Are We Really Evangelists?

I wasn’t always such an enthusiastic Catholic.  Like so many others, despite my parents’ (and grandparents’) commitment to making sure I received the sacraments and attended my catechism classes, my teenage and young adult doubts and, to some extent, angst, caused me to step away from my faith for a time.

This is why today at high school reunions and various other gatherings of old friends, I am met with some surprise and good-humored teasing when I talk about my work and my love for Jesus Christ.  Most especially, I face challenges and questions about why I have chosen to not only remain Catholic, but to dedicate my life to sharing Catholicism with others and to its mission.

Instead of being bothered by the questions that invariably arise, I am grateful for them.  It’s an opportunity to share the story of God’s call in my own life.  The answer, for me, to the question of, “why would you want to be Catholic?” is the Eucharist and all that it means and offers.

While I understand what people mean when they tell me that often Catholic Mass is “boring”, I don’t see it as they do.  While Mass may not always be an edge-of-your-seat, hand-clapping extravaganza, I believe that if we focus on what is happening we will never be bored.  Every Mass God comes to us in the form of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  Every Mass God chooses again to feed our hunger with food that will allow us to live eternal lives.  Every Mass God frees us from slavery with the same glory He freed His people from Egypt.  Every Mass our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ joins us, the many, into one body.

It’s very rare that old friends are not eager to hear more when we share our “God moments” with them.  What they read about church in the news does not inspire them to race to the nearest worship service.  What they hear from others about unwelcoming communities and Masses that put them to sleep is not going to drive them to find a new reading from Scripture that they can relate to.  But every conversation with our friends and family, old and new, is an opportunity to show them how appealing being a Catholic Christian really is.

Evangelization is challenging.  The word alone, especially- I think- for Catholics, is a challenge.  Ultimately, though, it is a universal call to all of us.  It’s fine if you know all of the rules, great if you meet all of the obligations, and impressive if you can quote Scripture like a theologian.  That, however, stops short of the responsibilities we have as God’s children.  We are called to share the Good News.  The Good News is Jesus.  Sharing Jesus doesn’t have to be intimidating or scary.  It can be as simple as making a few changes in our attitudes and conversations.

For example, when you’re making plans with someone for brunch on Sunday and they choose a time that’s too early, maybe it’s natural to sigh and say, “That’s not going to work.  I have to go to Mass.  I would love to skip it because I’d much rather meet you, but I have to go”.  Evangelization can be as easy as, “Could we meet a little later?  Mass is at 9 and I really don’t want to miss it.” or, even better, you can add, “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go for brunch afterward?”

We can be evangelizers to one another as well.  Are our conversations with others at St. Peter’s positive?  Are the things we say about one another kind?  Do we fall into the trap of gossip?  Are our groups, committees, and clubs truly welcoming or do we exclude those who may be new or bring fresh ideas?

The Eucharist nourishes us.  It is perfect hospitality.  Are we hospitable?  When I felt God’s call to return to the Church, it took me a little time to get up the nerve to walk into a new parish where I knew nobody and wasn’t sure I’d be welcome.  It is often not easy for those who are new among us to be here.  The Body and Blood of Jesus reminds us and binds us- to each other, to those who are new, to those who feel most uncertain about their reception here.   In some ways, the most important thing we do as Christians is greet and welcome one another.  No one worships alone at Mass.  We are fortunate enough to gather with people both alike and vastly different from us at the table of the Lamb.  God demands that we recognize that connection.  Your loved ones that rode here with you?  Connected.  The people you’ve known and ministered with?  Connected.  The kids in front of you who are having a hard time being still this day?  Connected.  The woman who changed the way your ministry meetings are run?  Connected.  The teenagers who wore flip-flops and took an extra doughnut last week?  Connected.  That priest whose homilies are longer than you like?  Connected.  They are all, every one, your sisters and brothers.  You are called to greet them.  To love them.  To see beyond your differences and look upon the face of Christ in them.  Evangelization is as simple as changing the way we think about each other.

We can open our hearts to the wonder of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ thereby opening our hearts to the gift that the Mass truly is.  This will, in turn, open our hearts to one another and to those in our homes, communities, and workplaces.  When that happens, our identity as Catholics will begin to appeal to others in our lives, those old friends we encounter.  That is evangelization.

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