Light the City: Come and See

“Come and see.” This is how our Lord began gathering disciple and followers (John 1:39). Jesus met people going about the task of daily life and invited them to learn more about him and his Father by listening, praying, learning and celebrating together.

On Pentecost, we were reminded that one of fruits of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is to follow Jesus’ example of inviting others to “come and see.” In fact, Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians states simply, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Each of us has been given particular gifts that enable us to be Christ’s witnesses.

From its very beginning, the Church has understood her responsibility to pass on the Good News. Now we are engaged in renewing our evangelizing spirit. Revitalized by the Holy Spirit, all believers are called to renew their faith and personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church, to deepen their appreciation of the truth of the faith, and to joyfully share it.

One of the things the Church has learned in this commitment to a New Evangelization is that there are many, many people who have learned about Jesus only incompletely, who do not know the joy of a relationship with him. They may be people who have drifted away from the Church and the practice of prayer. We want to meet these people and remind them that though they may have drifted far from God, God has not forgotten them.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Washington created an initiative called Light the City. Taking place at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, Light the City opens the doors of our mother church to the neighborhood. On a Saturday evening, young men and women, joined by seminarians, priests and sisters, take lighted candles and go out into the neighborhood around the Cathedral to meet people where they are – on their way to and from dinner, out for a walk, heading home from work – to invite them to consider Jesus for a moment.

The invitation of the Light the City evangelizers is to “come and see.” Come spend a few minutes enjoying the beauty and quiet of the church. Come, light a candle and say a prayer for someone who could use a prayer. If the person is not sure how to pray, an offer is made to pray together.

If the person shares that they are a Catholic, the evangelizer invites that person to come and experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, reminding him or her that it does not matter how long it has been since their last encounter with this healing grace. The “light is on” in our confessionals and our priests are ready and eager to assure people that God has never been far from them and God is ready to listen.

Our evangelizers welcome questions and have people ready to answer questions about our Christian faith and the Church. The message that these young people hope to communicate is one that will inspire others joyfully to follow us along the path of the kingdom of God. It is the message of Jesus Christ, and so they are first and foremost joyful witnesses to the love of the Lord.

Tomorrow evening in this Year of Mercy, we will again host Light the City. You are invited to join us at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Or perhaps even sign up to be a volunteer and come an hour early for training, at 7 p.m., and be a witness to others of the joy found in our Lord and in our Church. Come and see the beauty of an invitation accepted and the people who stop into the Cathedral to encounter Jesus. Come and spend some time in prayer so that when our visitors walk into the house of God, they see people at prayer, preparing for confession, and sharing fellowship.

Through it all, we have a message of great joy: Christ is risen, Christ is with us and his love for us is forever. Whatever our circumstances, Christian witness radiates with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, with love, generosity, peace and joy (cf. Galatians 5:22). And this joy of knowing you are loved is infectious.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today (2013).”