Many Christians are bound to become pessimistic and discouraged after not seeing much fruit from all their labors in catechesis and evangelization. My generation, “The John Paul II Generation,” often got involved in the work of the Church thinking that with their arrival hearts would be converted and the world changed for the better. However, many of these people (myself included), though still generally enthusiastic about their work, struggle with disillusionment and discouragement.
I once asked Bishop Barron what he saw as a major flaw in the “John Paul II Generation,” and his answer was telling. As someone who worked with many young seminarians in this generation, he thought their major flaw was a lack of resilience. While my generation was rightfully enthusiastic about the faith and holiness—he was critical of his own generation as being overly skeptical and cynical about these things—he thought we did not know how to pick ourselves back up and continue the good work after suffering a fall or a setback. We easily become disillusioned and give up the good we’re called to do. As a remedy, Bishop Barron recommended a spirituality of perseverance and resilience, but he also noted that we needed to have a more realistic understanding of sanctity, and the darkness and hiddenness it entails.
I easily become discouraged by not seeing any fruit from my labors. More than simply doing my duty because of the dictates of my conscience, I am also motivated by a desire for recognition, and this includes my efforts in evangelization. Because of this motivation, I do not really proclaim Christ but myself. Perhaps the real reason for my lack of fruitfulness is that I am lacking in humility and hidden service. I do not want to judge the intentions of others, but I assume I am not alone in this desire for recognition and praise. Many young evangelists seek to become the next JP2 or Bishop Barron, and they never ask, in the first place, whether or not that is their vocation. Instead, they become actors on a stage. Perhaps, in reality, God is calling them to a hidden life. But how hard this is to accept in our age of Instagram celebrities!
Not following one's vocation results in disaster, even if on the surface we appear to be a success. In A Man For All Seasons, the young Richard Rich eagerly seeks a position at court from Sir Thomas More. Instead of proposing to Richard such a glamorous position, More tells Richard that he can find him a job as a schoolteacher. Richard is downcast by such a proposition. When More asks him why he is not delighted by such a proposal, Richard replies, “And if I were [a teacher], who would know it?” To which, More wisely counsels, “You. Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public that. Oh, and the quiet life.” However, Richard still desires the life of fame, envying More’s position. And he eventually turns on his wise counselor, selling his soul, not for the sake of the world but “for Wales.”
Evangelists have to be careful to avoid the temptation to only preach the Gospel for the sake of worldly acclaim. Such an approach immediately negates the Gospel. Rather, they must proclaim the Gospel always without seeking recognition. Practically, this means that you should not base your evangelical enthusiasm on how many “likes'' your article gets on social media or whether or not you become an influencer in the Catholic world. See yourself more like the farmer who casts seed, not knowing what will come of it. Perhaps you will see the fruit of your efforts. But maybe you will not. Either way, continue to proclaim the Gospel. And always remember that just as Christ hung on the cross in inconceivable suffering, his heart was also full of joy. The spirituality of perseverance must begin by contemplating the Sacred Heart of Jesus, letting your heart become a heart that pours itself out for the sake of the world, receiving the world’s blows and betrayals as akin to a kiss. Such is the life of the disciple, who dares to hope in the redemption of the world.