On a warm Thursday evening one summer, a man named Rick was playing catch in the back yard with his eight-year-old son Jared. Rick could tell something was on Jared’s mind, but he waited until his son was ready to bring it up. Finally Jared asked, “Dad, is there a God?” Not being very religious, Rick wasn’t sure what to say, but finally answered, “I don’t know, Jared; I honestly don’t know.” When Jared continued, “Well, if there is a God, how would you know Him?,” Rick was forced to respond, “I really don’t know, Jared; when I was a kid, I only went to church a couple of times, so I don’t know about these things.” After a few more minutes of playing catch in silence, Jared announced, “Dad, I’ll be right back.” He soon returned with a helium balloon he recently got from the circus, along with a pen and an index card. Rick asked, “Jared, what are you doing?”, and the boy responded, “I’m going to send God an air mail message.” On the card he wrote, “Dear God, if You are real and if You are there, send people who know You to Dad and me.” Rick couldn’t help thinking “This is silly” as he helped fasten the card to the balloon’s string, but he didn’t want to dampen his son’s enthusiasm, so as the balloon sailed away, he prayed silently, “God, if You’re there, I hope You’re watching.”
On Saturday morning, two days later, Rick and Jared were returning from an errand, and pulled into a free car wash a local church was holding as a community outreach. Upon learning the car wash was free, Rick was surprised and intrigued. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, and the pastor, who was directing the volunteers, answered him, “We just want to show you God’s love in a practical way.” Something clicked in Rick’s mind, and he exclaimed, “Wait—you’re saying God is real?” “Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying,” responded the pastor with a smile, and with this encouragement, Rick proceeded to tell him about his son’s questions and the air mail message they sent by means of a balloon. Then Rick remarked, “I guess you’re the answer to one of the strangest prayers God has ever received” (Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, as quoted by Craig Brian Larson in Choice Contemporary Stories & Illustrations, #129). I’m sure we’d be amazed at the types of prayers God receives; almost as amazing is the way He uses people of good will to answer them. This is especially true when it comes to treating others with kindness. For many people, the concept of Divine Love can be distant or abstract—but our good and loving deeds can help make it visible and real.
Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters wrongly believe that as long as they claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, nothing more is required of them—but as scripture shows, faith counts for nothing unless it’s put into practice. In a passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (58:7-10), the Lord emphasizes the importance of sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked; only if we do such things will our light truly shine forth. Jesus develops this idea in the Gospel of Matthew (5:13-16), stating very clearly that we must share our light by our good deeds; if instead we keep to ourselves and ignore the needs of others, we are like a lamp hidden under a basket, or like salt that’s gone flat—and nothing good can come from this. As St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) says, our faith must rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God—a power that commissions and enables us to act out of kindness and compassion, thereby touching the hearts of those around us.
A wise old seminary professor used to teach men preparing to be ordained priests, “People aren’t going to remember very much of your preaching or the words you say; they are going to remember how you treated them and how you made them feel.” This wisdom applies not only to pastors and other Church leaders and ministers, but to everyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus—in other words, to every single one of us! The neighbors and co-workers we see each day, the relatives and acquaintances we encounter only occasionally, and the strangers we happen to meet just once and will likely never see again, are probably not going to engage us in a religious discussion—at least not at first. We have an obligation to share the light of Jesus with them—but usually not by asking, “Sir, have you been saved? Ma’am, have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” These days most people are turned off by that sort of direct and intrusive approach. Instead, when the Holy Spirit prompts us, we can say, “Here, let me help you with that,” or “You look like you’re having a bad day—is there anything I can do to help?” Going out of our way to smile at a stranger, do a favor without expecting repayment, or treat someone with an extra measure of respect, may just make him or her stop and ask, “Why are you being so nice?” That’s when we can say, “I’m just trying to share God’s love,” or “I’m a follower of Jesus, and this is how He wants me to act.” Even if this doesn’t lead to a conversation, at least a seed will have been planted—and it may even turn out to be the answer to a prayer.
Some people enter the Catholic Church because they see the beauty and logic of its teachings and structure, and others join because they admire its courage and conviction in upholding unchanging moral standards despite this world’s hatred and opposition. Most new converts, however, were originally drawn by the simple kindness and compassion they experienced from the Catholics they knew and encountered—ordinary believers willing to accept them, welcome them, and help them in whatever way they needed. That’s something all of us are capable of doing; that’s how we become salt for the earth and light for the world. God may answer a confused, hurting, or doubting person’s questions or prayers in a miraculous way or by granting him or her a mystical experience—but He often prefers to use us in responding to someone else’s search for healing or meaning or truth. Sometimes life-changing moments of divine grace come disguised as everyday expressions of love and kindness on the part of Our Lord’s disciples. Jesus is asking us to let God use us in this manner—for this is how we glorify His Name and let His light shine through us in the world.