Does this sound familiar? You have recently come to a greater appreciation of the Catholic faith and have been “walking on air”. Through the study of Church teaching and Sacred Scripture, you are getting to know Jesus as a personal friend. You now understand that in the Mass, you are mystically transported to Calvary and can offer yourself to the Father along with Jesus. You may be a recent convert or a “revert” to the faith and can’t wait to share the “Good News” with others. You decide that Thanksgiving dinner would be the perfect setting for your evangelization efforts. After all, you are together with family that you may not have seen in some time, everyone is in a thankful mood, there’s even a good chance that you’ll say grace before eating…what better time to share the beauty of the Catholic faith?
As you sit down for dinner with (former Catholics) Uncle Henry and Aunt Margaret, your cousin Vinnie and his live-in girlfriend, Carla, and assorted other family members, you wait for just the right opportunity. Before you even get the chance, your Uncle starts talking about his new non-denominational Christian church and how he never knew about the Bible when he was a Catholic. Aunt Margaret chimes in about how their new church has better music, friendlier people and none of that “Catholic guilt”. Vinnie decides that it’s a good time to bring up the fact that the Catholic Church has to “get out of the dark ages” or else keep losing people. You try to defend the Church and get asked, “Where is purgatory in the Bible?” or “How come the Church teaches that you’ll go to hell if you eat meat on Fridays during Lent?” Dejectedly, you say that you’re not sure and turn your attention to finishing your mashed potatoes and corn. What went wrong? Shouldn’t it be easier to share your faith?
Rather than be discouraged, we should console ourselves with the fact that Jesus predicted that we would be “hated by all nations” because of His name (Mt 24:9). He also told us that He did not come to establish peace on earth, but division (Lk 12:51). The Lord’s strong words remind us that we should expect resistance when we talk about Christ and His Church. From the Old Testament days until now, people do not like the idea of being told what to do, especially if it involves ceasing their sinful behavior!
That being the case, here are some simple, non-threatening techniques that we can use to evangelize, especially with family and friends:
Set A Good Example – If we aren’t living holy lives than our evangelization efforts will be ignored. People should be able to see that there is something different and desirable about our lives. That something is actually a “someone” – Jesus Christ! As St. Francis of Assisi stated, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words.”
Pray – This often neglected step is actually the most important. We should pray before, during and after our evangelization efforts. We often fool ourselves into believing that we are converting the hearts of people when, in reality, the Holy Spirit is doing the work. If we know there will be non-believers at our Thanksgiving dinner, we should pray for the Lord to open their hearts to His truth. When we get there, we should pray again – especially if the topic of religion arises. We should continue to pray for them even after we’ve left. There’s no limit to the power of the Holy Spirit and we should continue to turn to Him.
Use Personal Experience – Rather than try to tell people what they should be doing, it is much more effective to teach by personal experience. “I love going to Mass on Sunday because it fills me with peace” sounds a lot more desirable than “you better go to Mass or you’ll end up in hell”. “When I read the Bible, I feel like God talks directly to me” sounds more inviting than “how come you don’t read the Bible?” While there are occasions when we must “tell it like it is” (especially with our children), it’s often a good idea to start out slow and get more direct if necessary.
Always Be Charitable – One of the biggest mistakes that we make in sharing our faith is to forget to be charitable. While we may start off nicely enough, one negative comment can turn things ugly in a hurry. While St. Peter tells us that we should “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15), he reminds us that we should “do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:16). Likewise, St. Paul cautions us that if we “speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love”, we are “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).
Be Prudent – Sometimes it’s best to hold back on our advice until a better time. Preaching to a grieving widow about her husband’s sudden death being “God’s will” should probably not be done at the funeral home. Instead, consoling her with “I’m very sorry. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” will be kinder and more effective. We should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, in order that we know when it is appropriate to evangelize.
Be Patient – Many of us who have undergone major conversions often suffer from “selective amnesia”, forgetting that God has been patient with our shortcomings for many years. Now that we have a closer relationship with the Lord, we expect others to arrive at our level of spirituality – instantly! We need to be as patient with others as God is with us. Also, we shouldn’t become discouraged if our initial efforts don’t bear immediate fruit. Our job is simply to plant the seeds of faith. The Holy Spirit will then “water them” and cause them to grow.
While it is true that the Thanksgiving holiday can often cause some awkward and strained family encounters, it does provide a great opportunity for fellowship and, even evangelization. As you enjoy your Thanksgiving meal with your family and friends this year, ask the Lord to grant you the wisdom to know when and how to share the “Good News” and to give you the ability to always be charitable when doing so!