The word evangelize seems to be a scary one for a lot of us Christians, at least I know it is for me. I’m terrified of rejection, of offending someone, of people thinking I am ‘forcing’ my religion on them and so I often just stay silent when the truth inside of me is screaming to be heard. I went to public school before coming to Catholic University, and before that, I went to a Catholic middle school where it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be Catholic. I barely talked about my faith and when I did it rarely ended well for me. So, I learned to stay silent and out of fear I remained that way, and sometimes still do.
A couple days ago the gospel was when Jesus called Matthew to be his apostle (Mt 9:9-13). Jesus straight up just walks by this tax collector sitting at a customs post and says, “follow me” and continues walking… and the weirdest thing is, Matthew actually did! Like, this strange Jewish man commanded a tax collector to follow Him. Could you imagine the faces of the people who saw this take place? They must have been absolutely confounded, especially when Matthew got up and followed Him, no questions asked.
What about Jesus made Matthew want to leave the comfort of his life and follow Him? Was it something about Jesus’ demeanor that made Matthew trust Him? Was Matthew already having doubts about the morality of His life choices and Jesus calling him was the final straw? Was Matthew just bored and had no clue what he was getting Himself into? We will never know the answer to this question and yet we do know that He responded to Jesus’ call and followed him and then immediately after called together other tax collectors and ‘sinners’ he was friends with to meet Jesus. In our baptism, not only were we called to follow Jesus but we were also called to be evangelizers of His Word.
A huge part of our training when I was a summer missionary was recognizing our call to be missionary disciples and then helping us have the courage to act upon that call. Missionary Discipleship is this call to be first a disciple, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words and soak up His love, and then secondly to be a missionary, one who is sent. This is a call that we all receive at baptism and, like with Matthew, we must first hear Jesus’ words and then invite others to do the same.
Now that’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that it is terrifying and we have no clue how to do that in today’s world. I look to the saints and I see these amazing examples that seem unreachable or I can’t figure out how to relate their mission to the modern world. That is… I felt this way until discovering Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Born in 1901, Pier Giorgio was a young, handsome, athletic, and modern man. He was loved by everyone who met him, loved hiking in the mountains, struggled with school and family problems, and even experienced heartbreak. I was drawn to this saint immediately and after reading this book about his life I could see why. He is the perfect example of how youth today can evangelize.
He reached out to people in the coolest ways and always went to people where they were at. He would go to bars on Friday and Saturday nights and gamble in pool… The bet was if he loses he pays the winner, but if he wins the loser had to come with him to adoration the next day. How cool is that?! He would hike with his friends in the mountains and then when they weren’t even thinking about it, he would start talking to them about their faith and somehow convince them to come to mass. He did all these amazing things and more, and yet that isn’t what he is remembered for. Pier Giorgio’s evangelization was seen first and foremost in the way he served others, especially the poor. He had this insane humility and this beautiful heart that drove him to dedicate his life to serving others, visiting the sick, feeding the homeless, and even giving his train money away to someone in need. He was doing things that we all have the ability to do every day, and just by these normal good actions was he able to change thousands of hearts.
What gave him his heart for the poor and sustained him when he was exhausted and told him to keep fighting when people told him he was crazy? Long story short, Jesus did. Pier Giorgio started every day with mass and he would spend hours throughout the night kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He devoted himself to reading the gospel, especially the Beatitudes, and he surrounded himself with men and women who called him to greatness. People saw Christ in him because before he went out, before he was sent, he sat at the feet of Jesus and soaked in His love and mercy.
He had this motto, “Verso l’Alto” which translates to ‘to the heights’ because he believed that “the higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” Pier Giorgio has taught me what it means to be a missionary disciple, but more importantly, he has shown me how to serve Jesus humbly, and through that humility, how Jesus can work to bring others closer to Him. I highly, highly, recommend that you read this book about Pier Giorgio’s life, written by his sister because it will change your life and it will show you how to evangelize in our world today.
Jesus is calling us to leave comfort behind, like Matthew sitting at his post, and immediately respond… respond by living out the truth that is in our hearts. If you do that, no one will be turned away.