Several years ago, John met an old friend at a high school reunion. After they caught up on all the day-to-day news, John wanted to share how Jesus had become the center of his life. He told Greg about his experiences and gave him a small New Testament. Greg was not a churchgoer, but he found something reassuring about John’s story.
Day after day and year after year, Greg carried the unopened book in his briefcase. He took it with him wherever he went. Then one night about ten years later, during a business trip to Bangkok, while he was mulling over some serious personal difficulties, Greg took special notice of the New Testament sitting in his briefcase. He took it out, opened it, and encountered God’s living word.
Something stirred in Greg’s heart, and so he read a few more pages each day. Little by little, he sought out people with whom he could share about Jesus, until finally he returned to the parish he had left fifteen years earlier. The following Christmas he called John to share his story and to thank him for the vital role he had played in it.
Patient Listening. John’s conversation with Greg is similar in a way to the conversation Jesus had with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In the beginning, Jesus did a lot of listening. He respected their experience of disbelief. He was patient with their confusion—he was even willing to be invisible for a time. Likewise, John didn’t push Greg, and he didn’t spend the next fifteen years pacing the floor waiting for Greg to call him. He simply prayed for him from time to time.
Greg’s story tells us how important it is to imitate Jesus’ patience as well as his willingness to speak at the right time, even if our words remain dormant in a briefcase or a friend’s heart. It encourages us to do our part and to trust that the Holy Spirit will do his part in his own good time.
So how do we share our faith with the people in our lives? How do we move from compassionate caring to active sharing?
What’s Your Story? The place to begin is with asking yourself questions about your own spiritual journey. When did it begin? What are the high and low points in your story? Where is God in your life now? Your responses will help you become clearer about the story God wants you to tell. Remember, your story has the power to shed light on the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that no one else’s can. So as you look back, ask the Holy Spirit to give you new insights into his work in your life so that your words can spark a new personal Pentecost in people’s lives.
In addition to sharing part of your story, you can also share a faith story from Scripture or from a saint’s life. Whatever you do, choose an episode that the person can easily understand. For example, “Your situation reminds me of the time that Peter wanted to walk on the water to get to Jesus.” If you share an event from your own life, remember to keep the focus on your experience of God, not your spiritual achievements. Better yet, think about sharing your failures in following Jesus and the ways God reached out to help you.
Sometimes, when an opportunity to share your story comes up, you may find yourself plagued with doubts: Should I share my story with Joe? Do I really want to talk to my son about going back to Mass? Does God really want me to pray with Aunt Agnes, who has cancer? What if she rejects me? When you find yourself asking questions like these, take a moment to pray for this person. Remember, prayer is the first act of evangelization. Then, take a good look at your relationship with this person. Is what you are about to do a way to show the care and compassion of Christ?
Remember also to avoid exaggeration or religious jargon—words that only active Catholics would understand. If your story arouses a response, then continue the conversation and see where the Spirit leads. If not, then just move on to another topic.
Reach Out to Pray. Sometimes, the opportunity to pray with someone will arise as you are sharing your story with him or her. Don’t be afraid to invite that person to join you in prayer. You don’t have to be someone special to offer this kind of prayer. Blessed Solanus Casey, a Franciscan friar, was just a simple porter in his friary in Michigan. Nevertheless, he demonstrated the kind of compassionate caring we described in the last article, and people began coming to him for prayer. Hundreds of people point to their encounters with Solanus as turning points in their faith.
If an opportunity for prayer comes up, be sure to remain humble and gentle. Ask the person if you may pray with them about whatever situation you have been discussing. Then just talk to God out loud. “Jesus, please come and help ______. I know you love her. We place her situation in your hands, and we will watch for your help.” Leave a moment for silence as well. Then conclude with an expression of gratitude and confidence. “Thank you, Lord, for hearing us and for helping ______. We know your loving kindness is without end.”
If you feel uncomfortable making up your own prayers, feel free to use a formal prayer like the Our Father or the Hail Mary. Finally, ask the person if they felt anything happening as you prayed, and listen carefully to the answer. Keep in mind that it is not the end of the world if someone refuses an invitation to pray. You can still bring your concern to God in prayer later on.
Inviting Someone to Belong. When it came time for Therese’s grandmother, Jeannia, to enter a nursing home, they ran into a road bump. They couldn’t find a Catholic nursing home where there was daily Mass. At first Jeannia was disappointed, but as she settled in, she established a daily routine that revolved around a televised Mass and a Rosary every day at noontime. Over the years, she would invite anyone who missed going to Mass or needed consolation to join her. Her tiny room was always full.
Jeannia’s story shows that another aspect of sharing your faith is inviting people into welcoming faith communities. It also shows that you yourself need to draw strength from a faith community like a parish or a group Bible study. Not to mention, when you invite someone to join you to “come and see,” you’re simply inviting that person to join you on your journey.
For example, John’s out-of-state cousin, Helene, phoned us out of the blue to say that she and her husband wanted to come for a visit the last weekend in the month. Unfortunately, we were scheduled to help out at a healing Mass that same weekend. Rather than view her request as an interruption, we trusted that, in this case, Jesus was inviting Helene to the healing Mass with us.
She accepted our invitation, and during the Mass, someone shared an insight with the whole assembly about a person who could be healed of a broken relationship with her daughter. “That’s me!” Helene thought, even though she had come seeking prayer for her struggling marriage. So when the time came to receive prayer, she asked God to heal the division that had developed between herself and her two daughters. In the weeks that followed, she was indeed reconciled with them—and then found the courage to deal with her difficult marriage!
Open Your Heart, Open Your Eyes. Jesus is calling all of us to the mission of preaching the gospel. It can sound frightening at first, and we may wonder if we are up to the challenge. The simple answer is yes! We can be confident that God will bless us as we step out and try to do his work—and our faith will grow in the process. So keep your heart, and your eyes, open for opportunities to reach out to the people around you. Pray for them, care for them, share your faith, and invite them to join you on the journey.
The book Sharing the Faith That You Love is available at wau.org. For more resources on evangelization from the Bouchers, visit their blog, www.catholicevangelizer.com, or www.fb.com/HolySpiritCalling.