A Maryknoll Mission priest wrote, “Over my last eight years in Egypt, I have been visiting foreign prisoners serving 20- to 25-year sentences in Egyptians prisons for [selling or possessing] drugs. On my first visit to Qanatar Prison, some of the prisoners began to sing hymns after receiving the Eucharist. As we were in a general visitors section and most of the others were Muslim, I got nervous and tried to tell the singers to keep it down a little. Their response was that the others know we are Christians and expect us to sing when we pray. ‘What about the guards?’ I asked. [Won’t you get into trouble with them?’] Several of the Christian prisoners responded, ‘What are they going to do, throw us in jail?’” (Maryknoll Magazine, July-August 2008). The priest’s attitude was one of fear and embarrassment, and that was wrong; the prisoners’ outlook involved courage and trust, and that was their way of pleasing Jesus by praising and thanking Him.
If there’s one word most of us as Catholics don’t like to hear, it isn’t sacrifice or tithing or obedience; it’s evangelization. For whatever reason, we’re very often reluctant to share our faith—but doing so is a central part of discipleship, and our deliberate failures in this regard can seriously interfere with God’s plan of salvation. A catechism teacher announced to her students, “I have a beautiful poster here, but I’m not going to show it to you just yet.” Then, turning the poster face down, she cut it into fifteen pieces, put the pieces into envelopes, and gave an envelope to each student, saying, “Take your piece home tonight, and bring it back to class next week; that’s when we’ll put together the pieces.” The following week the students eagerly assembled the pieces, wanting to see what the poster looked like—only to discover the poster had two ugly holes in it, for two of the students had forgotten to bring their pieces. The catechist announced, “Jesus told us to be His witnesses in the world—but when one of us fails to do this, His witness loses some of its beauty, just as this poster has because two pieces are missing” (Mark Link, S.J., Illustrated Daily Homilies, p. 41). If, out of carelessness, embarrassment, fear, laziness, or indifference, we fail to play our part in spreading the Gospel, the Lord will not only be disappointed in us, but will hold us accountable for the lives that were not touched by His love and truth. Jesus wants everyone to be saved, and He relies upon each one of us to help bring this about.
As Jesus was about to ascend into Heaven, He reminded the apostles that they were to be His witnesses throughout the whole world, and He promised they would not be on their own—the Holy Spirit would empower them. The Gospel tells us that this promise was fulfilled; the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” Through Baptism and Confirmation, we too have received the Holy Spirit—and so we too are expected to use our opportunities to change the world by sharing the Good News of salvation.
A priest and a marriage counselor were close friends, and together they attended a convention for psychiatrists, psychologists, and other counseling professionals. A panel of experts gave a controversial presentation suggesting that in some cases, troubled marriages might actually be helped if one or both of the spouses had an extra-marital affair. The priest was shocked, and wanted to object—but his friend said, “It’s ok, Father; I’ve got this.” Then the marriage counselor stood up and said, “That’s an interesting theory, but I’d like to test it.” Looking around the room, he said, “I’d guess that among all the counselors here, we’ve professionally counseled well over a thousand troubled married couples over the years. So I’d like to see by a show of hands: how many of you have had cases of troubled marriages that would have been helped if one of the spouses had committed adultery?” Not a single hand was raised, thereby completely refuting the controversial and immoral theory presented by the so-called experts. The counselor later explained to his friend, “Father, if you had stood up to object, everyone would have thought, ‘He’s a priest, so of course he has to disagree,’ and no one would have taken you seriously. I was the one who had to speak up in front of my peers.”
People will seek out the clergy when they have questions on religion, but when it comes to how to actually live out the faith, they’re more likely to be influenced by fellow laypersons. A study was done on visitors to church who filled out a visitor’s card. If the pastor afterwards paid a call on them, there was a 25% chance they would come back and join the parish. If, however, one of the parishioners afterwards visited them, there was a 74% chance they would join the church. Witnessing is most powerful when it’s done by persons with whom other people can most easily relate. Many times you have far more influence with your peers than I ever could—and that means Jesus is relying upon you to share, in one way or another, His Good News with those who need to hear it.
There is almost certainly someone at your place of work, at your school, or in your neighborhood, who’s lonely, unhappy, and unsure if life has any meaning—someone who really needs to hear the Gospel—and it’s entirely possible that if you do nothing, this person will never experience the truth of God’s love. Your friendly smile, your encouraging word, your expression of support, your genuine interest in the person’s well-being, and your willingness to explain the reason for your optimism and joy and hope, can truly make a difference. Additionally, you can defend the teachings of the Church when they’re attacked, and politely but firmly object to immoral ideas, as did the marriage counselor; you can influence others by your example of compassion and integrity; you can help spread the Gospel by making Catholic literature available, giving religious gifts, and inviting others to come with you to Church—and you may very well discover that some people were simply waiting to be asked. Lastly, you can and should pray: pray for the missionary efforts of the Church, pray for all those who are in any way sharing the Gospel, and pray for all the people in your life who have not yet truly committed themselves to Christ. We must not disappoint Jesus by taking His Good News and keeping it to ourselves; rather, we must express our gratitude for the gift of eternal life by doing what we can to share it with others. True Christians throughout the last 2000 years have discovered and lived this truth—and now it’s up to us to do the same.