Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Great Method of Evangelization: "Make a friend; be a friend; bring a friend to Christ."

(First Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on November 29, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani and Deacon Francis Valliere. Read 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Evangelization]

Mark Twain once said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Well, that may be good advice for some things in this life, but when it comes to personal conversion, we should not put it off--not even for a single second!

As today’s gospel reading makes clear, even tomorrow may be too late. This text from Luke 21, of course, is about the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time. But if we don’t happen to stick around that long, then the truth of the passage can also be applied to the end of our earthly life: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life”—in other words, “don’t let the temptations of this life pull you away from Christ and the living of your Catholic faith, because it’s not worth it”; “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

This passage reminds us of divine judgment, which we need not fear if we’re making every effort to remain in the state of grace and not delaying our conversion and repentance.

But the Catholic Christian life is not just about “me and Jesus”—it’s not just about MY personal conversion and salvation! The Catholic Christian life is about “me, Jesus—and my brothers and sisters!” We are to love our brothers and sisters in the human family as we love ourselves. St. Paul reminds us of this in our second reading today when he says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”

Notice what St. Paul does there. He connects 3 ideas: love, holiness and judgment. To be holy and ready for judgment, we must love others. That’s his message.

And if we love others with the love of Christ, our first desire for them will be their eternal salvation! To love is to desire the good for another person, and the greatest good is eternal life!

This is why I freak out when I meet children in our school or in our CCD program whose parents don’t take them to Sunday Mass every week.

Do these parents REALLY love their children? If they do, their first desire should be for their children to know, love and serve Jesus Christ in this life, so that they will live forever with Jesus in heaven!

But it goes beyond our immediate families. If we truly love our friends, and co-workers, and the many other people God has put in our lives, we will want them to know the Lord and to get to heaven more than we desire anything else for them.

This is why evangelization is so important. To evangelize means to bring people to Christ and to his one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church—for the sake of their salvation!

Our bishop, as most of you know, has declared this to be a year of evangelization in our diocese—a year when we make special efforts to reach out to those who don’t know Christ, as well as to those who did know him at one time but have since fallen away from the practice of their faith.

And this is supposed to be everyone’s responsibility; it’s not just the “job” of bishops, priests and deacons.

All that having been said, I have a modest proposal to make today. My proposal is that each of us make the commitment at this Mass to try to bring one person to Christ—or back to Christ—during the next 12 months.

That’s not too much to ask, is it? It could be anyone—a relative, a friend, a person we know from work or school.

But Fr. Ray, how am I supposed to do this? I don’t know the Bible and the Catechism as well as you do; how am I supposed to get someone to take me seriously?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. I have a simple method for you to use, which does not require long hours of Bible study, nor does it require that you stand on a soapbox on the local street corner and preach long homilies like me!

This is a method of evangelization that is easy, and non-threatening, and can be used by people of all ages. It’s a method that some of us learned when we made a Cursillo retreat sometime in the past. The method has 3 steps, and they’re very easy to remember. Step 1 is “Make a friend”; step 2 is “Be a friend”; step 3 is “Bring that friend to Christ”.

Now to show you exactly how this works in the real world, I’m going to invite Deacon Fran to come forward and finish today’s homily by sharing an experience he had of evangelizing a coworker a number of years ago.

You might call this “a tag-team homily.” I’ll now make the tag and give the pulpit to our deacon. . . .

It was on a Cursillo weekend so long ago, that I first realized that as a Christian it was MY responsibility to bring Jesus to others. Prior to this, the word evangelization was something I thought televangelists did. But that special weekend brought many truths to light and, for me, was an epiphany of sorts.

Jesus’ words made me stop and think about what my faith was really all about: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain". (John 15:16) I couldn't escape the fact that it was ME who was called by Jesus to "spread the Good News". If Christ's message and the Gospel were to be heard it was up to me to bring it to wherever I was. Whether at home, in my neighborhood or at work; no matter where I was, it was up to me to bring Christ to others. It was up to me to "Make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ."

I remember one friendship at work. I had known a fellow co-worker, John, for many years but it was always either business or pleasure that was of mutual interest; and never had our faith been a topic of discussion. I met John while I was working on the second shift as the plant supervisor. John was a service engineer at the time and would troubleshoot problems with our products out in the field. Over time, our work relationship became more of a friendship; one founded on mutual trust. Simple honesty and courtesy and an eagerness to help each other were at the root of it.

My friendship with John grew over the years. So by the time I had made a Cursillo weekend, John and I shared a friendship that was something more personal than professional. My weekend retreat left me a changed person. As I said, it was the stark realization that it was up to ME to bring Jesus to the marketplace. Yet in all my excitement, never did I consider approaching John about it. But God had different plans. It was the Ash Wednesday after I had found my new calling as a Christian that things happened between John and I that changed not only his life but others as well. In past years, after receiving ashes but before going to work, I would return home and wash them off. I felt I looked a little foolish and wasn't prepared for the comments to follow; or at least what I thought would follow. However, this year I decided differently. Not only did I NOT feel foolish but I actually felt like it was a badge of honor to be a "fool for the Lord". Little did I know what the Holy Spirit had intended. About one hour into my workday, as I was exiting my office, I bumped into John in the hallway. He looked at me with surprise and immediately he noticed the ashes on my forehead. Later that day he approached me and said how impressed he was in seeing the Ashes on my forehead that reminded him of his own faith. This, of course, was the lead in the Holy Spirit placed before me; so I ran with it. We had a short chat about our Catholic faith which neither of us had known we shared as something in common.

As time went on, John would stop by to chat about his desires to "get back into his faith". He said he envied this new found relationship I had with the Lord and commented on how much I had changed after that retreat. This gave me an opportunity to share with him about my Cursillo experience and how grateful I was that I had been asked to attend the weekend. He expressed interest in the weekend and, as grace would have it, decided to go to the next men's weekend. Needless to say, when John came back from the weekend he was on fire for the Lord. He was excited about the prospect of sharing his faith with others. But he felt a little intimidated at the idea.

Realizing our dependence on each other for support, John and I decided that we would meet in my office at lunch time each day. This gave us an hour or so to share our faith. It also gave us the courage and strength to remain faithful to this call to evangelization. It was both a tool for personal growth and a basis for our evangelizing efforts. We would share about things that we were reading, such as scripture or other faith based books, or how our prayer life was going. We also discussed what we were doing to try to be good Christians. And of course we'd share how the evangelizing efforts were going.

Often times our discussions focused on the Eucharist. How we felt it was transforming both of us the more we received. Now, my office was pretty good size; large enough to contain three desks and numerous filing cabinets. One of the desks was used by my office assistant, Michelle. Even though she was at the opposite end of this office, she was in earshot of what John and I discussed. She was comfortable with being privy to our chats so we paid no attention that she was there. Little did we know that she was more than comfortable with overhearing our discussions! I found out she actually took a deep interest in them; especially when we talked about the Eucharist. One day she approached me expressing a desire to know more about this faith John and I shared. She told me she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church but had never been raised in that or any other faith.

Talking to Michelle about our faith was fairly easy. The "make a friend; be a friend" process had long been established. It was just a matter of now sharing personally with her this faith she had overheard for so long. Although she mostly listened, her participation in our discussions got her more into asking about how SHE could become a Catholic. Shortly after that we made arrangements for her to participate in the RCIA program. As her sponsor, I couldn't have been happier for this young woman. About 9 months after John and I had started meeting at lunch time in my office, Michelle, who had been pretty much un-churched all her life, was received into the Catholic Church, and received her First Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil.

Make a friend, be a friend and bring a friend to Christ. Pretty simplistic! But then again, Jesus wasn't working with rocket scientists when he chose the twelve Apostles; and look what happened with them. I have often heard the saying, "But by the grace of God there go I." And so I often wake in the morning and ask God that today, Lord, make me your grace, that someone else may have this great gift you have given me. And for that gift; the gift of faith, hope and love; the gift of salvation; I give praise to Almighty God!

(At all the exits you’ll find a pile of these prayer cards titled “Return to me with all year Heart”. On the back of the card is a beautiful prayer. This prayer for Evangelization is urgently needed in a world that is quickly and systematically forgetting about and even denying both God and Faith in Him. There’s an old saying. Before you talk to your friend about Jesus, you first need to talk to Jesus about your friend. This prayer is a great way to start the day, every day)

In this joyful season of Hope; My fervent prayer is that all of you find comfort and joy in spreading this awesome faith we share. Together with Jesus we cannot fail.