|Pieter Lastman - Jonah and the Whale|
Jonah, who first ran, then tried to sail away from God's will, is now the willing mouthpiece to announce the destruction of Ninevah if its inhabitants do not turn away from their sins. Rather willingly, they immediately give up their ways and God does not destroy them. Somehow, Jonah, who was so reluctant a prophet, was totally convincing.
This weekend, no doubt, many of us will hear homilies about the need to repent and believe in the Good News, the message of Jesus, who has just appeared in Galilee following the death of John the Baptist.
But what of willingness to evangelize others? Jesus, ultimately, will hand that to the disciples as their mission when he leaves earth at his Ascension. How many Catholics today are more like Jonah, ducking and mumbling, "Anyone else but me, Lord!"?
Truth be told, the best evangelizers are the people who have known the belly of the whale - the hopeless, terrorizing suffering of "three days and three nights" in the dark (Jon. 2:1) before seeing the light of day again. People who have gone through the dark times in life and again have seen the light are often most willing to tell their story and of the God who saved them. Of course, the three days/nights parallel the three days of Jesus' own Paschal Mystery.
Those who have suffered in life make good evangelizers, but so do people who allow themselves to suffer with Christ by immersing themselves in the Easter Triduum. If you look out at the assembly of those who are willing to be there for all of the Three Days, you will usually see those active in service of others in the parish, through teaching, charity and other action. They are also the people who are most likely to regularly attend Sunday Mass, because they know what it means when the Church says that each Sunday is a little Easter. Their frequent participation in the sacrifice of the Mass strengthens their connection to Christ and to his message - and to their mission to proclaim Christ - and the joy of salvation.
These are the truly engaged parishioners - and they are most willing to take on the role of prophets and evangelizers. So, where do we find the faithful witnesses who can become our best evangelizers? Look first for those who have their own stories of suffering... and look among those who fill the pews during those celebrations that others feel are "optional." Those who know that really know God. Listen to them - and provide them with opportunities to testify to their faith in the parish and the community. They are a gift.