As the Catechism reminds us, winning converts to our Faith should be a constant concern for all Catholics: "The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers … or to the faithful" (#905). God pours out his saving grace in many ways, but He normally requires – and we could even say desires – the willing collaboration of his sons and daughters in this joyful task. Winning converts is your task and there is no more endlessly satisfying and challenging work than that of saving souls.
Admit it. Don’t you from time to time think about sharing with your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or your colleague the joy that it is in your heart in enjoying the fullness of our Faith in the Catholic Church? If the fullness of Christianity exists in the Catholic faith, it’s hardly something about which we should be timid, or, as some do, apologize!
The famous Catholic philosopher (and convert) Dietrich von Hildebrand said that we should look upon all people we encounter either as Catholics in or as potential Catholics. Perhaps already some of you have had the wonderful experience of being the godparent or sponsor of a friend whom, by God’s grace, you have guided into the Church. You know then the joy that fills the heart in being God’s instrument. The only comparable joys are marriage, becoming a parent, and performing the sacraments of the Church in persona Christi as a priest.
This delight in a friend’s baptism or reception into full communion with the Church is always a cause for holy celebration, but it is a particular joy in the present circumstances of our culture and in the present ecclesial moment as we commence the third millennium of the Christian era. We see ourselves surrounded in our "culture of death" by so many persons bereft of any real meaning in their lives. Has there ever been in the Christian era a more joyless, aimless, lonely society than our own – a truly "Fifty Shades of Grey” society; a society that has appeared to have gained the whole world but forgotten the existence of its own soul? On the other hand, has there ever been two successive a Roman Pontiffs at the head of our Church who have so incessantly and hopefully proclaimed the Gospel in all its fullness throughout the world, addressing the fallen yet redeemed world’s hopes and anxieties so completely?
The constant growth through the first three centuries of the infant Church took place through the witness and personal influence of thousands of Christians and their families. With the passage of more centuries, Christian ideals lived out in the world by both persons and families gradually transformed the West into the unified, if not always perfect, culture that dominated Europe during the Middle Ages.
In our own time, following the gradual dissolution of the “medieval consensus” through, in part, such historical events as the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the titanic struggles of ideas and ideologies of the last two centuries (Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and so on), we are called to create a new Christian culture – or at the very least, as Pope Benedict has repeatedly stressed, to create “oases of civilization.”
The horrifying success of tyranny in the last century has been due in part to the fact that a large portion of the Catholic laity has been "missing in action" in the apostolic sense over the last several centuries, under the misimpression that the clergy and religious were to do the "heavy lifting."
In order to answer the question being posed, I’d like to share some insights, largely based upon my own experience, into how we can more effectively spread the gift of faith through example and friendship, or what Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman referred to as the "apostolate of personal influence." It’s now time to throw off our timidity, our fear, and let our light shine out not only from under the basket but upon the shining hill.