By Nathan Stanley | Catholic News Service
Recently, I had an encounter with a fellow traveler at a restaurant. We made small talk for a few minutes and then started to talk about family life. Before I knew it, I was sharing about my faith in Christ and asking him about how he has seen God working in his own life.
It is amazing what happens when we are open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man" (No. 1).
God always is close by and at work in our conversations with others.
French writer and Catholic convert Leon Bloy wrote, "The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint." We live in a time where the world needs saints more than ever and not just any saints, but saints that live in the midst of ordinary life.
The catechism speaks of our common vocation in baptism as a "vocation to holiness and to the mission of evangelizing the world" (No. 1533). But how do we do this in the midst of our ordinary lives?
First, we must look to Jesus. Jesus did speak to the masses and gave great speeches, but mostly he invested his life deeply in 12 men. Jesus told the apostles, "I no longer call you slaves. ... I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15). It is in friendship that we can imitate Jesus' model for evangelization in ordinary life.
Father C. John McCloskey wrote, "Friendship, for a Christian, can be an effective form of evangelization. ... Throughout the history of the church, starting with our Lord himself, Christianity has spread principally throughout one-on-one encounters."
Friendship fosters a natural encounter with other people and space for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of others. Our ordinary circumstances allow for these opportunities of authentic witness.
In his recent book, "Strangers in a Strange Land," Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia comments on this fact: "The most powerful kind of witness doesn't come from a classroom or pulpit. It doesn't need an academic degree or special techniques. Instead, it grows naturally out of the lives of ordinary people -- parents and spouses and friends; people confident in the love that God bears for them and eager to share it with others."
We are called to live in the world and to witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ and his church.
As we build friendships with others, we should not only look to their spiritual needs, but their temporal needs as well. In his book, "Jesus as Friend," Salvatore Canals writes, "Before wanting to make saints out of all of those people we love, we have to make them happy and joyful, for nothing better prepares the soul for grace than joy."
We must be people who live like thermostats, not thermometers. A thermometer measures the temperature in a room, but a thermostat impacts the temperature of its environment. As Pope Francis says, "An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!"
We are called to live the "joy of the Gospel" and proclaim it "whether it is convenient or inconvenient" (2 Tm 4:2). And from this joy, we look for ways to serve those around us.
Pope Benedict XVI comments on this in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is Love"): "No longer is it a question, then, of a 'commandment' imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love."
Finally, at the foundation of our evangelization efforts is prayer, particularly prayer for other people. Pope Francis says, "One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: It is the prayer of intercession."
In order to bring people to the heart of Jesus, we must develop a heart for them in prayer. I would recommend the advice of Father Leo Trese in his book "The Faith Explained": "There are so many to pray for. ... A practical suggestion is to write down on a card or a sheet of paper a list of all the people for whom we wish to pray and cast a quick eye over it each morning at the time of our morning prayers."
By this simple practice, we will see the Holy Spirit open doors for us in our daily interactions with others.
God is calling each of us ordinary Catholics to be evangelizers in our daily lives. Each of us has the chance to bring Christ to others. This is our vocation, our way of being saints in the modern world.
Stanley is the director of apostolic development at The Fellowship of Catholic University Students. He writes at www.practicalcatholicismblog.com.
Anyone can evangelize -- here's how
By Kurt Jensen | Catholic News Service
Effective evangelizing for ordinary Catholics means keeping it simple: Listen first. Then talk.
It's a command that accompanies our baptism. Pope Francis, in "Evangelii Gaudium" ("Joy of the Gospel"), proclaimed, "In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples."
The pope added that "anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love."
How to accomplish that?
First, don't make it complicated, advise two veterans of evangelistic ventures. With the theme of Catechetical Sunday Sept. 17 as "Living as Missionary Disciples," they're here to help.
"There's no one way to evangelize. I've become more and more convinced that evangelization is not built over large things, but rather, small events," says Father Frank Donio, director of the Catholic Apostolate Center (catholicapostolatecenter.org) and a consultant on evangelization for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The USCCB has a new leadership guide, "Living as Missionary Disciples," which includes this quote from Pope Paul VI: "The church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieus which are theirs."
It adds that Pope Francis, in "Evangelii Gaudium," also observed, "All the baptized, whatever their position in their church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization."
That, says Father Donio, is "a pretty clear indication of what that can look like. Stopping and listening to a person. Not just focusing on our lives or on an issue, but on what's going on around us. It means being where people are. And that can be in our own families, too."
Steve Dawson, national director of the grass-roots organization St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com), thinks, "We've got to have a mind change and shift in mentality among the faithful," but agrees that sharing the Gospel message involves unpretentious tasks.
After you listen, says Dawson, have a personal testimony and be able to share your story. "Why is the faith important to you? How has that changed your life?"
Personal stories, he adds, should be adaptable: "Can I tell you why I chose to believe in Jesus?" for an unbeliever; for someone who may be a lapsed Catholic, "Can I tell you why I love my Catholic faith?" and for someone uncertain about believing, "Can I tell you why I love the faith and I take my faith very seriously?"
It doesn't always have to be about words, but rather with the example set by your own life, Father Donio advises, and that also can be through social media. "Ask yourself, do I put something faith-oriented out there? Am I afraid to do that?"
And evangelizing can also be as simple as "helping someone who is suffering in some way."
The St. Paul street evangelists, based in Bloomington, Indiana, are known for handing out rosaries and medals in the manner of saints Mother Teresa and Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who sacrificed his life at Auschwitz during World War II. They have, says Dawson, "the ability to start conversations."
One of his encounters, which occurred in Michigan, has become a favorite story.
It was with a young pregnant woman, who, in the course of their conversation, told him she was considering an abortion.
Dawson knew it was vital, at that point, not to get into a confrontation, but rather a gentle conversation.
"So I told her, 'From the moment of conception, we have new human life. Either it's human life or it's not. If it's human life, we need to preserve and protect it.'"
That, he thought, was the end of it. Until he saw her some weeks later.
"She told me, 'I knew God mean meant you as a sign. I will keep my baby.'"
"Experiences like that -- a two-minute conversation with people I've never met before. Genuine miracles," Dawson marvels.
Jensen is a freelance writer.
The prophets as communicators of God's word
By Paul Senz | Catholic News Service
Before the incarnation of Christ, the Word of God made flesh, God's word was communicated to his people through the prophets. As the mouthpieces of the Lord, they provided instruction, admonishment, encouragement and comfort to his people.
The names of many of these prophets are quite familiar to Jews and Christians today, even to those not terribly familiar with Scripture: Isaiah and Jeremiah, Hosea and Jonah, David, Daniel, Zechariah and many others. Quite often these were erratic, eccentric and downright strange individuals -- but that did not negate for even a moment that they were speaking the word of God.
Often, the prophets communicated the word of God at their own peril. By the same token, avoiding God's call -- as Jonah so famously tried to do -- can have its own consequences. It is no small thing to be a communicator of the word.
Ever since the Word of God became flesh, it means something totally different to be a proclaimer of the word. The whole matter now essentially revolves around the command of Jesus that his disciples "go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).
This command was given after the Resurrection, and before the Ascension, during those brief 40 days during which the risen Christ walked among us again. And that is the Gospel that we are called to proclaim.
The prophets of the Old Testament were a prefigurement of the prophetic office all the baptized hold, and the apostles and other disciples of Jesus were the first in the Christian line of proclaimers of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini," wrote that "the same Spirit who spoke through the prophets sustains and inspires the church in her task of proclaiming the word of God and in the preaching of the apostles." We are all the successors of the apostles in this sense, called to be prophets in our own time.
We are all called to be proclaimers of the word. By virtue of our baptism, we are anointed priest, prophet and king. By baptism we join the mystical body of Christ and are called to live up to the ideal that Jesus exemplified as priest, prophet and king.
We can be prophets by being bearers of the word of God -- in continuity with the prophets of old and the disciples of Jesus.
In the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, "Dei Verbum," the council fathers declared that the "Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with his lips."
The apostles then fulfilled his commission to go out and preach the Gospel, and the church has not ceased doing so -- and never will.
These prophets and disciples were very often seen as a little "out there." We must not be afraid to go against the grain of society: We must be communicators, preachers, proclaimers of the word!
Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"The church is missionary by nature," said Pope Francis in his message for World Mission Day 2017. "Otherwise, she would no longer be the church of Christ, but one group among many others that soon end up serving their purpose and passing away."
This missionary identity requires asking certain questions, continued the pope. "What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out our mission?"
Proclaiming Christ, the way, the life, the truth, is the basis of this missionary call because it offers new life, Pope Francis explained. It is not, he added, "to spread a religious ideology, much less to propose a lofty ethical teaching."
"The world vitally needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the church, Christ continues his mission as the good Samaritan, caring for the bleeding wounds of humanity, and as Good Shepherd, constantly seeking out those who wander along winding paths that lead nowhere," he said.
A spirituality of exodus gives life to the church's mission, the pope noted. Christians are called to go forth and undertake a "constant pilgrimage."
He also referred to young people as "the hope of the mission," pointing to the October 2018 Synod of Bishops on "Young people, faith and vocational discernment" as an opportunity to allow young people to share their "rich imagination and creativity" in the church's "missionary responsibility."
World Mission Day will be celebrated Oct. 22 in most dioceses.