A Christian baroness, after her noble husband died, moved from Europe to Nairobi, the capital of the African nation of Kenya. In setting up her household there, she hired a young Kenyan to be her houseboy. For three months he gave her excellent and reliable service, but then asked her for a letter of recommendation to a friendly Muslim sheik who lived nearby. Thinking her servant was looking for a better-paying job, the baroness offered to raise his salary, but the young man replied, “No, my lady, it’s not that. Earlier this year I felt I had to make a religious commitment, but wasn’t sure whether to become a Christian or a Muslim, so I decided to work three months for a Christian, to see how you followers of Jesus act, and then work three months for a Muslim, to observe the behavior of the followers of Mohammed. Then I will make my choice.” When the baroness heard this, she remembered with embarrassment the many times she had been less than compassionate or kind to her servant, and exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me this in the beginning?” (Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, p. 412).
Needless to say, if the houseboy had told his employer up front what he was doing, that would have defeated the purpose of his investigation. People tend to be on their best behavior when they know they’re being evaluated; hidden observations and judgments tend to be more accurate. The truth is that we are being watched and judged every day: not only by God, but also by many of the people around us. Everyone who knows we’re Catholic will form impressions of the Catholic Church based on our example; everyone who’s aware of our claim to be followers of Jesus will judge the truth and usefulness of the Gospel based on how we behave. This thought may be a bit intimidating, but it should also be exciting: God continually reveals His Son Jesus as the Savior of the world, and He gives us the great privilege of sharing in this process of revelation.
When God created the angels, He gave them the gift of infused knowledge, which means that all they need to do is look at something, and they know and understand it perfectly, without any need for study or reflection or personal experience. We, however, have to learn in a much more difficult and gradual way—and when it comes to the reality of God, there are some things we could never know unless He personally revealed them to us. The most important of these divine truths is that God sent His own Son to earth to be our Savior. The Prophet Isaiah (49:3, 5-6) hints at this reality, speaking of a coming servant of God who would be a light to the nations, but the full truth was only revealed when Jesus began His public ministry. John the Baptist testified to Him, calling Him the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and the Son of God Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. (Jn 1:29-34) All followers of Jesus are supposed to imitate the example of John the Baptist and of St. Paul (1 Cor 1:1-3), who states that he was called by God to be an apostle so as to testify to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
I think it’s safe to say that many of us are more enthusiastic about accepting the Gospel for our own salvation than about sharing it with others; we as Catholics are often hesitant about sharing our faith. There are ways for us to do this, however, which quite often simply involve using the everyday opportunities that arise. For instance, a man named Bob had the habit, whenever a caller said, “I’m sorry; I have the wrong number,” of answering, “Maybe not.” After a moment of surprised silence, the caller would ask “What do you mean?,” giving Bob the chance to say, “Your call gives me the chance to promise that I’ll pray for you, and also to ask if you know Jesus personally.” Sometimes these simple remarks led to a life-changing conversation. Trusting in God—especially in difficult situations—can be a powerful testimony. A woman named Cecilia was gravely injured in a car accident. Every day Cecilia’s mother came to her hospital room and prayed aloud for her daughter, talking to the Lord in simple, loving words. Cecilia’s roommate, and her mother, listened to these prayers—and by the time Cecilia was released, these two women also accepted Christ in their hearts. A man named Wally went for a haircut, and his barber happened to be a young Muslim woman. When Wally mentioned he was going to a funeral, the barber said, “Once I was offered $100 by a funeral home to cut a dead man’s hair, but I wouldn’t do it. I don’t like to touch the dead—I’m afraid they’ll sit up.” Taking this as his opening, Wally said, “I know Someone Who did sit up in His tomb.” The young woman responded, “Ugh! You’re kidding,” but Wally said, “No, I’m not,” and told her about the resurrection of Jesus. The Muslim was intrigued, and when she finished the haircut, told Wally, “I hope you’ll come back; I’d like to hear more” (Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes, pp. 782-783).
There are always ways of sharing our faith; we just have to learn to look for them. In fact, it’s a very good thing if we can pray each morning, “Lord, give me at least one chance today to bear witness to You, and help me to recognize it and make good use of it.” Whenever we encounter a difficult or challenging situation, we can utter a quick and silent prayer, such as “Holy Spirit, help me say the right thing,” and then speak whatever words come to us. Whenever we have to make some sort of moral choice, we can ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?,” and then act accordingly. Being willing to defend the teachings of the Church, forgiving those who offend us, volunteering to help someone in need, refusing to speak badly of others, and using God’s grace to cope with irritations and disappointments, are some of the many ways our example can show that our faith in Jesus is real and valuable to us—and this testimony can make a difference in the lives of others.
Unlike the Christian baroness in Nairobi, we probably won’t be evaluated up close and in secret by someone wanting to choose a religion—but everyday we’re given little yet important opportunities to bear witness on Christ’s behalf. People do notice whether our behavior is consistent with the faith we profess, and sometimes they make may lasting decisions based on what they see. God chose John the Baptist to give testimony for His Son, and in some way He has chosen each one of us, as well—and doing our best to answer this call will give us reason to rejoice for all eternity.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.