The voice of my coworkers rose over the drone of the computer’s fan and the intermittent whines of the copy machine on a gray Monday morning. Brian, an agnostic, was explaining to Jeff that he was considering becoming a Christian, and not just any Christian, but a Catholic. I stood up, poked my head over the taupe fabric walls of the cubicle and with a touch of snark exclaimed, “Brian, why are you talking to Jeff about joining the Church, he’s Jewish? Don’t you know that I’m the Catholic?” We all laughed at the irony, but after the bellows quieted and a hush fell on the room, Brian said, “Well… I know you like to keep that sort of thing private.”
This is my friend’s work story, and you can probably sense it was a pivotal moment in his life. Brian’s explanation cut him to the quick. He felt nauseous and had a knot of guilt in his stomach knowing that he had compartmentalized his faith. That cubicle which was void of any humanity had allowed him to hide the source of his humanity, faith in Jesus Christ. Thankfully, his story didn’t end there; he went to RCIA with his coworker. My friend grew in the Faith, and his coworker joined the Church. He’s happy with how things turned out, and has a strong friendship with Brian now. Yet, when speaking about all that happened, he couldn’t help but notice how easy it was (and is) to keep our lives with God to ourselves.
Perhaps one of the reasons we hide, segregate, or neglect to share our faith is that we’ve seen the Faith rejected. Chances are, if you have opened your mouth to share the Faith you’ve met resistance. Scroll down to the comments section on the Washington Post’s religious forum (please don’t), where hyperbole and belligerence are there in full glory. Interjections predominate sentences that are written with the caps lock left firmly in place. Family dinners, too, or outings with friends can devolve into bickering if God and the Church enter conversation. I know families who are thankful on Thanksgiving Day because dinner finished without argument. It is all too clear the world hated Christ, and it certainly hates those who are of Christ.
It’s discouraging and disheartening to see loved ones turn deaf ears to the very Word that will save them. We can become fixated on what was said, questioning its efficacy or appropriateness. If our words don’t lead to conversion should we even speak about God with our friends and family?
St. Francis, who the Church celebrates tomorrow, is often misquoted as saying, “Preach the gospel and when necessary use words.” Put into practice, this quote often leads Catholics to presume the answer to the question above is no – we shouldn’t speak about Christ openly. Yet, if we look at St. Francis as a case study, we find a man of surpassing holiness who found words very necessary, because “faith comes from what is heard” (Rm 10:17)” During the Crusades, he went before the Sultan and his hordes of tormentors in Damietta to persuade their conversion. If we treat evangelization as do-gooding and avoiding sin, it becomes all too easy to shrink away from opportune moments with loved ones. We should also mind that the current society honors and admires service to the poor and neglected, but society does not understand the reason for that service. We must make known the difference between social work and a contemplative life rooted in the love of God which produces love of neighbor.
Regarding the gospel today, St. Gregory the Great states,
Every true preacher then ought not so to preach, that he may receive a reward at the present time, but so to receive a reward that he may have strength to preach. For whoever so preaches that here he may receive the reward of praise, or riches, deprives himself of an eternal reward.
Now, we’re all familiar with the second point, namely, seek your treasure in heaven. But, in addition to that, St. Gregory makes another point in the first sentence of the quote, that is, the preacher ought to preach so that he may have strength to preach. It seems the very act of sharing the faith leads one to greater facility in sharing the faith. Grace builds upon nature and, indeed, upon previous grace. Iron sharpens iron. So, in allowing the grace that we’ve received in the sacraments to become visible and audible in our deeds and words and to combat against the hostility of the world, we will be strengthened. As our courage and fortitude increase, we will become less hesitant and more hopeful in conversion.That is why the Church prays the following:
Preach the word, persevere in this task,
both when convenient and inconvenient;
Correct, reprove, summon to obedience,
but do all with patience and sound doctrine.
–For speech makes wisdom known,
and all a man has learned appears in his words.
So, if we carry out our mission given to us in the sacrament of confirmation, we can rest assured that God is with us, even when our words do not seem to have success. We are called to be faithful not successful, and always visible to those who have yet to see the Light of Christ.
Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Trial by Fire, St. Francis Before the Sultan of Egypt