When I envision a fortress, it invokes thoughts of strength, security and protection. The image is comforting, particularly when used in relation to one’s faith. I was speaking with someone I met recently about my faith and learned that he, too, was Catholic. After hearing my story, he explained to me the role faith played in his life. He described it as a fortress in that it made him feel safe and served as the foundation of his life. A little probing on my part, however, led me to discover that he was generally very quiet about his beliefs. The thought of sharing Christ’s message with others was daunting and uncomfortable. Before my very eyes, the safe and foundational fortress of faith he described was transformed into a fortress mentality.
As Catholics, do we ever fall into this trap and exhibit behavior that is contrary to scripture and the teachings of the Church regarding the call to evangelization? Do we hide within « faith fortresses » of our own making?
Like many, I sometimes struggle with sharing my faith. I am not writing this not to render judgment; rather to inspire all of us to think differently, change our behavior, and be lights for Christ. One only has to read the Great Commission given to us by Jesus Christ himself to understand our expected role. « Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our Lord also calls us to evangelization earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38).
I choose to believe that all of us mean well and have good intentions when it comes to bearing witness for Christ, but there are obstacles (many of our own making) that keep us from doing so. What are some of these and how can they be overcome?
I don’t know what to say.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, » Who ever said that to speak about Christ and to spread his doctrine, you need to do anything unusual or remarkable? Just live your ordinary life; work at your job, trying to fulfill the duties of your state in life, doing your job, your professional work properly, improving, getting better each day… This will be your apostolate. Then, though you won’t see why, because you’re very aware of your own wretchedness, you will find that people come to you.”
We bear witness through the love and charity we give others and our daily example of Christ’s love within us. If we are truly lights for Christ, people will be drawn to us. The Holy Spirit will work through us. If necessary, the words will come.
I am not secure enough in my faith to witness to others.
There is a common saying that the Catholic Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. We are not perfect. Only God is perfect. We can wait our entire lives to be prepared and worthy to evangelize and we will have wasted a lifetime of opportunity. Don’t let our pursuit of sainthood keep us from sharing Christ’s message with other potential saints.
I am not comfortable sharing anything personal, especially about my faith.
Transparency invites transparency! We can’t expect someone to open up to us unless we are willing to do the same. Our faith journeys are a blessing and meant to be shared. The witness we give may have a profound influence on someone desperately need to hear the message.
As we read in 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are malignant, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
Ask a new convert or someone experiencing a spiritual renewal how they reached this point on their faith journey. They will likely credit the Holy Spirit and name someone who reached beyond their comfort zone to share Christ’s message. Let’s try viewing ourselves as a channel through which the Holy Spirit can utilize our witness to connect with others.
I don’t want to appear judgmental.
So don’t judge. It’s not our place. Our mission is to spread Christ’s message of love and mercy, not tell people their sins. Pope Benedict XVI shares this guidance, “Nowadays, in a special way the world needs people capable of proclaiming and bearing witness to God who is love. The Church’s mission is the extension of Christ’s mission: to bring God’s love to all, proclaiming it with words and with the concrete testimony of charity.” The Holy Father is clearly saying that we must witness with love…God’s love. Be encouraging, listen attentively, and offer assistance. Share Christ’s message and pray. These are the actions of love that will allow us to effectively bear witness.
Isn’t evangelization the primary responsibility of the priests and deacons in our parish?
Absolutely not. We are all the called to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Reflect on the words of Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical, Redemtoris Missio: « No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
In Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council specifically describes the mission of the lay faithful, “the apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, and especially by the Eucharist, that love of God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. The laity, however, are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person, through those gifts given to him, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself, according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.'(LG 33)
I don’t want to alienate my friends or new people I meet.
There is a difference between preaching and judging versus loving and sharing. If people respond to the” hope you have “and the” joy within you », then they will be curious. They will ask you questions. But this will not work if we stay inside our fortress of faith.
Consider this passage from In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez, “On our part we are called upon to be good channels through which His grace will flow and to facilitate the action of the Holy Spirit in ourselves, in friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues….If our Lord never gets tired of giving His help to everybody, how can we who are only instruments ever become discouraged? Once the carpenter’s hand is firmly placed on the wood, how can the tool ever have any reservations about doing its work?”
Do these obstacles resonate with you? I grew up in the Baptist church, stopped going when I was 16 and became a convert, along with my wife, to the Catholic Church 23 years later in 2006. I am eternally grateful that I have been given a second chance to experience Christ’s love after living most of my life in the “spiritual wilderness. »Reflecting on the profound impact Christ has had on my life since my conversion makes me want to share my story with everyone I meet.
All of us have been given an incredible gift-Christ’s redeeming love! At times we are weak, we may stumble on our faith journey and we are sinners. But we must remember to be grateful and joyful for the countless blessings we have been given. In fact, one of the easiest ways to evangelize to others is to be joyful. When we are happy in our faith, we inspire and encourage others. We create opportunities to witness for Christ. They want to hear the Good News!
Next week, we will look at six concrete ways to evangelize outside our fortress.
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash