One of the great gifts of the New Evangelization is the reminder that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to evangelize the culture because, like us, it is in need of conversion. Christians, we know, are called to live, work, and play within the world without taking on the attitudes and habits of that world which — while made by God and declared good — has nevertheless been broken through sin. Thus our weapons are not those of the world. Rather, our weapons are spiritual in nature.
Joe Paprocki makes this point in his new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe devotes an entire chapter to the power of the cross and it’s power to transform our ways of living and thinking.
By way of example Joe relates the story of Barabbas and the decision by the Jews to ask for him instead of Jesus when offered a prisoner by Pontius Pilate. Barabbas was a revolutionary who sought to overthrow the occupying Romans by force. Jesus, in contrast, was a king with no visible army who did not defend himself.
These two figures continue to challenge us today as we seek to live in a world increasingly hostile to the kerygma. One tempts us to be “realists” and utilize the ways of the world in order to defeat it. The other asks us to renounce those ways in favor of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. In short, we are asked to embrace the cross. Joe reminds us that
As Christians, we formally worship Jesus on Sunday; but all too many of us continue to clamor for Barabbas the other six days of the week. We do so because we trust that his weapons are more suited to the “real world” than are those of Jesus Christ. As a result, we remain enslaved by what I call the “Barabbas cycle.” Whenever we perceive that we are “attacked” by an evil, we are inclined to respond with a bigger, stronger (but in our eyes more righteous) version of the same evil. Ironically, our actions are self-defeating. By perpetuating evil, we are only strengthening the enemy we aim to crush.
The Gospels, of course, tell us that choosing Barabbas is a mistake — that Jesus is the savior we need, and that his weapon, the cross, is more powerful than any gun.
The cross? Cue those crickets again.
Unfortunately too often we fall short of Christ’s call and fall prey to the temptation to fight fire with fire. Whether calling for preemptive war, making disparaging and uncharitable comments online, gossiping in the office, or playing politics while ignoring the common good, the ways of the world lead away from the cross and the Kingdom of God.
Fortunately we can renounce the bad habits of the world and seek to embrace the way of the cross in our lives. Joe offers three suggestions for cultivating “kingdom habits” that will help us embrace our crosses and use them for the spiritual benefit of the world:
- Cultivate silence as a means of silencing the ego.
- Shift the focus away from our own needs by reducing our consumption.
- Focus on others by practicing generosity.
These three habits can not only radically transform our personal lives; they are also key habits for the New Evangelization, which calls us out of ourselves in order to preach the Gospel through the proclamation of the kerygma and the practice of the Works of Mercy.
I highly recommend Under the Influence of Jesus — in fact, I’m giving away a copy to a lucky reader! Check out this blog post for details.