dressed, that's how he operated. He said, "Well, okay, I'll become weak and poor with the weak and poor. I'll do what I have to do to evangelize".

But then, one of his successors, Matteo Ricci, when he was evangelizing some years later in China, realized that, no, spiritual people were seen as very elevated, dressed in fine clothes, lived in the imperial court. So that's what Matteo Ricci did. "I'll become poor with the poor, if that works. I'll become rich with the rich, if that works. Whatever conduces toward evangelization, that's what I am about". Again, listen to Paul, "All things to all people, to save at least some". Friends, what if the dominant concern of your life is bringing people to Christ? We've all got concerns. I get that. I've got other concerns as well. But what if we were to say: amidst all of these, the number one, the organizing, the central principle is bringing people to Christ? "I'm willing to do what it takes to accomplish that end".

Okay. So, what lessons for us? Now in the early years of the twenty-first century, as we are the inheritors of this great obligation to evangelize, what lessons for us? Well, again, I'll say it: we need to organize our lives around evangelization. I'm not saying now we've all got to become professional evangelists. In my own life, I'm, if you want, a kind of professional evangelizer because of my vocation as a priest, and a bishop, and for all kinds of reasons. I'm doing it in a very formal way. I don't mean you all have to do that. But I do mean that every baptized person should make it the central concern of his or her life to share friendship with Jesus Christ.

Here's a way to test it. When you wake up in the morning, and right away you start thinking about your day and things you have to do. Okay, that's natural. From shopping, to getting to work, to worrying about my family, all sorts of things. But what if, first and foremost, what if at the heart of all of that, what if the question of questions is, "How can I today bring someone to Christ"? I submit to you, your whole life's going to change. And you'll sense it; your whole life will change if you say that's the number one question today. "Why was that person put in my path"? Well, maybe that's an opportunity for evangelization. "What's the greatest thing that I have? What's the treasure of treasures, but my relationship with Christ, the victor over sin and death? And I want to share that with people".

Your life will change if you make that the central preoccupation. Second lesson, and relatedly: we should think of others not as objects to be used. That's the way a lot of us sinners think: "Oh, I can use or manipulate this person for my ends". Not that. We shouldn't see them as annoying blocks to the realization of my goals. So: "Here's what I want, and there's that person with his or her needs, and his or her obsessions, and they're getting in my way". We tend to think of others that way. What if we thought of them though as someone whom I'm meant to evangelize?

If I can riff here a little bit on Josemaría Escrivá: instead of saying, "Why is that person annoying me? What do I do with that annoying person?" what if I were to say, "Huh; why did God put in my path that person, and how can I evangelize him or her"? Don't see perhaps people who are on the surface rather difficult and annoying as simply that, but see them as an invitation, an opportunity to proclaim the Good News. Remember, too, we evangelize through our language, our explicit speech, that's true. Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that's in you, as St. Peter says. So that's true. I have nothing against that; I'm all for it. But at the same time, we evangelize often by the quality of our moral lives.

What brings people to Christ? Well, it might be just your kindness. It might be your compassion. It might be your basic decency and goodness. And they realize, "Huh. That person's a Christian; that person's a Catholic. Maybe there's something worth looking at". That's a form of evangelization. So think of everyone you come in contact with as someone perhaps that you're meant to evangelize. And then finally remember that Pauline instinct. Become weak with the weak, strong with the strong, despised with the despised, becoming all things to all people. In other words, go in their door.

See, it's wrong to evangelize in this way: "I got it all together, I got the answers, I got all my speeches lined up, and I'm just going to deliver them to you, and you, and you indifferently". No, no, no; the canny evangelist always reads the situation, a bit like a quarterback reading the defense he's facing, which is always shifting, and a good quarterback calls an audible on the line, even if it's not the play he planned. But having seen the defense, he shifts to a different play.

Okay. The canny evangelist knows that, yeah, with some people, argument works; with some people, witness works; with some people, posing a question in a fresh way works; with some people, your own moral goodness, your own concern for the poor works. Whatever it is, become all things to all people. Weak with the weak, strong with the strong, searching with the searching, etc. Go in their door, in other words. Ignatius of Loyola said that: go in their door. But the purpose is to bring them out through your door, or better, the door of Christ, crucified and risen. So, everybody, in conclusion. Can we all say and really mean it: "Woe to me if I do not evangelize". Can we put this preoccupation at the very center of our lives? And God bless you.
Are you Human?:*