July 15, 2011

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Br. Moises Gutierrez, O.F.M.

It takes a little understanding

Franciscan Brother Moises GutierrezWe sometimes tend to think that diversity makes everything more difficult—even our call to spread the Gospel. However, it does not take much to carry out our call to be evangelizers in this diverse world. It takes a little understanding.

Years ago when I joined the Franciscans, I was offered the opportunity to come to the United States, and I had to learn English. I attended an “English as a second language” program at a Catholic university in Texas. During the first week of the program, I had an experience that opened my eyes to the world of cultural diversity.

While walking on campus, I saw my favorite teacher talking with another person. With a great smile on my face, I said hello to him. I didn’t get a response. I didn’t understand, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to say hello to him ever again.

The next time I had class with him he explained that in the United States you usually don’t interrupt people when they are talking with others. I explained that where I grew up it was just the opposite—it was considered rude not to say hello when you saw someone you knew even if they were talking.

Throughout the rest of the year, he would excuse himself when talking with others to say hello to me when he saw me on campus. He was mindful of my cultural upbringing, and I was mindful of his.

Experiences like these are much more common now due to the diversity of our society. We all encounter people who present cultural behaviors and attitudes we don’t understand, and our usual tendency is to withdraw. However, our call is to be channels of God’s love to one another, and that includes people whose cultures we don’t understand.

It is amazing how a little understanding makes a huge difference. That experience changed my attitude toward relating with people. Since then, whenever I don’t understand someone’s behavior, I think, “there must be something that explains this behavior or attitude.” Immediately, I feel at peace and experience a desire to share and relate more deeply with that individual.

What does this have to do with evangelization? I believe that a little understanding opens the potential to spread the Good News of the Gospel—to evangelize.

To carry out our call as evangelizers, we don’t need to become experts in cultural studies. There is simply not enough time to learn everything about all the different cultures we encounter. But we can offer a little understanding, and we will be amazed how it will draw the best out of us and those to whom we offer our understanding, just as it did for my English teacher and me.

After that experience, I was ready to hear any message that would come from him. His understanding disarmed me and made me like “the seed that fell on rich soil … who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Lk 8:15).

This is the first step to carrying out the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us (Jn 13:34). Just by the act of offering understanding, we embrace an approach of openness, acceptance and trust. This approach leads us, in turn, to great opportunities to evangelize and to be evangelized in ways we can never imagine.

It doesn’t take much to carry out our call to be evangelizers in our diverse world—only a little understanding.

(Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez is the coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. For questions and/or help starting a parish evangelization team, contact Peg McEvoy at pmcevoy@archindy.org.)

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