I grew up in Goa, a small state on the west coast of India. Back in the 16th century, the great missionary saint St. Francis Xavier traveled to India and helped bring the Catholic faith to Goa. Over the centuries, the seeds sown by St. Francis Xavier, and others like him who came to Goa, have borne great fruit. Today, the Catholic faith is thriving in Goa.
Ironically, while the Western world drove evangelization efforts in the past to Goa and so many other places, it is in that very part of the world where the need to spread the truth about Jesus and His Church is now the greatest. The biggest change though is that the days of traveling abroad to mission territories have passed. We all now live in ‘mission territory’ and we have to intentionally work to introduce (or reintroduce) the faith to our relatives, friends and colleagues.
The point of this exercise is to get a conversation started about the symbol, so that you create an opportunity to share about your faith. The trick is to replace that symbol regularly. The frequent changes will be noticed and will lead to people asking about it, thus generating situations that enable you to share about your Catholic faith. For example, a small statue of a saint during the days leading up to their feast day can allow you to talk a bit about why you have a devotion to that saint (start small, don’t start with a life-sized statue of the saint). Similarly, a poster with the Stations of the Cross during Lent could also do the trick. Aim for something that is overtly Christian, but at the same time slightly unusual, so that it taps into the curiosity of those around you.
Many of us are apprehensive to discuss the details of our Sunday Mass experience with those around us. But we can (and should) talk about what touches us at Church with colleagues and friends, whether it’s a nugget from your priest’s homily or whatever else. The goal is to keep things simple, but inspiring. There’s no need to get preachy, but rather make it sound like it’s just something matter-of-fact, treating your ‘Church’ story just like a story about a weekend-getaway or a cool movie you watched. If those around you can see that you don’t just go to Mass because it’s an obligation imposed on you, but that you attend Mass every Sunday because you love God and long for the Eucharist and the Word of God, they might start thinking about the positive benefits that Church (and God) can have in their lives too, if they give it a chance.
Many parishes host Christmas or Thanksgiving potluck dinners or have barbecues during the summer, and these serve as neutral events to introduce someone to your local parish. Just hanging out with other parishioners and seeing how they’re all not ‘oddball-Jesus-freaks’ can help your friend to feel welcome and a bit more enthusiastic to return to that church, whether for a Mass or some other evangelistic program the second time around. Young adults may find events like Theology on Tap more appealing. Theology on Tap is a program that’s held at a bar/restaurant – a neutral and familiar setting for young adults – and it involves a faith-based talk, which is delivered while people have a beer or grab a bite (a partial list of Theology on Tap local chapters can be found here, though I’m sure a Google search would reveal more chapters). There are also organizations like Young Catholic Professionals, which bring together young adults and empower them to witness to their faith at their workplace.
We’ve all seen the bumper stickers calling us to bring ‘Christ back into Christmas’. You can bring ‘Christ back in Christmas’ by placing a miniature Nativity set on your desk at your workplace or singing Christ-centered carols at the office Christmas party. As rationally as you can, explain to protestors (or whomever else for that matter) that Christmas marks the birth of Christ, and therefore it makes logical sense that we honor Jesus somewhere in the celebrations, since it’s odd to mark Jesus’ birthday sans Jesus. Obviously, exercise prudence in doing this, and don’t antagonize other people too much as that would be detrimental to your goal, but don’t be embarrassed about your faith either. You can also look for Christian-themed gifts for your loved ones for their birthdays or for Christmas. These don’t necessarily have to be a Bible or even a rosary, but look for books by Matthew Kelly or G.K. Chesterton, or check out online stores that sell Christian-themed apparel and other stuff that would make for great gifts for people of all ages.
Pray publicly when it’s appropriate to do so, such as before a meal or perhaps sitting in the living room in your home every evening. Again, the idea is not to come off as Pharasaical, but instead to witness to the point that people are curious about why we do something consistently and joyfully. Offer to pray for others when their loved ones are sick or pray with them if they’re going through a rough time. Prayers work. And when people see the Lord’s hand working in their lives in response to your prayers, that’s more than half the job done right there. God will take care of the rest of the journey to bring them back to Him.
There is hope for the Church, but we all need to do our part, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to build and renew our Church. Globally, the number of Catholics has doubled in the past 50 years. But go to a church in North America or Europe and that will be something hard to believe. The world is different than the one that St. Francis Xavier knew, but the message is still the same. And these are just 5 ways that you can use to witness to your faith. Ask the Holy Spirit for help and I’m sure He will reveal far more innovative ways to you.
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