Evangelization isn't supposed to be a burden
I come from a big batch of fallen-away Catholics. My own life, though, has followed a different course entirely. I love being Catholic and consider my faith the most important thing about me (not that I’m good at living it out, but well, the point is to keep trying, right?).
I’ve always felt a bit apprehensive when a family gathering is coming up, since I anticipate there will be occasions to share my faith with the fallen-away sibs. But if I love being Catholic, as I just said, shouldn’t I relish the chance to talk about the Church? Why does “evangelization” feel like a burden instead of a joy?
Maybe it’s because I’m one of the younger siblings and have a natural respect for the “big kids”; maybe it’s because I’m overly sensitive to interpersonal tension; definitely it’s in part because I’m vain.
In any case, I feel the same hesitancy when I’m with neighbors or other acquaintances, and also with old friends. I was born in a tiny town of descendants of Catholic immigrants, so nearly all of my childhood friends were raised Catholic, but some of them are fallen-away now too.
I was feeling this customary apprehension a couple weeks ago as a girls’ weekend with some schoolmates approached. We all celebrated a big birthday this year so it seemed a day at the spa and a nice dinner were in order. Though I was looking forward to seeing them, I wasn’t sure how the conversations would go. Would I have to be constantly turning the topic away from gossip, that sin Pope Francis compares to dropping a bomb on somebody’s reputation? What about if family planning conversations came up? IVF and surrogacy, sterilization, the pill, my own desire to have more kids despite the years passing?
Blech. The whole thing sat in my stomach, combined with the natural discomfort of wondering how the friendships would feel after years of infrequent contact.
But then, somewhere in my interior musings, I realized that my apprehension at some point melted (mostly) away.
Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes from so many birthdays, or maybe it’s just where I’m at in my own faith journey, but all of a sudden, I realized that if issues about faith or morals came up, I wouldn’t mind at all. I’d share what I believe and how much richness and comfort it’s brought to my life.
Their reaction wouldn’t affect me because even if I sensed they were looking at me with thinly veiled disdain or derision, it could never outweigh the relief I feel at being able to consult my faith on everything from difficulties in my marriage, to insecurities in my parenting, to stress over my job, to nuclear war, to whether I should withhold dessert from the 4-year-old because she didn’t eat her carrots.
I realized that my attitude had become closer to something the pope described last year around this time, as Advent was on the horizon.
Each one of us is called to make Jesus known to those who do not yet know him. But this is not to proselytize. No, it is to open a door. … If Our Lord Jesus has changed our lives, and he changes it every time we go to him, how can we not feel the passion to make him known to those we encounter at work, at school, in our apartment building, in the hospital, in meeting places? If we look around us, we find people who would be willing to begin — or begin again — a journey of faith were they to encounter Christians in love with Jesus. Shouldn’t we and couldn’t we be these Christians? I leave you this question: “Am I truly in love with Jesus? Am I convinced that Jesus offers me and gives me salvation?” And, if I am in love, I have to make him known! But we must be courageous: lay low the mountains of pride and rivalry; fill in the ravines dug by indifference and apathy; make straight the paths of our laziness and our compromises.
As it turned out, my girlfriends and I did sit around the breakfast table on Sunday morning and discuss religion. Some of them have fallen away, and are wondering if God exists, and if He does, if that’s Him in the Eucharist. They’re asking why the Church teaches what She does on issues ranging from gay rights to Sunday Mass.
I shared my experience — there’s a couple of things I wish I would have phrased differently — and they shared theirs. I learned a lot and I was edified by each one of them. Some are much closer to the Church than I realized, making significant sacrifices in their daily lives to be faithful. And the rest of us are struggling along on our own journeys — the point is to keep trying, right?
Benedict XVI said once that the “Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity.” We know, he said, that Our Lord’s hand “is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge.”