Everyone has an idea of what the Catholic Church needs to appeal to people today!
Maybe it is time for us to look back to the ”Good News” Jesus brought and how he embodied God’s word.
Did Jesus leave us a theology text or code of canon law or even just a basic catechism? Did Jesus have an elaborate three-year pastoral Plan?
In this Vincentian Mindwalk let’s explore what could be called Jesus’ “Pay It Forward” approach.
Against all odds
In less than 70 years, he attracted some 25,000 followers… an amazing number in ithose times.
After all, his first collaborators numbered only 12 ordinary people. In the next 200 years they swelled to 20 million… despite fierce persecutions.
Some important things to keep in mind. (See The Forgotten Ways, a book by Alan Hirsch dedicated to exploring dimensions of church renewal.)
- They were an illegal religion throughout this period. At best, they were tolerated; at the very worst, they were very severely persecuted.
- There were no church buildings as we know them. While archaeologists have discovered chapels dating from this period, they were definitely exceptions to the rule. They gathered in private homes. In times of persecution they would gather in catacombs
- Nor did they have a highly institutionalized or professional form of leadership normally associated with church today.
- They didn’t have youth groups, seminaries, committees, or even choirs!
- And they actually made it hard to join the church. By the late second century, aspiring converts had to undergo a significant and rigorous initiation period to prove they understood.
Pay It Forward theology
The lead line in the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward” was, “When someone does you a good deed, don’t pay it back, pay it forward.”
That was shorthand for the response to a good deed someone does for you. In this way, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, creating a social movement with an impact of making the world a better place.
I often think, isn’t that what Jesus’ mission was all about… teaching us to pay the gift of God’s love forward?
After all, God has first loved us… and wants us to pay it forward! This is what Jesus did? And his movement changed… and is changing the world!
Jesus taught this approach
Just two quick examples…
- The good Samaritan wasn’t paying anyone back. He was simply giving the gift of his care without asking for anything in return.
- The parable about the unforgiving servant makes the same point in reverse. The master, in effect, says… I gave you the gift of forgiveness. Why did you not pass it on and forgive another debtor his debts?
Both stories end with “go and do likewise”!
Jesus modeled “pay it forward’
Jesus washing his disciples feet and giving his life for us is the ultimate expression of “pay it forward”.
Do this in memory of me!
- Wash one another’s feet.
- Lay down your life for your sisters and brothers.
Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways believes that “all God’s people carry within themselves the same potencies that energized the early Christian movement.”
Evangelization as “paying it forward.
At its root, isn’t this another description of evangelization?
It is not accidental that it was said to Christians “See how they love one another.”
Evangelization is touching people’s lives by loving others as we have been loved.
- While recognizing the importance of structures, have we forgotten that people respond to being loved more than memorized answers.
- Do we appreciate that we do not earn God’s love, only “pay it forward?”
- Will “they know we are Christians by our love”… and want to join “the Jesus movement?