During the third week of Easter at our Friday daily Mass, we had the story of the conversion of Saint Paul. You are probably familiar with the story: a Pharisee named Saul is on fire trying to go after the new followers of the Way or Jesus Christ. Saul sees this as a threat, and wants to clean house. Word is also out on the street about this man; everyone knows who he is and he is someone you avoid at all costs. As we hear this week’s first reading: “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Then, along comes Jesus to appear to Saul, asking him “why are you persecuting me?” He then is unable to see for three days, and Jesus appears to Ananias, a disciple, and tells him of his plans for Saul, who will now become Paul. Needless to say, he has is doubts: “Ananias replied, Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” (Acts 9:13). But Jesus assures him that there is a plan, and to just trust in that plan.
That can be hard to do though, because we all have plans. And among those plans is a goal to spread our faith. We like seeing people come to Mass; live out their faith, and understanding what we believe. But then things happen. A person loses their faith. Or, perhaps even more common, a person becomes apathetic. Others just see no point in going to Mass. Some even argue with us or come after us for our Catholic faith, perhaps not to the level of Saul but there are plenty of people who are vocal about their distaste for Catholicism.
This is hard enough when it’s strangers, but often these things happen in families too. What then is a person to do?
One little bulletin column will not solve all the problems with respect to getting everyone to come to Mass and believe in the faith. But one key component of evangelization that I think is so important is patience.
This was part of my homily last week when I spoke about Saint Charles de Foucald. As I said at Mass, one of his beliefs was that it might take a very long time for the harvest to happen, and sometimes all we can do is clear a bit of the soil. But this is a key component for the harvest to happen. Interestingly, our man Saul when he becomes Paul will later write that the first component of love is that it is patient. So how can we incorporate this into dealing with people to make it a part of evangelization?
I think a good first step is to listen. That’s tough. We talk a lot more than we listen. But it can be so helpful. We can sometimes pick up on things too. For instance, when a person might be attacking the Church, or saying they have no interest in Mass, maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps they had a bad experience in the Church; or maybe they are overwhelmed due to a life situation and don’t feel the Church can help. Whatever it may be, by simply listening first to the person, we can better assess the situation.
Positivity is also a big help. When we get impatient, we can get negative. I think sometimes we want to just say “what’s-a matter you?!” But positivity can really make inroads. If a teacher were always telling a student what they did wrong, or a parent were always pointing out mistakes but never the progress, a child probably isn’t going to develop well or is going to get more entrenched and defensive. That’s true for all of us. But when we start with saying positive things about what a person, or think of positive things about someone we are trying to evangelize that can help. Many people who aren’t practicing religion may be active volunteers, pleasant people to be around, good friends, etc. Building these things up can be a help.
Empathy is also a big help. Sometimes people argue back and forth because one person can’t seem to relate to the other, so a situation just escalates. But saying something like “I can appreciate how you feel” rather than using “you” statements (e.g., “you really need to do this) can help prevent the person building a wall.
Prayer is of course also key. Prayers can do so much to help a person, and even if they know we are praying for them, even if they might not admit it or seem to respond, I think it really makes them think about faith a little bit more. Prayer of course also helps us, as we should often pray for an increase in patience with others.
Setting an example is also key; this was the way Saint Charles de Foucauld. He approached the Muslims not with the “I must convert them” mentality, but first began by being a welcoming person of hospitality who cared for them by learning about them, learning their language, dressing like they did, etc. When someone we are hoping changes doesn’t, but we then change becoming more negative, condescending, etc., that’s not going to do much for their conversion. But when we continue to be kind, tolerant, forgiving, it can cause someone to think. Over the years at funeral planings I’ve met scores of people who had fallen away from the faith, but so many speak of the faith of the loved one saying things like “grandma to Mass every week” or “mom prayed the rosary daily.” It’s clear that inside of them, that flame of the Holy Spirit is burning. And I have little doubt that their loved one continues to pray for them too. Sometimes we might be amazed at what happens in a person because of the example we set.
Finally, we should also remember people have been patient with us too over the years. Think of God’s patience with humanity – time and time again we screw up, and time and time again, He forgives. But at our own lives, many of us look back on moments and say “what on earth were you thinking?” I know looking back I have a few of those moments. But because people like my parents were patient with me, my faith deepened.
Evangelization isn’t easy. It’s taxing, and sometimes frustrating. But never give up. Because that Saul in your life just might go on to have a conversion because like Jesus seeing past Saul’s shortcomings, you saw the potential that was within.
Have a blessed week!