March 1, 2014
I recently attended a weeklong course on the new evangelization. And I learned the secret to transforming the world.
The week was filled with lots of information and statistics were flown out left and right. Ninety percent of Americans believe in God. Only 38 percent belong to a particular church. Eleven percent attend weekly Mass or service.
Overwhelmed, I asked myself, “How do we reach the 89 percent who don’t take their faith seriously enough to practice it each week?” We discussed the need for a new passion. New methods. And new expressions.
Well, I couldn’t argue with this. It all sounds great. But something still made me feel uneasy about it. Like something was missing. Something didn’t go deep enough. What’s the secret?
It wasn’t until the last day of class that everything started to make sense to me. We were reading Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation and focused on what needed to happen before anything else, according to the pope: time with God in prayer.
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
This quiet encounter with Christ takes place in prayer. In silence. In time spent alone with Christ. Francis asks us to do this every day. And it is the secret to transforming the world.
We can’t spread the Gospel to others if we aren’t letting Christ work through us in prayer. In fact, we can’t even be fully human unless we let God work through us…in prayer. Pope Francis says that “we become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.”
Suddenly everything I learned that week seemed less overwhelming. I knew that all of the strategizing and methods people could possibly come up with wouldn’t do the trick. The first thing that will change the hearts of those around us is our commitment to prayer. Prayer, slowly and deeply transforming our hearts and souls in such a way that other hearts are touched, is the core of any outreach or love we want to spread to other people.
It’s freeing to remember that it’s not our “project” to change the world. It’s God’s project. And He can do it through hearts that are open to His will—hearts that listen for His voice in the silence of prayer.
Our lives begin to take a different shape. Letting God have His way in our hearts allows him to transform us to the point that it’s visible to others. “He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives.”
This is why St. Therese of Liseux, a Carmelite nun who never left the walls of her small convent in France, is now the patroness of missionaries. It is because she knew the secret to letting God transform her heart in prayer. And that changes the world.
God is wanting us to draw near to him this Lent. To offer our hearts to Him in prayer in an open and humble way. And we do this by giving Him our time, being real with Him as we tell Him about what’s going on in our lives, and listening to what He has to say to us. Only then will God really have his way with us. And use us to transform the world.
• Nagel is the executive assistant to the bishop at the Diocese of Bismarck. Her column on the words and actions of Pope Francis will appear bi-monthly in the DCA.