What the world desperately needs most from the Church is saints.
This is my understanding of what Sebastian Condon was saying in a column in The Catholic Weekly a few weeks ago. And who can dispute that? Just look at the history of the Church. Even when combined together the work of committees and organisations is utterly outclassed by the personal holiness of one single saint. Hence the incessant call of St John Paul II, Benedict, and now Francis to holiness for the sake of others, if not ourselves.
This does not mean, and Condon underlines this, that bureaucracy is an evil. Families and parishes – the two single most influential seats of the Church’s mission – receive much of the fruit of bureaucracy. Spare a prayer for those who work and suffer – for Satan does not like their efforts – for us in Catholic offices around the world.
But a word of respectful disagreement about noisy evangelisation.
Thank God somebody does it. We aren’t all called to street evangelisation – but we are all called to discomfort for the salvation of many: “Go from your country and your kindred and your Father’s house” (Gen 12:1). The Incarnation is that very thing – when the co-eternal Son left his Father’s house to discomfit himself “unto death, even death on a cross” for others.
It’s not a new thing. Jesus spent three years doing it – having deeply personal conversations with strangers in the street. The apostles did the same. The stories of the saints are littered with such experiences.
And in a world where it has become dangerously easy to simply shut out anything I assume I don’t like, ‘disruptive’ public evangelisation – conditioned by charity, prudence and union with the local bishop – is a real act of mercy to our neighbour, who may well otherwise go their life without.
In a society chock-full of impersonal unasked-for offensive advertising, the Church renders a service to colour a tiny bit of it in the proposal of the attractive nobility of Christ through a charitably interested in personal and genuinely human encounter.
Hopefully it’s not noise. The Kingdom of Noise is the domain of Screwtape’s father below. Bosch’s trumpeters do much to highlight this distressing expression of Hell. It might be better characterised by that scene towards the end of 1968’s Oliver! As the bedroomed sleeping Oliver is awoken by the outside call of the rose vendor, disarming by its noble simplicity and respect for his freedom, so do those who take time on the streets unexpectedly interrupt the habitual mode of existence of those they meet there.
And characteristic of the action of saints, such activities hit well above their weight. Once, concluding a pre-mission repast with my fellow missionaries in the local pub (the Gospel accounts are, after all, often coloured by the presence of alcohol!) I was on my way out when a lady, noticing my collar, asked if I was a priest.
Confirming this was so, we had a good brief conversation reminiscing about her youth in a Catholic school. My companion had the foresight to invite the lady to the church which served as our base for the evening.
Madam thought this unlikely, and while we both warmly welcomed her while letting her feel totally free, the lady was understandably keener to pass the evening with her friends.
I found her, hours later, kneeling in adoration clutching a paper with a bible text, silent tears anointing her cheeks.
I don’t know what will happen to her or anyone: but I do know that street evangelisation is important to non-Christians. And that through it people meet God.