This past weekend, I had an opportunity to lead a day retreat for liturgical ministers at a local parish. It was a wonderful time of discussion, reflection and most importantly prayer. At one point amid our large group discussion I asked the question (much like Brett Garland in a recent post), “why are we Catholic in today’s society?” It was an unscripted, off-the-cuff question, but one that I thought would shed light on the importance of evangelization among the lay faithful. The answers were varied, but one stuck out in particular: an older woman said, “Because my parents were Catholic and raised me this way.” I challenged her to explain the answer by asking if her parents were the only reason she remained Catholic. Her answer was short and to the point: “No, my children are.”
The responses that this woman gave are two of the most basic, yet important teachings of our Catholic faith: “no one comes to faith alone” (CCC 166) and “we can’t give what we don’t have” (CCC 425). Throughout the history of the Church, we have seen time and again, that people bring others into relationship with God. Very rare are the days of the burning bush, but not so rare are the days of ordinary people leading others to the extraordinary truth that God exists. In my own life, I can credit my parents, campus ministers, members of my community, friends and now, my students, for helping me to discover God working in and throughout my life. It is with their witness (good and bad), their encouragement and their prayers that I have come to live my faith.
What is even more telling, however, is that the faith we have is not ours to hoard. Our faith - that is our belief in a perfect, triune God who loves us unconditionally and is made present to us in the sacrifice of the Mass - is meant to be shared. For more than 2,000 years, the faith of our fathers has been handed on from generation to generation. Christ urged his disciples:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 27:19-20).
If every Sunday we profess belief in an ever-present God and we leave Mass with the intention to live our life transformed by His Word, then it is our obligation as baptized Catholics to share what we have been given.
I’m reminded of a pertinent thought by Thomas Merton: “God has willed that we should all depend on one another for our salvation and all strive together for our own mutual good and our own common salvation.” Our faith and the faith of those around us should not be self-centered or self-contained, but rather, by virtue of our baptism, shared joyfully with every person we encounter.
So, consider these thoughts: who has helped bring you to this point in your faith life? Have you thanked them for their witness, encouragement or prayers? And, when was the last time you shared your faith in an authentic and joyful way, so as to bring about “mutual good and our own common salvation?”
Jonathan Jerome is the Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.