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Because He First Loved Us

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It was a Tuesday night after a long day of school and softball practice. I still wasn’t sure what this XLT thing was that my best friend had invited me to, but I agreed to check it out. I don’t remember anything about the talk, but I do remember that moment, during Eucharistic Adoration, as the band played, “Amazing love, how could it be, that you my king would die for me?” That was when I realized who was before me: Jesus. It changed everything.

Since that night over 20 years ago, my faith journey has taken many exciting twists and turns, including presently serving as the Managing Director for Parish Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I have come to know more about evangelization and discipleship in the last few years and given countless presentations and workshops to parish staff and volunteers on the topic.

There is a lot that could be said about evangelization, but I believe the heart of it is this: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4: 19). When we encounter a love that is life- changing and transformative, that is exciting and joyful; we want to share that love with everyone. Just think about the last wedding you attended or newborn baby you met. True love invites others into it, to witness and to participate.

The work of sharing the Gospel is no different. When we encounter Jesus’ love, the love that gives us our identity as beloved sons and daughters, we have no other option than to share it with everyone. We want others to know and experience Jesus’ unconditional love. We see this in the Gospels: the woman at the well experiences Jesus’ love and returns to the village to tell everyone about Him; the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who left in the middle of the night to tell the others about the Resurrected Jesus; and Mary Magdalene met Jesus in the garden on Easter Sunday morning then raced to the Upper Room to tell the Apostles.

Evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, can only begin after we encounter Jesus’ love that changes everything within us. How can we encounter this “amazing love,” and share it with others? The methods vary with every person, because Jesus loves each of us uniquely; but we could start with the following:

Prayer & Sacraments. Prayer is required to keep us connected to the One who first loved us, who gives us the grace to evangelize others. Commit to a daily prayer life. Pray Lectio Divina with Scripture. Attend daily Mass and Adoration. Make Confession frequently.

Accompaniment. We are not called to evangelize everyone, and sometimes those we want to evangelize are better evangelized by others. Ask the Lord in prayer to identify one to three people he wants you to intentionally accompany: Build relationships, share a meal, check in sometimes to see how they’re doing and ask if you can pray for and with them.

Discern Your Gifts. The Lord gave each of us unique gifts to build the kingdom and evangelize others. Pray through the following questions to discern what gifts God has given you: What makes you come alive? When have you received positive feedback from family and friends? What is a need or problem in the world that fires you up?

The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of evangelization. Let us entrust our work to Him.

Christen Aquino has over 10 years’ experience working with youth, young adults and adults in both Atlanta and Dayton. She served as the Director for Parish Evangelization for the Archdioceses of Cincinnati for the past three years. Christen now serves as the Director of Mission and Youth at Our Lady of Light Family in Centerville.

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