I have a problem sometimes. I want the whole world to know Jesus and the power of His saving love. I have been convicted by the Great Commission of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
That’s not really a problem, I guess. The problem is I am only one man, living in suburban St. Louis. How can I fulfill the Great Commission? Sure, I have a little more opportunity than most, working in ministry full time, but even then, my influence is pretty limited.
Throughout my career in ministry, I have often been frustrated because I want to see this commission fulfilled in our Church — and it doesn’t seem like we are making much progress. It’s easy to look around at the Church and get discouraged by what isn’t happening and begin to assign blame.
We can find ourselves saying things like “If only the vocation director had done his job, we wouldn’t have this priest shortage” or “If only my pastor would reach out to those who aren’t coming, our pews would be full.” “If only my bishop…,” or “If only the pope….”
The “if only” list could go on and on.
The reality is, of course we can all do better, or do more. But focusing on what others aren’t doing is not going to help me become who I need to be in order to become a better evangelist.
St. Catherine of Siena is often quoted as saying “If you are who you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire.”
If we are meant to set the world on fire with the love of Jesus, we have to start with those things that we can control — namely, who am I meant to be? In the business world, an important leadership concept is to understand the difference between my circle of concern and my circle of influence. This obviously applies to our faith life, too!
My concern is for the whole world to know Jesus. But even Jesus didn’t come at a time when the whole world could hear His message instantly.
Rather, He came and invested deeply in a few people. He spent years in quiet prayer and preparation, and when He began His public ministry, He spent most of His time with the apostles teaching them and modeling for them how to live.
If we want to set the whole world on fire, we must do the same. We need to ask ourselves: What — or rather, who — can I actually influence?
Rather than pointing out what others are not doing, let’s start by investing deeply in a few, like Jesus did. Who are the people in your life that the Holy Spirit might be calling you to invest in?
Take time to pray for them, spend time with them and ask spiritual questions. Find a young couple in your parish and help them navigate the chaos of raising young children. Teach them to balance prayer and faith at home and talk about your own experiences and challenges.
Unfortunately, this isn’t often the norm in our parishes. We share a lot of life with one another, but we’re not always as intentional as we can be with our investment in helping others live the Gospel everyday.
I am convinced that this art of accompaniment — this focus on our own fruitfulness — is what will lead to the realization of the new evangelization in the Church today. The first command that God gave us in Scripture is to be fruitful. In the Great Commission, it’s the last command of Jesus as well — to go into the world and bear fruit.
If each of us begins to focus on the fruitfulness in our own lives, this will be the spark that leads to setting the world on fire.
Brian Miller is director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.