Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Without Preaching the Gospel

Although the title for this inspirational reflection comes from inside the text of a small article I read online, it was the title of that online article that lured me into reading.  I routinely read quite a few religious and spiritual websites just so I can be more aware of what’s going on in the world.  And it is literally in the world.  Once upon a time, you were current if you knew what was going on in your city or state.  Really “with it” people had a good national awareness.  When I was growing up, I don’t think I knew anyone who had been abroad.  In those days on the Indiana farm, to go to New York City or DC was tantamount to going abroad!

With the internet things have changed.  The world is as near as the click of the mouse.  So I try to follow the global news, particularly in the spiritual sense.  If I am dealing with students in my class who may live till 2085, I need to help them live with an awareness of the shrinking world they inhabit.  I have to be careful of my own perspective and prejudices.

As I was reading online, suddenly this title jumped out at me: “Beauty and Beer.”  What a pair of words: beauty and beer!  I had no idea what the article would be describing.  Then I saw the subtitle, which helped a little.  The subtitle proclaimed, “Monk’s Outreach is Part of New Evangelization.”  That certainly redefines evangelization from what I knew as a boy.  I was hooked; I had to read the article.

The story is about a Benedictine monastery in Italy---Norcia, to be exact.  Norcia is the birthplace of Benedict, the Italian Catholic who founded the Benedictine monastery in the 6th century.  The monastery in that Italian city has only eighteen monks.  Father Benedict Novakoff is the director of the brewery, as well as being the subprior (basically the second in command---“vice-abbot,” if you please).  The brewery is a recent venture.  Since Benedictine monasteries are supposed to be self-supporting financially, it was begun with moneymaking in mind.

However, when people began to flock to the monastic gift shop to buy the beer, the monks realized perhaps God had given them more than a mere way to make money to support the community in its prayer and work life.  The gift shop became an engaging place of hospitality for a group of monks whose commitment is always to be hospitable.  But they were not only hospitable to folks.  The monks soon discovered they were involved in a kind of ministry.

Deep in the article I found a remarkable sentence that made me sit up and take notice.  Again in conversation with Father Novakoff, we learn that the monks recognize the multiple circumstances in which they meet people.  We can listen to Novakoff’s insightful words.  He says, “we have to preach the gospel without preaching the gospel---just through the example of Christian charity and being kind to people.”  That sentence is an absolute gem.

I was drawn to the idea of preaching the gospel without preaching the gospel.  There are still a number of churches that intend to convert people to Christianity.  They still work with revivals and, often, altar calls.  Of course, they can still be effective.  But that has not been my style.  And I know a multitude of people for whom that is a real turn-off.  Clearly the monks have an alternative: beauty, beer and preaching without preaching.

The insight of Father Novakoff, which I take away, is the interpretation he offers for “preaching the gospel without preaching the gospel.”  They preach without preaching in two ways.  In the first place they model the example of Christian charity.  They love!  How quaint!  How powerful.  If love is “preaching the gospel without preaching the gospel,” then count me in.  I want to become a preacher!

In the second place they preach by being kind to people.  How sneaky, I thought.  Being kind to people is something we can do any place and at any time.  I don’t need a degree or special education.  I don’t need to be divinely called by God to preach and to evangelize.  I don’t even insist that people become religious in a particular way.  I simply am going about my evangelizing “without preaching the gospel.”

This is when the beer came into focus.  Beer in the gift shop of a monastery is clever.  It is a wonderful sign of hospitality.  It is a gift (well, for a little money).  It is a sign of love.  Certainly, it is one of the ways monks are being kind to others.  But then, I realized, the real gift is not the beer.  The real gift is the love that God is showing through the monks.  The gospel is being lived out in the monks’ kindness to the guests.

That is really good news.  For sure, it is good news which is precisely what the gospel is: “good news.”  It is hospitality, love, kindness and, finally, relationship with God, the Giver of Good News.

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