It used to be that Christians who wanted to share their faith would go out into the larger world to tell the good news and share scripture, teachings, and traditions of their church. But now the very term Christian seems to turn some people off and the minute you mention faith, beliefs, church, or God you face an icy stare. If you look closely at the person’s life – if that is even a possibility – you can usually get a glimpse as to why that frozen wall is there. After nearly fifty years of being a Christian, and many of those years believing that my faith was the best thing about me, I have discovered that I cannot approach people with a package that they need to unwrap. Too much hurt, misinformation, and downright lies have been embedded in too many hearts to simply gush forth the joy of your faith and expect anyone to share that enthusiasm.
I have not the slightest interest, and even less ability, to define why things are in the spiritually poverty stricken state they are in now. What I do know is that compassion and sincere interest are very good ways to express faith in a language that many people can understand. I do not believe that cowardice or a watered down version of truth is the only alternative to gentle faith. In fact, I sincerely believe in profound faith – but it must be profoundly lived by the very person professing it. There is no good done in loutishly demanding that everyone wear hair shirts and subscribe to particular tenants. But it is useful to share exactly what Christ shared – life and love. As St. Frances once said, “Preach always, when necessary, use words.”
For me, as a Catholic, I can say with St. Paul, that “I wish everyone shared my faith” because I believe it is a fullness of truth that offers me the greatest hope possible for a human being on this side of the great divide. But I cannot approach my brothers or sisters with a Catechism handbook and expect them to read it. They won’t. In fact, it would divide us through confusion and a sense that I am trying to “win them to my side” as if all I’m doing is gathering my forces to make myself look better.
Every day I encounter people who are suffering. Every day I see people who are struggling. If I engage in that human suffering and struggle and if I care along with them – if I pray silently but devoutly – if I offer what I have and give unstintingly, if I refrain from the stupid bickering that gets me no where and I shut my mouth to gossip; I generally find I am encountering souls who love as deeply as I do and are searching for their place in the universe. It is in that moment of human love that God works best. After all, conversion is God’s domain. A soul’s encounter with God – is really about that person and God. Not me. Rather a relief.
I like to call upon the example of certain saints who lived this vocation of faithful love particularity well – St. Frances, St. Kateri Tekawitha, Mother Teresa…to name a few. There are many others. As I went about my life this week, I celebrated birthdays, prayed for a critically ill child, and for the family of another friend who passed away suddenly, and I discovered again that God is loved best through acts of quiet service. Our mission field is as close as our heart.