By John Clark/National Catholic Register
Some years back, a Catholic friend asked me if I would speak to her Protestant boyfriend about the Catholic Faith. She was confident I could help him see the truth and beauty of the Faith, so I invited him over for a cup of coffee. There was no trickery on my part: her boyfriend understood why he was coming. A few of his friends came along, although they seemed more interested in playing video games, barely remaining within earshot.
The man brought his Bible for reference, and asked if I minded if he referenced it in our discussion. I looked at it and said, “The Holy Bible? Cool. Where did you get it?”
After he told me where he bought it, I said something like, “No. I mean, where did you get it? As in, who put it together? Why is Leviticus a book of the Bible, as opposed to, for instance, The Odyssey?
A conversation ensued about the Bible and its origins. He could not refute the fact that the Catholic Church assembled the books of the Bible, so he shifted gears. He tried to insist that Catholics “worship Mary.” But as I had already discovered over the years, this is a common tactic, and I wasn’t about to play along. I said, “I’d love to talk about Mary and the Catholic attitude toward Mary. But we’re not finished with the topic of Scripture yet. First things first.” And so, we continued our discussion of the canon of Scripture.
After he begrudgingly admitted the Catholic Church assembled the Scriptural canon, we talked about Mary. And I challenged him to tell me what Gabriel meant in greeting Mary with the rather unique words: “full of grace.” As I remember, we then talked about the papacy, infallibility, and several other topics — one by one.
At the end of the night — after about three hours of conversation — I felt like I had made little progress. Even though I had made some good points (or so I thought), I never had the feeling I had done much good. Weeks later, I discovered that he had rejected each of my arguments. I had failed.
Except for one thing: one of his non-Catholic friends had been listening that night. Today, that man is a staunch and devout Catholic. As I discovered years later, he considers overhearing that discussion a key ingredient of his conversion process.
I relate this story because we Catholics are all called to evangelize, but evangelization can be a discouraging practice. The biographers of the missionaries often make it sound like they converted everyone they met. To be sure, saints like Paul, Patrick and Francis Xavier had overwhelming success. But honest biographies should also include accounts of their seemingly fruitless nights. Saints shed tears over those who will not listen.
For that matter, consider the evangelization efforts of Jesus himself. As Jesus hung on a cross, an unrepentant thief spent the last gasp of oxygen in his lungs to blaspheme. God gives every soul the light of grace for salvation; yet, some people bat away grace their whole lives.
Evangelization can be frustrating, especially when it leads to mockery by others. In response, many of us stop trying. We assure ourselves that no one listens anyway, so why bother? And we give up.
But as the above story illustrates, some people do listen, though they may not be the same people we are speaking with. And some people may not hear those words for years, but truthful words tend to resonate in human souls — even if those souls work hard to silence them.
Since it concerns the salvation of souls (including our own), we must not be reluctant to evangelize. Rather, we must be hopeful and enthusiastic. If you are lacking enthusiasm, it might help to imagine that the events in the Gospels happened not 2,000 years ago, but very recently. Because in the grandest scheme of things, they did. Evangelize accordingly.
Evangelization is the process of sharing the good news of the Gospel. Start spreading the good news. Do not give in to discouragement. Keep evangelizing. Keep your friends and families abreast of the fact that God loves them. Keep spreading the Good News.
And never give up.