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The God-bearing life

A New Year is upon us and I wonder if one of these resolutions made your list: “Pray five minutes daily for people in my life who do not personally know Christ and his church; begin a conversation about faith with one person every month this year.”  

These are good resolutions. Each of us is called to share our faith, to evangelize. In fact, maybe one of these will even work for you.  

Enough of the lists. I just want to be more of a God-bearer. In our data-driven technocracy, I want Mary’s sense of wonder. In our use-or-be-used culture, I want Mary’s fullness of grace.

But I need to come clean: I am prone to manufacturing resolutions like this by the truckload. If I had a dollar for every one that came into my head, I’d be a rich man. For whatever reason (a man’s proclivity to compartmentalize?), I find it easy to reduce evangelization to metrics: number of people, number of giveaway books, number of clicks … 

Whenever I do, I risk treating others like projects instead of human beings. I risk exchanging the joy of the Gospel for bean counting; the sweeping mysterium fidei — the “mystery of faith” — for a tidy series of columns in a spreadsheet. As Pope Francis said of this tendency, “How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.”

God has a way of cornering us, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by my pastor’s homily Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Reflecting not on new resolutions but on the Greek word “Theotokos,” which is often translated “Mother of God,” he noted that a more accurate translation might be “God-bearer.” You and I are not the Theotokos who carried Jesus in her womb, he noted, but each of us is called to be a “theotokos.” 

“As a theotokos, a God-bearer, how do you carry and bear and give life to Jesus in your daily interactions, conversations, and actions?” he asked. 

The question was a direct hit. It is forcing me to consider Mary’s entire way of life as the first evangelist who always points to Jesus, rather than a new list of resolutions. It is laying bare my “self-justification project.” My pastor’s question is compelling me to see the power in Mary’s one resolution: “Be it done unto me according to thy will.”  

Enough of the lists. I just want to be more of a God-bearer. In our data-driven technocracy, I want Mary’s sense of wonder. In our use-or-be-used culture, I want Mary’s fullness of grace. In our culture of achievement, I want Mary’s ability to discern when to be still and when to set out in haste. Instead of succumbing (again) to the pride of hitting new goals, or the discouragement of falling short (again), I want Mary’s obedience.  

To evangelize means to announce the Good News, the “first proclamation” that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 164); that in Christ, “the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy” (“Evangelii Nuntiandi,” 27). 

I have studied this Good News, received a master’s degree in this Good News, and worked for over a decade among Good News professionals. But what does this even mean if I am not a theotokos, a God-bearer? Do I bear the son of God in my demeanor, mentality, speech, posture, expressions, actions, budget, work, friendships, fatherhood, marriage and entire way of life? As a theotokos, do I run from every near occasion of sin? Does my life pulse with amazement at being chosen as a “dwelling place of the living God?”  

So many questions, so many potential resolutions. But here is one: Today, dear Jesus, grant me the grace to follow your mother, the Theotokos and first evangelist; allow me to be a God-bearing theotokos who carries you into the gift of this day.

 Johnson is diocesan director of evangelization.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019