The Threat Of The Gospel
I don't know you, but I am tired of hearing the garden variety V II priest talk of the “joy of the Gospel”, and invite his parishioners to “spread” said “joy”. It seems to me that the message is fundamentally off, and that it gives an extremely distorted view of Catholicism.
Yes, the concept has been around for 2,000 years now. But that joy was solidly grounded in the fear of the Lord and the ever present danger of damnation.
What happens now is that salvation is more or less a given, no one of the pewsitter wanting to be so unkind as to think that his sign-of-peace-giving pew neighbour, or even his pot-smoking nephew, could actually go to hell. How can anyone so rude and uncharitable to even entertain that possibility?
When hell is out of the equation, the “joy” is completely derailed, deformed, even betrayed. It becomes a sort of announcement that it is party time, without any mention of the conditions for admission and, in fact, without any real party in sight.
This is also why it does not work. An agnostic being told to rejoice because of the Good News will simply answer to you that his daily routine is just as boring today as it was yesterday. A youth thinking of his pleasure and advantage wil ask you whether this good news comes with, at the very least, music and beer. A single mother living in sin with lover number seventeen will think that the good news means she does not need to change anything in her life. A heathen believing in strange gods will think of you as his insurance just in case his own religion should fail him when he – as he still plans to do – dies in it. All of them will have no interest in something that is at the same time useless and already given to them for free.
This is not how our forefathers saw the entire matter. Their belief was grounded in a very solid fear of a very concrete danger of damnation. And the possibility and reasonable hope to, by fighting the battle to the end, reach one day an eternal state of unimaginable happiness was, and is cause of much joy. But it is joy grounded in a solid knowledge of the basis for it.
The V II “joy” talk has nothing of it. It is, in the end, inane talking, because it refuses to be rooted in truth.
When I speak to heathens or atheists about Christianity I do not even mention the “joy of the Gospel”. I actually start with the very actual, very real threat of hell that the Gospel represents for him. You do it in the right way – playful, but serious; we aren't Protestants bashing bibles, but we aren't V II wussies, either – and you will see how it sits.
Get that sting in the brain. It will not go away so soon, as the message has far more serious consequences for the recipient than a “joy” pretty much free for the asking, or without even the asking. It might bear great fruit one day. You will, of course, be more or less friendly mocked, or worse. But this is a small price to pay for a chance of conversion, perhaps – and with God's grace – many years down the line.
The joy of the gospel is soon forgotten. The Threat of the Gospel works a lot better.