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So Devon, can you tell me about your faith?” The question came as my fiancée, Erin, and I were meeting with her uncle, Fr. Jeff, who would witness our wedding. I swallowed hard and answered, “I guess I really don’t have any faith.” I explained that I had grown up in a church that interpreted the Bible literally. Since I could no longer agree with that approach, I considered myself a person without a faith.
Fr. Jeff replied that faith isn’t “all or nothing.” It’s a matter of learning to know the Lord more and more. He gave me some reading material and left it at that. I was relieved, and impressed, that this was all he did—planted a seed. He didn’t urge me to convert as a prerequisite for marriage. In fact, no one prodded me or tried to twist my arm. So when faith began to stir in me a few years later, I felt comfortable about signing up for RCIA—and, eventually, becoming a Catholic.
I thought about Fr. Jeff and his wise approach as I read Sharing the Faith That You Love: Four Simple Ways to Be Part of the New Evangelization. This new book by John and Therese Boucher is a powerful, practical guide for all of us who don’t see ourselves as expert evangelizers. It opens with an invitation to pray for the zeal of the Holy Spirit and explains that the joy of meeting Jesus kindles our desire to point others toward him. Then it presents the “four simple ways”—praying, caring, sharing, and daring to invite others into a faith community.
First, You Pray. Most of us use our prayer time to bring our own needs to God. But God invites us to pray for other people’s needs as well, especially those we want to share the gospel with. If we’re going to reach out, Jesus has to form us in his love for others and help us see them from God’s point of view.
The Bouchers use St. Monica’s intercession for her son, Augustine, as an example of “evangelizing prayer.” Praying this way “allows Jesus to shape our hearts and grant us a greater sensitivity to the spiritual needs of others.”
I had an experience of this one day at Mass, when my half-sister Jessica was lying near death in a coma. I was praying for her, but also that God would give me words to help my father and stepmother. The lector proclaimed the passage where St. Paul speaks of two conflicting desires in his soul: to die and be with the Lord or to live and remain with his friends (Philippians 1:20-24).
At that moment, the Lord helped me to realize that this was the conflict within Jessica’s soul. I was overcome with peace that whatever happened, she was in God’s hands. When I shared that passage with my father, it brought him peace as well. Two weeks later, we were comforted to hear it proclaimed at Jessica’s funeral.
Evangelize by Caring. As Catholics, we experience the boundless and unconditional love of God: through the sacraments, through forgiveness, through other people. We develop compassion, or love for others, because we first have been loved by God.
Caring is how we show our compassion, and as the Bouchers explain, it is “the most common step you can take in connecting others to Jesus.” It takes many different forms. Some people are good at encouraging, others at rendering small services, and still others at explaining and teaching.
My wife has a gift for leading the Nativity reenactment that the school children put on for our parish. She doesn’t aim for perfection but on loving the children as she teaches about Jesus. It may seem like a small thing, but years later, these kids remember Erin’s enthusiasm and love for Jesus. That’s evangelization!
Sharing and Daring. The Bouchers offer Jesus’ interactions with the people he met as an example of how we can share our faith in conversations. Jesus listened and spoke from his heart, he connected with the person, and he focused on dialogue rather than debate. These same principles should guide us.
Sometimes, it helps to ask a question that can allow a person to go deeper into his or her own experience. Once, after listening to a missionary who had come knocking on her door, Therese Boucher asked, “How did you decide to become a Jehovah’s Witness?” The woman’s answer was all too familiar: she was a Catholic who had a bad experience with a priest when her family was grieving many years ago. Sensing her pain, Therese took her hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” The woman burst into tears. It was a healing moment.
Some of our conversations may offer opportunities to extend an invitation. If we need courage or motivation for this, the Bouchers suggest looking back on our own experience and asking ourselves, “Where would I be if this person or persons had not offered me an invitation to believe?”
They point out many invitational possibilities, including retreats, Cursillos, Marriage Encounters, and prayer groups. A Christmas or Easter liturgy might be just right for an inactive Catholic. And for young adults, I have seen firsthand how participating in a service ministry can help deepen faith in a powerful way.
Share the Faith! In the end, evangelizing is about giving what we have received. One way Erin and I do this is by working with couples preparing for marriage. Each one is different; some are well prepared, others not. But with every couple, we remember our own experience and how Fr. Jeff welcomed and listened to us. And so we see each meeting as a chance to plant seeds, trusting that they will grow in God’s time.
Devon Wolfe was ordained a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Lansing in May 2013 and serves at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brighton, Michigan.
Sharing the Faith That You Love, by John and Therese Boucher is available from www.amazon.com and from The Word Among Us online at www.wau.org.