THE STREET PREACHER
I recently connected with a good friend Jim who had moved to Florida several years ago. Jim is a dedicated Christian and, more recently, has decided to move into full-time ministry
What is interesting about Jim’s story is the type of ministry he’s decided on; street ministry. For most of us, particularly Catholics, the thought of street ministry or street preaching would send shivers down our spines. Standing outside of Walmart or some other public place waving a sign cooling others to the word of God seems to be as un-Catholic a method of evangelization as I can think to imagine. Our methods of evangelization are either internal and very formal such as catechesis; or based on works of mercy and service. These might include food ministry, helping the homeless, visiting those who are ill, and many others.
Now I’m not suggesting that we immediately go down to our local sign maker, take our favorite lines of scripture and then stop parading up and down Main Street. However, I do think there is something to be learned from Jim’s experience.
It turns out the street preaching is not always verbal but can lead to that; in his initial efforts, Jim will create a sign, usually with scripture or a scriptural message, and then just let the sign speak for itself; he is merely the sign holder. As you could imagine, this brought several different responses. Some ignored him as if he wasn’t there; some glanced at him; others made kind comments or acknowledgments some made comments that were less so kindly. Then, over weeks in different locations, Jim found others spontaneously talking to him about while he was doing, what the message was, or their own experience of what the message meant.
Just the pure boldness of Jim’s evangelization strategy calls me to action as well. Not that you’re necessarily going to find me on the side of the street with the sign proclaiming Jesus’s call to action in the world, but it did make me think while this was so difficult (for me). As Catholics, we like to do our evangelization quietly or with other aid such as food, resources, assistance to others. The aid and the assistance speak for God’s action and our participation in it.
But are we missing something? Are we willing to be as bold as Jim? Could you stand there with the message and be ready to defend it? These are great questions right now are milling around in my heart and soul. It makes me think how willing I am to be there proclaiming his message in one of these bolder ways. When Pope Francis talks to us about leaving the church’s door and meeting people where they are, street preaching may not be as far out as we think. Missionaries have taken on far more dangerous tasks over the years in church history. But it appears we always want the shield of a gift or service that we’re trying to offer; it seems we can only be most comfortable when we have something to help us evangelize.
Perhaps this message from a Protestant street preacher can give us some confidence to be even bolder in our message to others. Perhaps not in the street, but within the family, amongst friends, and those who might be unwilling to listen. Even those reluctant to listen may have an interaction with you that sets them on the journey of discovery and exploration with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps not immediately but in a future time unknown to us. God Bless.
A cross on a walking trail in Southern California near the San Gabriel Mountains
It is me or my actions?
Am I a thinker or is it my thoughts?
Can I do things, or am I a doer?
A mind informs the soul, but it is not the soul.
For there is only the presence tense, acting, doing, thinking.
Is this my real being?
Who I am?
This being observing myself.
Recently I heard a recording from a Fr. Richard Rohr presentation called the “Beginners Mind”. It reminded me of how a child reacts to the world. When we arrive in a room with small children, the child looks for the adult with a smile, the one who is open and friendly—the simple detective work of one hunting and searching for love.
Children detect hostility, unfriendliness, and those who are unauthentic in a way that is beyond words. Their agenda is simple; there is no agenda. There is no duality in their thinking, just looking for the one who is most friendly, open, and willing to love. Come play with me is mostly present in their eyes.
How much of this can we learn again in our relationship with God. How many have fallen prey to following the tradition rather than the love? Our Catholic tradition without love is meaningless. Particularly if we start to “preach” tradition in a way that divides us from others rather than unites us in the community of God; the Body of Christ. The Church universal.
We sometimes need a reminder the word Catholic means universal. For us this is universal love, and there is nowhere we can feel and hear that word more soundly than in love expressed by a child. A child cannot fend for themselves; they survive only with love. So do I. Without love, I am nothing, just someone looking for a cave to dwell in with a warm fire and a loving friend.
The loving friend we seek is the same one the child in the room opens their heart towards. The love expressed by the adult in the room is filled with the grace of God. And one willing to communicate it freely, willingly with the smile which requires no repayment. Just gift. Pure gift.
Let us return to the “Beginners Mind”, let us unlearn the prejudices and offer ourselves openly to listen to others, even offer love to those we dislike, without scowls or pretense. The child in us all brings us back to the Beginners Mind, when we did not judge, but loved.
And sat silently on the floor waiting for God to come and play with us. Forever.
BE READY LIKE A CHILD
Be ready like a child,
For learning is simple when we accept
For belief with a child’s mind
is like simple addition.
The result is pure and right.
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Gospel of Matthew
Reflection, Photograph and Poem by Michael J. Cunningham OFS