But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.1 Peter 3:15-16, Douay-Rheims
Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.2 Timothy 4:2, Douay-Rheims
“Hey, I’ve seen you around Church!”
These words initiated a conversation between “Mike” (16) and fellow parishioner “Bob” (45). Mike, a convert to Catholicism, was walking home after the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass and ran into Bob at the front doors. The ensuing conversation was pleasant enough. Mike had also seen Bob standing after Mass in his pew, missalette in hand.
It was raining and Bob only had a hoodie that zipped up the front. Mike had a big umbrella, and, out of a sense of Christian charity, offered to walk Bob home. After pausing a moment, Bob accepted the offer and the two walked to his house, which was not far from the parish as well as the local food store where Mike worked. Mike felt comfortable in this area and the conversation continued along good lines.
Once on Bob’s porch, the conversation continued for about a minute as it had been, but then suddenly turned 180 degrees. Bob offered Mike to come inside his house for a little fun. Stunned and confused, Mike asked the reason for Bob’s invitation. “Well,” Bob said, “when you offered to walk me home, I perceived that as a come-on.”
Though interiorly upset and a bit disturbed by this sudden turn of events, Mike kept his cool and continued talking with Bob on his porch. The conversation, of course, was now centered upon the present subject.
Over the course of the next several minutes, Bob revealed why he believed that such behavior was not immoral: “The Church accepts it now.” Mike, who just happened to have a pocket-sized edition of the Catechism on him, replied, “No, Bob, that’s not true.” “It isn’t?” responded Bob. “No,” said Mike, “I happen to have the Catechism right here and can show you.” Bob looked as though he had just been hit by a ton of bricks.
The conversation continued a little bit longer, but as it was getting late and Mike had to get home, the two wrapped it up and said goodbye.
* * *
Evangelization (as well as catechesis) is not always pretty. We come across a variety of people. Some might be well-to-do, smart, and talented; whereas others are not as well off, had suffered some kind of trauma, or were themselves abusive to others.
It’s tough. The role of the evangelist needs to be like what St. Paul said of himself, namely that “I made myself the servant of all” and “I became all things to all men, that I might save all” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22, Douay-Rheims). But again, it’s not easy. In order to put such things into practice, denying of self or mortification is necessary.
Let us go back to our opening story between Mike and Bob. It’s a true story. Mike is now several years older. Over the years, he has pondered the incident and the reasons why God allowed it to happen — not to challenge them, but to understand.
Precisely why God permitted this experience to happen to Mike remains a mystery. What we can do is to look at the situation as objectively as possible and offer some thoughts. Two questions arise: “how is it that God would permit Mike to be in this situation,” and “to what end would God have permitted this situation to happen?”
Regarding the first question, if you think about it carefully, haven’t we all been there? Something we don’t like happens and the first question that pops into our minds is usually, “God, why’d You let this happen?” Well, in Mike’s case, things were a little different and that difference changes how we can look at and answer this first question. Mike (though young) had given his life to Jesus and Mary. He was very devout, and had accepted the fact that his life was no longer his own. As Gandalf told Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, “You’re in the service of the Steward now. You’ll have to do as you’re told…!”
Mike was at God’s disposal, no matter the situation. It is quite possible then that God used Mike in the experience with Bob because of Mike’s disposition towards God’s grace. Catholic evangelists should note that being in God’s service means they might be called upon by Him to evangelize at any time, to anyone, and under various circumstances.
With respect to the second question, we might find the answer in how Bob had no idea what the Church actually taught. He had been misinformed somehow and was acting upon that misinformation. It is possible that God permitted Mike’s experience with Bob in order for the latter to hear the truth, in what definitely qualifies as an “out of season” moment!
To be a Catholic evangelist is to be in God’s service. We do the will of the One who sends us (cf. John 6:38). Our personal preferences do not necessarily matter. Instead, our attitude should be that of the servant whose eyes are fixed on the hand of their master, awaiting a command (cf. Psalm 123:2). If we are always preoccupied with our own wants or needs, then we seek ourselves and not God. And to put it bluntly, such persons risk being cast into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 13:42).
Think of it in terms of an employer looking to hire someone. The employer has duties and obligations, above all to the well-being of the company and those who work for it. A position to be filled requires a competent person. Competency does not here pertain simply to one’s skill in a given craft (i.e., mastery of the field). It also pertains to one’s character (i.e., trustworthiness, self-starting, etc.).
Being in God’s service is no different. Sometimes the task assigned to us by God as evangelists is easy, whereas other times it is difficult. In either case, there is often a double-edged experience before us. Evangelization is about preaching the Gospel to others, but it also encompasses the personal growth of the evangelist. There is of course a fine-line here as we should want to evangelize for the sake of Christ and saving souls, not because we get some personal benefit out of it.
We see the double-edged experience in the Mike and Bob story. Mike kept his cool, as he says, because he believes that God gave him the grace in that moment to deny himself. Doing so allowed him to focus on Bob and to see a greater need within him. It was a learning moment for Mike and he never forgot it. Through it, he saw the value of what denying himself meant, namely that life is not all about us, but in how we love and serve God and others for the sake of Christ who first loved us. As he was only a teenager at the time, this lesson in self-denial for love and service was very foundational for Mike, and it is a good lesson for all Catholic evangelists.
There is yet one final observation to make from the Mike and Bob story that should never be forgotten.
One thing that bothered Mike was how Bob could misconstrue an innocent act of Christian charity. Well, Mike received his answer. He was talking at school one day with a friend about the incident when suddenly, the friend started laughing. “What’s so funny?” asked Mike. The friend replied, “You don’t know?” “No, what?” Mike responded. They went back and forth a couple of times, the friend truly not believing that Mike did not fully see the situation. Finally, Mike’s friend said, “Mike, you were carrying a rainbow-colored beach umbrella when you offered to walk Bob home.”
Mike’s self-denial? Check! His cultural and situational awareness? Work in progress….