Since becoming the ordinary for the Diocese of Santa Rosa, I have done a fair bit of driving along our roads, and I am continually amazed at the rugged beauty of the countryside.
Additionally, everywhere I go in the diocese, I typically find a warm group of people, eager to serve the Lord, eager and hungry for spiritual guidance, eager to grow in the Faith. This is most encouraging and positive.
At the same time I drive through vast territories with occasional households and wonder about these souls. I drive through the little towns and villages of 100-200 people and ponder in my heart how many are Catholic, how many go to church, how many are in spiritual need, and especially how can we as Catholics welcome and invite them to join us in the practice of faith. (This welcoming and inviting is one part of what all our recent Holy Fathers, including St. John Paul II, have meant by evangelization.)
At the recent Easter Vigils throughout the diocese, roughly 140 persons were baptized or received into full communion with the Catholic Church. This too is part of the evangelization process. Individuals are introduced to the Faith, they foster a kind of curiosity about it and they begin to ask questions. This brings them answers and then, God willing, they make a decision to pursue a formal process of entry into the Church.
This is all well and good, except that the first step, that initial introduction to the Faith, is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone is called to be an evangelizer. I assure you: You are called to be an evangelizer and you have the gifts and talents to do it!
When I have proposed this to individuals, with some, their eyes glaze over. Others, judging by how their pulse and breathing elevate significantly, their palms begin to sweat. Sometimes they begin to stammer, and one can almost see the wheels of the brain furiously spinning, searching for some way out, some excuse, some reprieve.
The gospel however compels us. If we truly believe it to be “good news,” without which there is no sure guarantee of eternal happiness and salvation, then we have an obligation to pass it on.
Not only that, we should have a strong desire and enthusiasm to pass it on. For Catholics—and most likely for most Christian denominations—the concept of walking up to someone’s door, introducing ourselves as Catholics connected with the local parish, and inviting them to a deeper relationship with Jesus is quite intimidating.
I understand that, but I am not talking about a theological confrontation or a full blown Bible battle. Rather, what about a simple, pleasant, and sincere invitation?
Perhaps one could say, I am from the local Catholic church, I have found there a good spiritual place, I have met there my Lord who is called Jesus, and I would like to share with you a bit of what I have found. Would you like to come and see what we do there?
There are hundreds of ways in which this dialogue could be phrased, but the key is that it is not confrontational, it is not condemnatory, rather it is the spreading of a bit of good news.
I can imagine that most people who have a delightful weekend at one of our state parks or local wineries would come to work on Monday enthused about the trip. They would readily share with anyone and everyone what happened, where they went, what they did, and even bring out their Smartphones to show pictures. Or they would post something on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Why not? They had good news, and their expectation is that others should want to hear about it.
This is not quite the same as going up to the doors of strangers and asking them if they wanted to see the pictures of your latest vacation. Then again, vacation pictures are as nothing when compared to the inestimable grandeur of the Faith.
If we really value and esteem our faith, if it is seen as genuinely Good News, if we hold what we believe is true, and if we fully adhere to the command to love one another, then it is impossible to keep this faith hidden. It is impossible to keep quiet about it. It is impossible to avoid being an evangelizer.
I have seen some beautiful things in this diocese. I have seen lovely little parishes, and I have met great people. It is a joy to talk about these persons and places, and they are all a kind of good news.
The real good news, however, is that Jesus is risen. He died for us, and He is risen. He is God’s only begotten Son, and out of love for us, He took on our human nature, and He died for us, for our salvation. He is co-eternal with the Father, and yet He took on our human nature out of love for us. Now that is good news. That is great news. That is the best news we could ever deliver to someone’s door. That is good news which a lot of the people behind those doors need and want to hear.
Don’t panic. I will not insist on a door-to-door campaign this year. Nonetheless, I do want to plant the seed, to start the notion, to get you to begin to consider the possibility so that as time goes on, it becomes less and less fearful and more and more desirable. God has entrusted His Good News to us not to be put under the proverbial bushel basket but to be put on a lamp stand to give light to all in the house. This is a responsibility entrusted to all of us and each of us has the obligation to let that light shine.
I enjoy telling people of the beauty of the North Coast, as I suspect you do as well. My friends, the Faith and God’s love are much more beautiful than the North Coast. Let’s tell people about that, as well.