Calling All Women Discerning Religious Life (Men, Too)

A few months ago, a friend from high school reached out to me wanting to hear about my discernment process from when I entered religious life. I was happy to discuss but surprised that she was asking, as she’s not a Christian. Discernment–particularly vocational discernment–is something that we usually talk about only with other Catholics. But I’m generally happy to discuss anything about Jesus, so I was game. It turns out that Eve is working on a piece for The Huffington Post investigating the way young Millennials discern. She’s a brilliant writer and a beautiful soul and I think her contribution to this conversation (especially when it’s published on a site like The Huffington Post) will be a gift to the Church. Here’s what Eve has to say:

I’m a Jewish-American writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who’s profoundly interested in the spiritual experience throughout history and how it occurs in an age many people think of as thoroughly secular, science-minded, data-driven, and beyond the reach of the mystical or necessitating the presence of faith. For a long essay I’m writing for The Huffington Post, I’m looking to talk with American women under the age of 25 in the process of discernment to enter the religious life. I’m interested in how you experienced your call, the tangible ways that changed how you interacted with the world (for instance, did you come to use Facebook differently? The push to have a good “career” differently? Did it change how you related to the uncertainty of the contemporary economy and the loneliness often present in contemporary friendships?). I’m deeply interested in the kinds of experiences of the modern world, and of God, that led a young woman to pursue a vocation. If you’d be willing to chat with me by phone, FaceTime, or Skype about your journey, please get in touch with me on Facebook. I’d ideally love to speak with women from a range of backgrounds, including families that were not religious or professed a different religion, and different parts of the country or economic backgrounds. We can speak casually first and then discuss if you’d like to be quoted by name in the story. While my interest is primarily in young women, I’d also REALLY love to talk to some young men discerning about the priesthood, too.

Here’s a brief example of my work. Among others, this piece, from an experiential point of view, argues hard against the modern conception that we are the best, or real, architects of our own lives.

If you’re interested in speaking to Eve, leave a comment here (anonymous or not) or send me a message and I’ll put you two in touch. Please DON’T tag a friend or share it to her Facebook wall–her discernment might not be something she’s ready to be public about. Send it in a private message and she can contact me herself. I know that Eve is particularly interested in speaking with a diverse group of young people discerning with traditional communities, especially people from non-religious families, people of color, immigrants, and the very poor and very wealthy. She’s come to the right Church, hasn’t she? You’ve never met a body more diverse than the Catholic Church, and I’d love to help her write a piece that shows how the love of Christ breaks down all the divisions we erect between ourselves to call hearts to deep holiness and deep joy. Plus she’s offered to let me look it over before publication to make sure the theology’s on point, so you don’t have to worry about the Church being misrepresented. What a great opportunity to witness to the Love of Christ that invites us to be completely his! Who’s in?

Candles in the Rain: On Community

A few months ago, in the midst of my whirlwind pilgrimage around France, I had the opportunity to visit Lourdes for the first time. We arrived in the early evening, settled into our hotel, and sat down for dinner. As soon as the dishes were cleared away, we were off again, headed to the main square for a candlelit procession. It had been raining off and on all day but my phone wouldn’t connect to the hotel’s wifi to tell me the forecast and the patch of sky I could see from the door was blue, so I decided to chance it, heading down to the outdoor ceremony with only a denim jacket to protect me from the elements.

Wrong choice.

I’m not usually one for extra ceremony in the best of circumstances, preferring silent time to pray as I like over litanies and processions, so I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit for this rosary parade. But I’m always ready to try to have the full experience (and I wanted to set a good example to the young people) so I bought my 50-cent candle with its very flammable paper bobeche1 and off I went.

The procession started out as expected, with a chanted Latin credo I only knew one word in twenty of2 and hundreds of people walking slowly around the square behind a large statue of the Blessed Mother. Not long into the second decade (led in various different languages) it started to rain. I took a deep breath, offered it up, and kept going, shielding the flame on my taper candle more carefully. The rain got heavier, and my candle was out. So I lit it again off a friend. And once more off a stranger. I shared the light with various people around me, all the while wishing I’d brought my umbrella.

After 3 or 4 times relighting my candle, I gave up. If I’d been there alone, I would long since have gone back to the hotel, but I wasn’t going to leave my friends, so on I trudged, sopping paper dangling from my dripping candle, rain running down my face.

IMG_3902Eventually, someone with an extra umbrella offered it to me, as people around us did for any number of strangers. I invited a friend to share my umbrella, and we kept walking, finally arriving at the front of the square to finish the rosary in lashing rain. The pilgrims around me were cold and bedraggled, each holding an unlit candle.

Then out came the sun, as though she hadn’t abandoned us for nearly the whole ceremony. Tentatively we put away our umbrellas, but the sky promised to remain closed and the whole party seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as we prepared to dry out.

As soon as my umbrella was down, Jared, for whom I’d been holding the umbrella, was gone. I was ticked, thinking only (of course) of myself, of the sacrifices I’d made to hold the umbrella for him and he didn’t even have the courtesy to stand by me when he didn’t need me any more.3

And suddenly he was back, holding out a lit candle to relight mine.

I’d forgotten about candles. It had been impossible to keep mine lit, but evidently somebody, somewhere had managed it. And Jared had remembered why we were there when I’d forgotten anything but self-pity. He handed on the flame and I was off, lighting candles for friends and strangers.

Some sputtered out immediately. “Don’t worry about it,” one young woman said after the third failed attempt. “My wick’s too wet.”

“Then we’ll dry it out,” I said, holding my candle to hers for 2 or 3 minutes until the flame finally burned clean and strong.

“My wick broke off,” another friend said. “It can’t light. But it’s fine.”

“It’s not fine. I’ll melt the wax down until you have a wick again.” Another few minutes, holding my flame to her useless wax stick until it became a candle again.

I held my hand to block the wind for some and fished candles out of backpacks. On and on, the flame spreading, until once again we were a candlelit crowd. And the whole time, all I could think was what a parable it all was.

We’re given this light of faith at baptism, and maybe you cherish it. Maybe you protect it, turning to the community to rekindle it when the difficulties of the world extinguish it.

But it gets too hard. Again and again you light the candle. Again and again the flame is snuffed out until you can’t see anyone around you with a flame and it just seems futile. So you put away the candle and keep trudging through the dim light. Eventually you forget that there ever was a candle and you get used to the darkness.

Until someone walks up beside you and offers you a light. You remember again what this is about. Maybe you’re like me, forcing that flame on everyone around you. But maybe you’re too discouraged. “Don’t worry about it, it won’t work.”

Fortunately, you’ve got a friend who won’t settle for that. “You can’t carry this flame right now, but I can carry it for you. I can stand with you and love you and hold my faith up until God burns away the brokenness and rekindles the light of faith in you.”

This is why we need Christian community. Every one of us4 needs people to remind us of the faith that once drove us. We need to people to fight our battles for us, people to stand with us to protect our faith, and people who we can encourage and support.

IMG_3910

I tell you what, I felt like a hero that evening. I was saving the day left, right, and center with that flame. But I never would have had it if Jared hadn’t remembered what I’d forgotten. I’m blessed to spend a lot of my life lighting people’s candles, but it’s only possible because of the community that supports me, praying for me, holding an umbrella, offering me a light.

We need each other, you and I. We need friends and strangers to keep these flames lit. We need real community, not just handshakes before Mass starts. We need to know each other and love each other if we’re going to hold each other up.

I hope you’ve got people walking with you, helping you keep your candle lit. If you don’t, don’t settle for that. God wants you to live in community and community is possible. So pray for it and then go out and find it. Start a Bible study, join the Altar guild, meet your evangelical neighbors.

Community might not look like a whole bunch of people the same age, race, and marital status talking about things they already agree on—all the better! Get coffee with the little old ladies who pray the rosary every day before Mass. Offer to babysit for that mom your daughter’s age. Invite Father over for dinner. Serve the Church. Because, with rare exception, real Christian community doesn’t just happen. It’s sought and built and fought for. But it’s worth it.

  1. Apparently that’s the word for the cup thing that they put around candles at church to keep the wax from going everywhere. Who knew? []
  2. Don’t worry, I sang the few passages I knew triumphantly. Et ascendit in caelo!! []
  3. I get double cranky when I’m cold and wet. []
  4. Unless God has called you to be a hermit, which he almost certainly hasn’t. []

3 Ways to Evangelize like an Olympian

I’m obsessed with the Olympics. 14 of my last 15 posts on my personal Facebook page have been about the Olympics. I’m currently camped out at my friend’s house in eastern Montana while she’s away on vacation, mostly so I can watch the Olympics undisturbed for 4 days.1 I’ve been looking into Olympic podcasts so I can listen to the tearjerking stories while I drive. With the refugee team and Simone Manuel blazing a trail and Simone Biles dominating like nobody before, it’s no wonder I’m hooked.

Michelle CarterBut there’s more to it than just national pride and feel-good moments. Again and again, as I sit on my butt eating popcorn for dinner, I watch these incredible athletes take the 30 seconds they’ll ever have on camera and use them to praise the Lord. Take Michelle Carter, gold medalist in shot put. Can you name one shot-putter ever? Can you even name Michelle Carter, the day after she won? This woman has this moment and only this moment, and she pointed to Jesus.

JohnsonDavid Boudia and Steele Johnson turn every interview into a proclamation of the Gospel. Simone Manuel gives a new dream to every little Black girl in America and gives glory to God. Every Brazilian athlete seems to be crossing himself. And night after night the name of Jesus Christ is spoken by anchors as we see his image above Rio de Janeiro. These, it seems, are God’s Olympics.

I’m not surprised to see how many athletes love the Lord–he’s rather marvelous, after all. What’s impressive to me is that they’ve clearly planned their remarks, to some degree, and their top priority is to speak the name of Jesus. This doesn’t happen by accident–it happens because lovers of God plan ahead and are intentional about giving God glory.

Simone ManuelListen to the way some of them are talking–it’s awkward. These aren’t people who just happen to be comfortable talking about God; they’ve made a deliberate choice, planned their witness, and carried it out, unrelated as it may be to the question they’re supposed to be answering. They’re not natural-born evangelists. They’re not all clever or eloquent or well-equipped to witness to the Lord, they’re just intentional.

So what? So you can be, too. One of the greatest obstacles I find Catholics face when trying to evangelize is that they have no idea how to start. They’re not necessarily afraid of talking about Jesus; perhaps they are and they’re just ready to fight through the fear. But however willing they are, they just have no idea where to start.

“Did you see the preview for the new Star Wars movie?”

“Um I REALLY LOVE JESUS!”

“…k.”

There are times when you really ought to sit somebody you love down to have a serious conversation about God and love and sin and mercy. But those aren’t daily occurrences. More often, it’s the little things, the quick asides or the personal stories or the mention of Mass, that gives someone who’s questioning an opportunity to ask.

But we’re not trained to recognize these opportunities, so they slide by and we spend hours and hours with people without once mentioning the Person we love most. So what can we do about it? Mimic the Olympians and be prepared. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Change your language.

A simple first step is just to add your love of God into your constant conversation. When something good happens, respond, “Praise God!” instead of “Sweet!” When someone comments that something’s gone well for you, instead of saying, “I guess I’m lucky,” try, “God takes really good care of me.” When there’s yet another tragedy, go with, “God, help us,” or, “Lord, have mercy,” instead of profanity. When congratulated, “God is very good.” Little things like that build up into a culture of mentioning Jesus and make it clear that you’re a person of faith.

2. Prepare for specific questions.

When I meet new people, I’m ready. They’re going to ask, “Where are you from?” I’m going to answer, “Well, I’m originally from Washington, D.C. but now I’m a missionary so I live out of my car.” Ball’s in your court, friend. Want to talk about Jesus?

You probably don’t have such an obvious opening as that (unless you work for the Church or are studying theology or something). Most of the time people ask you ordinary questions and you give ordinary answers. But could you give deeper answers?

Option A:
“So, what do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a lawyer.”
Option B:
“So, what do you do?”
“Law’s my day job. But my heart’s in youth ministry/street evangelization/marriage prep retreats.”

Option A:
“How’d you guys end up in Tennessee?”
“I got a job at the college down the road and after I moved on from that job we ended up staying.”
Option B:
“How’d you guys end up in Tennessee?”
“I got a job at the college down the road. But when it was time to move on from that job, the Lord just made it really clear that he wanted us here.”

Option A:
“Got any travel plans this summer?”
“I’m not really sure yet. We’re thinking about….”
Option B:
“Got any travel plans this summer?”
“I’ve been praying about that. I’d really like to go visit this church in Wisconsin where they say the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. Have you heard about it?” (Note: I didn’t say pilgrimage or shrine or apparition–don’t use insider lingo!)

This doesn’t mean you launch into a script and ignore the person you’re talking to. It just means that you consider in advance what everyday conversations are opportunities for you to share about what God has done in your life.

3. Don’t censor yourself.

Sometimes the easiest way to witness to the Gospel is just being real with the people around us. But we don’t want to make them uncomfortable, so we censor the Jesus part of our lives to avoid making a scene. But think about it: if somebody loves you, they want to hear about the important stuff in your life, even if they’re not interested in those things.

Think about it this way: this year, Leicester City Football Club beat impossible odds (5,000 to 1) to become Premier League Champions (basically win the Superbowl after going 0-8). If you’re a Leicester fan and you have a buddy who hates soccer/football, you’re not just going to pretend nothing happened. You’re not going to go on for 2 hours, but you’ll mention it, talk about it for a few minutes, and then respect his lack of interest by moving on. And if he’s any kind of a friend, he’ll be glad to hear you talk about something that excites you so much.

The love of God is more incredible than any athletic Cinderella story, more life-changing, more lasting. And yet we censor it out of our conversations. Maybe one step in evangelizing like an Olympian is just not to leave it out. When someone asks about your weekend, mention that you went to confession. Share one thing you heard in the homily. Talk about the conference you went to.

If you’re prepared for this, it can be more than just a throwaway line. When you encounter God in a powerful way, figure out a two sentence way to share it–and the love of God that inspired it.

“I went to confession on Saturday. It’s just amazing to know that God loves me enough to forgive me no matter what. Then I went to a concert and….”

“My trip abroad? It was amazing! There was this one little town where we saw the incorrupt body of a Saint. 150 years and it hasn’t decayed at all! And she was just some nobody but God even loves nobodies.”

“My favorite artist is Jimmy Needham. He’s got this great soulful feel to him and his lyrics just wreck me, they’re so full of the love of God.”

Now all of those could be things you say and then give your friend an opportunity to question or respond. Or you can gauge their comfort level and change the subject yourself. But don’t do them the disservice of ignoring the most important things in your life; that’s not friendship.

My approach to evangelization (believe it or not) tends to be less beat-down-the-door and more open-the-door-a-crack-and-step-back. All I’m trying to do is start a conversation. If you don’t want to have that conversation, cool, let’s talk about The Office. But I think most of us let countless opportunities slide past because we aren’t prepared.

If there’s one thing I learn from the Olympics, it’s that I’m a lazy slob who thinks she deserves a round of applause for standing up. But this year, I’m learning something else: all it takes to be a mouthpiece for the Spirit is a lot of openness and a little intentionality. So I’m going to challenge you all:

  1. Come up with one phrase to incorporate into your daily conversation that opens things up a little more to the Lord.
  2. Think of 2 everyday questions that you can answer by talking (even just a little) about Jesus.
  3. Each weekend, take a look back at the past week to see 3 areas where God was working. Figure out how (if the situation is right) you can briefly describe these experiences in a way that shares God’s love for people.
  4. Evangelize like an Olympian!!

Any other tips for simple ways to share the name of Jesus? Got other examples of questions and answers that can be opportunities for evangelization? Please share in the comments!

  1. Side note: quickest way to make me love you? Invite me to stay at your house while you’re gone, giving me my first vacation in 2 years. I’ll even water your plants! []

Fourth Hoboversary: What’s Changed?

Saturday marked four years–and nearly one million blog views–since I started hoboing. It does sometimes seem that this episodic novel I’m living is monotonous in its constant change, but a look back at where I was four years ago makes me think things are rather more different than I’d realized.

Something else I wasn't expecting to be part of my hobo life.
I wasn’t this expecting to be part of my hobo life.

Four years ago, I quit my job, packed everything into my car, and started driving. I figured I’d be couchsurfing until July, then God would give me a place to live. Four years later, there’s no end in sight. I figured I might hit 20 or so states before I settled down. 49 states and 18 countries later, not so much. I called it a sabbatical, thinking I’d stay someplace quiet and have lots of free time to write a book. Quiet? Free time? Ha.

It became clear within the first 8 months or so that this was going to be a longer and wider-reaching ministry than I’d expected. You lovely people have read and shared my blog, invited me to speak, told your friends, connected me to people abroad, and all around kept me busy. And as this whole crazy thing has unfolded, I’ve found myself praying more and sleeping less, reading more and blogging less, falling asleep in chapels more and beating myself up about it less.

Also wasn't planning on employing a puppy evangelist.
Also wasn’t planning on employing a puppy evangelist.

Then I liked very little better than talking about myself. Now it’s all I can do not to sigh dramatically when someone asks me a question I’ve answered a thousand times.1 Then I was such an extrovert I couldn’t stay awake driving unless I was talking to someone on the phone. Now I’m thrilled when my host offers to leave me alone for the evening–and I detest talking on the phone.2 Then I was convinced I was going to be a consecrated virgin. Now I’m thinking God might be intending marriage for me.

I can feel the strain this life has put on my body; I might still be able to drive 15 hours in a day, but my back is no longer pleased about it.3 Fortunately my soul’s holding up better than my shoulders. I lamented last year that this life isn’t making me a saint, and while I’m certainly no saint, I can see areas where the Lord is rubbing off my rough spots using internet trolls, thoughtless hosts, and talks that go over like a lead balloon.

Didn't anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.
Didn’t anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.

There’s quite a lot that’s hard—though mostly not the things you’d expect—and quite a lot that’s lovely. There are days when I think I can’t possibly do this any longer and days when I can’t imagine anything else. Most days are both.

But the biggest shift has been in how I preach. For the first year or so that I was a hobo, person after person asked me what my topic was. I’d prayed about narrowing my focus and I really felt that I couldn’t, that I wanted to speak on all things Catholic.

“Everything,” I’d say, “but at heart I’m an apologist.” I was fascinated by the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism–still am–and was pretty convinced that training Catholics in how not to be Protestant would teach them to be Saints.

I'm not at all surprised by how many books I have.
I’m not at all surprised by how many books I still have.

What I didn’t realize was how very many Catholics weren’t ready to be Saints. Or Catholics. Or even Christians. I didn’t know how many people go through the motions without knowing Jesus. I had no idea that people would bother showing up to Mass–even to daily Mass–when they didn’t love him.

I was trying to feed meat to children who needed milk. And while I’m sure those were good enough talks, I was skipping the foundation of loving God and trying to build the turrets and crenellations. I won’t worry about who I missed, I’ll just trust that God was working even then.

But then I read Forming Intentional Disciples (which is amazing and you simply must read it) and realized that what people need more than anything is to hear the simple Gospel proclaimed in compelling ways. And I shifted my focus.

Had no idea I'd be spending two months in Europe each year.
Had no idea I’d be spending two months in Europe each year.

Oh, I still speak on confession or purgatory or Church history, but I’ve really only got one talk: “God loves you like crazy.” I just frame it in different topics. Basically every talk I give now is the kerygma (a proclamation of the Gospel). When I talk with individuals, I try to work it in. When I get excited about defending some point of doctrine, I remind myself the whole point is to convince people that God loves them and encourage them to live like that’s true.

So these days, you’re more likely to hear me say this than anything else: you are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you. It’s incredibly basic and the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Which is why I try to slide it in to every talk I give, even to people who already believe it. Because it’s the greatest good news the world has ever seen and it changes everything.

So it’s the same mission that it was, just longer. And busier. And more exhausting. And more focused on the one thing that matters: the love of God. All in all, a good four years. Please pray for me!

  1. Amazing that it took me three years of talking about myself nearly nonstop to get tired of the subject. []
  2. I still love people, it’s just such a treat to be alone! []
  3. My back is no longer pleased about most anything and I’ve decided getting a massage every few months is not overly indulgent. []

When Being an Easter People Is a Bad Thing

Easter candle liliesHappy Easter, friends! We are an Easter people over here–all 50 days of it. So along with my feasting (and there has been plenty of feasting) all during the Easter season I’ve been trying to use the stories from Acts as much as I can. After all, Acts is our Easter book, right? We read from it every day of Easter. So let’s be all about the Apostles and the amazing work they did, especially during this Easter season!

Until last week when I realized: almost none of the Acts of the Apostles takes place during Easter.1 Because during Easter, the Apostles weren’t out doing anything. For forty days they were being taught by Jesus, learning to forgive sins and feeling their hearts burn within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. And then he ascended. And maybe they felt empowered by the great commission or maybe they felt afraid and alone or maybe they wondered if this wasn’t another 3-day psych-out. But whatever they were feeling, here’s what they did:

They kept to themselves.

“They were continually in the temple praising God,”2 which is great. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”3 They were in fellowship and in prayer amongst themselves, but they weren’t going out. They weren’t preaching Christ crucified or offering his mercy to the nations.

They had an excuse: they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit.

What’s our excuse?

We received the Holy Spirit at baptism and his presence was strengthened in confirmation. We claim his name over our lives every time we cross ourselves. We’ve been called and filled and sent out.

But most of us are still locked in the upper room.

We’ve met the risen Christ and many of us have been transformed. Like Peter our sins have been forgiven, like Mary Magdalene our broken hearts healed, like Thomas our doubts satisfied. We’ve been made new. And now we’re sitting around doing nothing about it.

Oh, we might be in the temple day in and day out. We might be meeting in fellowship and even praying together. But we’re not reaching out to the world.

I wonder what happens when the Spirit comes down as tongues of fire and we refuse even to open the windows, let alone go out into the streets. My hunch is that it doesn’t look pretty and doesn’t end well.

That’s where we’ve been as a Church for far too long. In the West, at least, we’ve been focusing inward, trying (halfheartedly, in most cases) to take care of our own. But when a missionary Church locks itself in an upper room, nobody gets fed.

This year on the Vigil of Pentecost, people all over the world are praying in a special way for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They’re praying that the power of God will be released in their lives, that they’ll live in the freedom of the Spirit. I think one of the most powerful ways that we’ll experience this is by giving God permission to touch hearts through us. If we decide that we’re going to unlock the door and walk out into the streets, proclaiming Christ and living the book of Acts, we’ll be transformed just as much as those we meet. We’ll move past Easter (still filled with Alleluias) and live in Pentecost as though it were Ordinary.

This Pentecost, the Spirit is coming down. Let’s open our lives to him and go out to set the world ablaze.

Pentecost

  1. That we know of anyway. Certainly not during the first Easter season. []
  2. Luke 24:53 []
  3. Acts 1:14, though they weren’t really his brothers []

America After Francis: 8 Ways to Keep the Francis Effect Going

If you are American, or know an American, or ever look at the Internet, you may have noticed that Pope Francis was in the US this week. And we may never be the same.

Boehner gifCNN broadcast hours of Catholic programming. Political leaders wept openly. A million people went to Mass with him today. Millions more watched. The top 5 trending topics on Facebook were Francis. And Americans–Catholic and non-Catholic alike–couldn’t get over how they loved him. Just search Twitter for “I’m not Catholic, but.”

This week, everyone is talking about the Gospel. Whether they know it or not, that’s what’s happening. They love Pope Francis because he loves like Jesus. And, like it or not, we all want to know that love. So people are drawn to him–to his mercy, his joy, his tenderness. But what happens tomorrow, when he’s back in Rome and the “news” is filled with Kardashians instead of Christ? How do we live so that the wonder and joy of this week lead somewhere?

1.Talk about it. This is the easiest it may ever be for you to start talking to people about Jesus. Everyone’s talking about Pope Francis–there’s nothing awkward about bringing him up tomorrow. Then see where the conversation goes.

“Did you see Boehner crying last week? I’ve never seen a politician so sincere!” Then you start talking about why he was crying. What is it about this Pope? He feels like Jesus. Why? Mercy. Love. Joy.

Well played.
Well played.

“Marky Mark emceed for the Pope this weekend. Where was the rest of the Funky Bunch?” Bet nobody saw that coming back when he was a thug. Did you hear he had a huge conversion? Yup–turned his whole life around.1 Just because some priest loved him. Ever known a priest like that? Pope Francis seems like that type. He’s willing to forgive anyone. That’s the incredible thing about the Church: mercy. Love. Joy.

“Did you see the Pope stop his car to kiss that handicapped boy?” He really loves the marginalized, doesn’t he? Prisoners, too. And the poor. He loves sinners a lot. He’s just like Jesus, isn’t he? Mercy. Love. Joy.

Francis homeless“How about Pope Francis skipping lunch with dignitaries to eat with the homeless?” They’re just as important as the movers and shakers. It’s not what you do that makes a difference but who you are, and every one of them is a child of God. Even the addicts and prostitutes. Incredible to see how he loves–and think how much more the Father must love us! Mercy. Love. Joy.

2. Lose the labels. If you read/listened to what the Pope was saying this weekend, you know: he’s not a Republican. He’s also not a Democrat. He’s a Catholic. Which means he’s wildly liberal and wildly conservative because Jesus was wildly liberal and wildly conservative. If your views are dictated more by your party’s platform than by the Gospel, rethink that. And then maybe find some common ground with people who are far from Christ by talking about immigration or human trafficking or global warming or any of the dozen other issues that Pope Francis agrees with them on.

Bet you didn't see that one coming, UN.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming, UN.

3. Agree with people. Did you notice that Francis didn’t go in guns blazing to tell everybody how wrong they were? Even when addressing Congress or the United Nations, he affirmed everything he possibly could to show them how much common ground there was. Then he led them–gently–to see where they were wrong. He met them where they were and then urged them to come a little further, all while loving them hard. Try that for a change. It’s not just a strategy, it’s a way of respecting people. Pope Francis is a pro at that.

4. Comfort the afflicted. The mark of a prophet–and a defining characteristic of Jesus himself–is that he comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The mark of most Christians is that we afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. We tell sinners just what we think of them, ripping open their wounds and rubbing in salt, while congratulating mediocre Christians on not being like those terrible people. And those who were far from Christ fall farther, convinced that they’re unworthy of love, while Satan woos the complacent. Instead, try loving those who are suffering, even if you think their suffering is “their own fault.” For a change, don’t try to fix them. Just love them. Francis spends a lot of time comforting the afflicted, and everybody loves him the more for it.

5. Afflict the comfortable. We didn’t hear terribly much of this during the Holy Father’s visit this time around, but those of us who live firmly in the Church’s embrace have heard a lot of it over the last two and a half years. Don’t make a whip out of cords and start flipping tables just yet, but pray about ways you can challenge decent people to be saints.

6. Lead with love. This is what really gets people: Francis loves them. He loves them so powerfully that they can’t ignore it. When they feel loved, they want to get closer. And when they get closer, they realize it wasn’t Francis loving them at all, but Jesus. Love hard. Tell people how wonderful you think they are. Even–especially–if you struggle to love them, find the things you love and tell them. Then maybe they’ll begin to hear the Father’s love as well.

My most popular Facebook post ever, shared 62 times.
My most popular Facebook post ever, shared 62 times.

7. Keep your eyes (and heart) open. My Facebook feed is filled with stories of people returning to the Sacraments after decades because of watching Pope Francis on TV this week. People are sharing about entire bars that were glued to the screens showing the Holy Father, all joining in for a Hail Mary at the end. In a bar. I read one woman saying, “I’m not even a Christian and Pope Francis is my favorite human being alive!” Our Churches today were filled with prodigals, I’m sure of it. Pay attention. Look around for people who might feel out of place. Listen when people talk about Pope Francis to see if they aren’t really asking about Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to say. And never, never think you know a person’s story. Everyone you meet is hungry for Jesus. We all show it differently. Your job is not to judge. Your job is to bring them to Jesus.

8. Smile more. He could have done nothing else and this smile would have gotten the country talking.

happy Francis

This could be the decisive moment in the American Catholic Church for the next decade–if you follow up. Seeds have been planted this week. Let’s work with the Lord to bring in a bountiful harvest.

I’d love to hear your stories of how the Pope’s visit impacted people around you–please share in the comments!

  1. Feel free to discuss the fact that his movies are still totally inappropriate–the Church is a hospital for sinners, after all. []

100 Ways to Be a Missionary Without Leaving Your Home Town

After last week’s post on how every Christian is called to be a missionary, my friend Jenna asked me to get specific. What does it mean to be a missionary in everyday life? So I started brainstorming and here’s what I came up with: 100 ways to evangelize right where you are. While missionaries aren’t just evangelists, I feel like I pretty well covered the service and justice aspect of Christianity in the pro-life post. So I’m sticking primarily with things that are more directly about preaching the Gospel, but all those pro-life practices are ways to be a missionary too.

Not all of these tips will work for all of you. Some types of evangelization take a certain personality. Some will be helpful only with particular individuals (37, 45, 74) while others are more universally applicable (12, 68, 72). Remember: nobody is a project. Treat every person as a child of God, never as the object of a strategy, and you’ll be off to a good start.

100 ways to be a missionary

  1. Fall in love with Jesus.
  2. Take your children to daily Mass.
  3. Offer to help someone with small children at Mass.
  4. Pray before you eat–especially in public.
  5. Blog about your faith.
  6. Sponsor a child and write her letters.
  7. Adopt a child.
  8. Invite someone to go to confession with you–offer to take him to dinner afterwards to sweeten the deal.
  9. Read the Catechism. The whole thing.
  10. Take your baby to visit the residents at a nursing home.
  11. Sign up for a holy hour in the middle of your prime social time. Then when you leave the bar or the football game to head off to pray, invite people to join you. You’ll be amazed what happens.
  12. Call someone who’s hurting.
  13. Take a picnic lunch to an area with a large homeless population.
  14. Santa Monica evangelizationDo some street evangelization.
  15. Invite your priest over for dinner. Community strengthens them for their ministry.
  16. Celebrate your kids’ feast days and baptismal anniversaries. Make their memories of being Catholic joyful celebrations.
  17. Share a Bible verse on Twitter.
  18. Have your wedding in a beautiful Church with incredible, transcendent music. Your non-Catholic guests will be struck by a stunning liturgy.1
  19. Get a Christian tattoo that isn’t ugly or weird.
  20. Invite college students living far from home to spend Sunday dinner with your family.
  21. Start a Bible study at Starbucks.
  22. Abstain from meat on Fridays (you have to fast in some way anyway) and don’t be afraid to mention it when people are picking a restaurant.
  23. Ask your brother why he stopped going to Church.
  24. Beg for grace.
  25. Tell your coworker about God.
  26. “Do it with gentleness and reverence.”2
  27. Help at youth group.
  28. Be a brilliant scientist.
  29. Don’t respond to suffering with platitudes.
  30. Do your daily Bible reading on your commute. It gives your neighbor an opportunity to ask.
  31. beggar NilesWhen catching up with a friend, ask “How can I pray for you?”
  32. Step outside your comfort zone.
  33. Dress as a Saint for Halloween, but don’t be lame about it. Kendra will show you how.3
  34. Listen to your children.
  35. Smile more.
  36. Cross yourself when you pass a church.
  37. If you know someone who’s sitting on the fence, be frank. Ask them if you can have 15 minutes to present a case for the Church.
  38. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know.
  39. Bake cookies for prisoners.
  40. Pay the toll for the person behind you. Ask the toll booth attendant to tell him you said, “Have a blessed day.”
  41. Offer to go door to door inviting people to church.
  42. Wear a beautiful piece of religious jewelry. When people compliment you on it, take it as an invitation to give a quick testimony.
  43. Tell people about the Saint of the day.
  44. Weep with those who weep.
  45. Take a friend to an art museum. Hit up the Renaissance section and explain what’s going on with all the Saints and Bible scenes. Think of all the catechesis!
  46. Call a friend out on unchristian behavior.
  47. Go to confession.
  48. Introduce yourself to people you see at church.
  49. Learn to pray extemporaneously.
  50. Invite a fellow parishioner to dinner.
  51. When a friend is suffering, have a Mass said for him.
  52. Change your language–say “God bless you” instead of “Bless you,” “Praise God” instead of “Thank God.” See if it doesn’t start some interesting conversations.
  53. Don’t judge.
  54. Captain of Team CatholicDon’t take yourself too seriously.
  55. Read Catechism 2125.4 Don’t be a jerk.
  56. Fast and pray for missionaries.
  57. Buy a dozen copies of your favorite Christian book. (I recommend these novels, these books on apologetics, and these spirituality books.) Give them away.
  58. Invite someone to Mass.
  59. “Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.”5
  60. Dress modestly but look awesome.
  61. Have friends who aren’t Christian. Don’t try to convert them. Just love them.
  62. Make beautiful Christian art–poetry, photography, music, sculpture. Give glory to God and draw hearts to him.
  63. Never use apologetics as a weapon. If you get angry, take a step back.
  64. Ask someone to pray for you–even if she’s not the type who would offer.
  65. When you receive communion, act like you really believe, like you’re really in love. Your attitude will touch people around you and you’ll find your faith strengthened. It’s more about living what you believe even when you don’t feel it than it is about faking it, and the more you live it, the more you’ll feel it.
  66. Take a friend out for a beer. Hang out. Just be friends.
  67. Bear wrongs patiently.
  68. Ask people’s forgiveness.
  69. When you find yourself judging someone for not being Christian/Catholic or not being a “good” Christian/Catholic, make a list of five things about that person that make her a better person than you.
  70. Remember that you can’t know the state of anyone’s soul.6
  71. Have friends over for a movie night, but show Bella or For Greater Glory.
  72. “Live a life of such love so as to be a reason to believe.”7
  73. Give your godchildren (and nieces and nephews and young friends) good Christian books.8
  74. Give away CDs by your favorite Christian artists–I recommend Danielle Rose and Jimmy Needham.
  75. Be completely present to everyone who’s talking to you.
  76. Memorize Bible verses about God’s mercy and love.9
  77. Volunteer to be an RCIA sponsor.
  78. Catholic parenting: you're doing it right.
    Catholic parenting: you’re doing it right.

    Tell your kids stories about the Saints–find real heroes to be their role models, not that Disney nonsense.

  79. Love people where they are.
  80. Put beautiful sacred art up in your house.
  81. Put beautiful secular art up in your house. Listen to good secular music, read good secular fiction. In the world but not of it, friends.
  82. Study philosophy.
  83. Share powerful Christian articles on Facebook. Don’t share lame or cheesy stuff.
  84. Be a sponsor couple for marriage prep.
  85. Do things you don’t expect to like to show people you’re willing to be open-minded too.
  86. Donate to a Catholic Campus Ministry program–they do some incredible things.
  87. When bringing non-Catholics to Mass, explain to them beforehand why they can’t receive. Be delicate.
  88. Refuse to let awkwardness stand in your way.
  89. Don’t act like your life is perfect with Christ–be real about your struggles.
  90. Be real about the joy too.
  91. Talk as much about Jesus as you do about your favorite team or band.
  92. Take a family rosary walk around the neighborhood on Sunday evenings. Evangelize your kids and your neighbors at the same time.
  93. Start a real hospitality ministry at your parish–have small dinner parties that you invite new parishioners to and build some real community.
  94. It’s easy sometimes to win an argument and lose a soul. Don’t be afraid to back down when it becomes more about winning and less about truth and love.
  95. Don’t be a hypocrite.
  96. Pray for non-believers.
  97. Pray more than you talk.
  98. Ask the Holy Spirit to work in you.
  99. Remember that you don’t have all the answers.
  100. Pray, love, then get out of the way.

Announce the Gospel

  1. My friend Beth recently did this and I bet you there are people whose trip across the Tiber started that day. []
  2. 1 Pt 3:16 []
  3. Fun fact: I was about to write pretty much that exact blog post with ways to dress as a Saint but be awesome about it–you know, St. Peter Martyr with a hatchet in his head, a Holy Soul with flames licking at your feet, mummy/Lazarus, a princess, a knight, St. Lucy with your eyes gouged out. But then I googled to see if there was a picture online of anybody ever dressed as St. Denis (carrying your mitred head under your arm–awesome!!) and I found that Kendra had done it dramatically better than I was going to. []
  4. Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion. []
  5. Eph 4:29 []
  6. CCC 847: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. []
  7. Danielle Rose lyrics. []
  8. Want to see what I get my godchildren? Check out my Pinterest board, but be aware that my oldest godchild is six…. []
  9. Mt 11:28-30, Jn 16:33, Sgs 4:7, Is 49:13-16, Rom 5:8, John 14:18…. []

So You Want to Be a Missionary? Well, Good. Because You Already Are.

Not long after my conversion, I decided that the only reasonable thing to do with my life was to be a missionary.1 After all, I thought, if Jesus is God, why would I not want to spend the rest of my life telling other people about it? So I (at the ripe old age of 14) formulated my first life plan: be a missionary in the Ivory Coast.2 I had a glamorous image of being called by God to preach the Gospel, being sent to a far-off land where I’d suffer for him. Probably someone was going to make a movie out of my life, it was going to be that cool.

And then life happened, and I was on plan number two: teach high school religion. But I was still called, still preaching, still sent, and certainly still suffering. I began to see that God had called me to be a missionary, just in Georgia instead of Africa.

Not the far-off land I was anticipating....
Not the far-off land I was anticipating….

Now when people ask me what I do (or where I live or why I’m in town or how I know their brother), I answer that I’m a missionary. And people accept it because I’m doing something weird and preachy that doesn’t make much money. But when Family Missions Company asked me to blog for World Mission Sunday3 about my life as a missionary and all I could think was: so are you.4

Sure, I’m a missionary now. I wander from town to town speaking of the love of God, never knowing what consolation or persecution tomorrow will bring. But I was a missionary when I was a teacher and when I was a nanny and when I was a student. And I’ll be a missionary if I work retail or answer phones or stay at home. If you’re a Christian, you’re a missionary. It’s part of the job description. The question isn’t if you’re going to be a missionary–it’s for whom. Because either you’re preaching the Gospel of Christ or you’re slapping the name Christian on some other gospel. And any other gospel masquerading as Christianity comes from the Evil One.5 Choose today whom you will serve.6

You’ve already been called.

Teresa Avila Christ has no bodyOn the day you were baptized, you were commissioned. You were anointed as a prophet and sent out to make disciples of all nations.7 There’s no such thing as an armchair Christian. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.8 You are the body of Christ9 sent to feed and clothe and teach and love.10

But really, if you believe that Christianity is true, why wouldn’t you want to share it? Are you so obsessed with your own comfort, so afraid of rejection that you’re willing to withhold the love of Christ from hungry souls? Are you so impressed by your own inadequacy that you believe God can’t use you? This is joy and beauty and true love and we’re afraid to lead people to the water because they might be annoyed that we offered them a drink. The missionary vocation isn’t for the chosen few–it’s for every Christian there has ever been. It’s for people who don’t know a lick of theology, people who aren’t comfortable praying out loud, people who are timid or selfish or lazy or awkward. It’s for you. Do something about it.

You’re already preaching the gospel.

If you claim the name of Christian, you’re preaching. Your life speaks volumes to the people around you. It proclaims the message of your gospel: “There is joy in Christ” or “Those who love the Lord serve” or “No sinners allowed” or “Money is all you need” or “Fill your life with noise and you never have to be alone.” They watch you and listen to you and come away thinking that “Christians do that/say that/think that” or “The Church believes that.”

Your life preaches a gospel–it just might not preach the Gospel. Take a look at your life today from an outsider’s perspective and ask yourself a few things: What do my choices tell people that I value most? If I had a catch phrase, what would it be? Do people hear Christ when they listen to me? If my life were the only Gospel people read, would they want him? If you’re a missionary, you’d better know for damn sure what gospel you’re preaching. I think a lot of us Christians are preaching the world with a little Jesus thrown in. Check yourself.

You’re already sent to all nations.

Most of you encounter people of different races and nationalities every day. You’re sent to all of them. Not just the ones who look like you. Not just the ones who speak your language. Not just the ones of your class or your creed. You’re sent to that cashier with the unpronounceable name, to the beggar with the pack of cigarettes, to the neighbor with the accent and “too many” kids. Jesus didn’t pick and choose. He came to Pharisees and Samaritans, to Marthas and Magdalenes, to the blind and the lame and the whole and the broken. You’re sent to everyone, too.

Oh, you might never leave small town Nebraska. You might never see someone who’s not from your home country. You, too, are sent to all nations. You’re sent to the poor and the rich, to atheists and fundamentalists, to saints and sinners. You don’t get to keep the Gospel to yourself. You have to live it–to love every person. Every person. Even the addict. Even the immigrant. Even the lazy. Even your father, no matter what he did. Even your teenager. Even when he calls you that. Every person.

And friend, you’re a missionary. You might primarily be called to preach with your actions, but sometimes you’ve got to use words. Sometimes you have to put a stop to that catty conversation at Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes you have to offer to pray for someone who’ll sneer at the thought. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and straight up preach the Gospel to a disbelieving audience. Because you’re a missionary. And God will do incredible things even through your weak words.

You’re already suffering.

I always figured what made missionaries so awesome was how they suffered. But it wasn’t the spectacular suffering that impressed me. Oh, don’t get me wrong–I love a good martyrdom story. And I know better than to think it’s easy; while I do want to be martyred, I’m hoping for a quick bullet to the head, not being skinned alive or having my fingers bitten off. That’s some incredible stuff. But heroic endurance in moments of terror is obviously a supernatural gift. I trust that God will provide. It’s the everyday that gets me. The dirt floors, the well out back, the heat, the terrifying bugs. That’s what makes a missionary’s life so hard. That’s what makes them such heroes: persevering through constant suffering without even the satisfaction of righteous anger. After all, who are you going to blame for the monsoons?

Okay, yeah, sometimes being a missionary looks like this.
Okay, yeah, sometimes being a missionary looks like this.

You’re suffering like that, too. Oh, they might be #firstworldproblems. And they might not exactly be because of the Gospel. But if you’re serious about your faith, there are inconveniences you endure that you wouldn’t otherwise have to. Maybe it’s just missing some football because you’re going to Mass. Or not having enough money for a grand vacation because you have four children instead. Maybe it’s not getting enough sleep because you’re trying to prioritize prayer. Maybe you could look hotter if you showed more skin. There are sacrifices you make for the Gospel–Christ honors those just as much as he does the impressive poverty of the foreign missionary.

And if you’re doing it right, you’re probably being persecuted. You may not have scars from it–not physical ones, anyway–but you get nasty Facebook comments, rolled eyes, accusations of hypocrisy, and cooled friendships. When you speak truth, the world will retaliate. And when you do it well, Satan will do his best to discourage you. Maybe Butler won’t write about all you endured, but it gives glory to God all the same.

If you have the courage of your convictions, you might lose a job. Or a friend. Or a marriage. You might lose social standing, like Elizabeth Ann Seton and John Henry Newman. Or you might lose your life, like countless others in the annals of our Church. But you will gain the world.

 

Yes, I asked the guy at the coffee shop if I could take a picture of his tattoo. Yes, I asked him if he would be my best friend. Can we all stop being so judgey and start wondering if he has a girlfriend and if not who we should set him up with?
Yes, I asked the guy at the coffee shop if I could take a picture of his tattoo. Yes, I asked him if he would be my best friend. Can we all stop being so judgey and start wondering if he has a girlfriend and if not who we should set him up with?

So stop hiding your lamp under a bushel basket. Stop waiting around until you can be a missionary, and go be one! Invite someone to Mass, pray before you eat, take your baby to a nursing home, make a holy hour, call someone who’s hurting, take a homeless man to lunch, do some street evangelization, share a Bible verse on Twitter, flip over the scandalous magazines in the grocery store, get a Christian tattoo that isn’t ugly or weird, start a Bible study at Starbucks, ask your brother why he stopped going to Church, tell your coworker about God, help at youth group, listen to your children, smile more, bake cookies for prisoners, offer to go door to door inviting people to church, help a little old lady across a street,11 tell people about the Saint of the day, call a friend out on unchristian behavior, go to confession yourself, listen to the Holy Spirit, pray, love, live for Christ.

When it comes down to it, life in the mission fields is made up of moments. Each moment might be ordinary but they can add up to an extraordinary life. You don’t have to do anything spectacular to be a missionary. You just have to remember that you already are and try to act like it.

  1. Interesting side note: I’m pretty sure the very first talk I ever gave was on being a missionary. []
  2. In case you’re keeping track: I’m one Sacrament, one continent, and four babies behind on this plan. This may be why I’ve given up on planning. []
  3. That’s today! Well, to my mind it’s tomorrow. But that’s just because I should have written this weeks ago and instead I’m writing it at 2am. Win. []
  4. And then I went back and realized that that was actually what they asked me to do, so…great minds think alike? Anyway, I wasn’t being disingenuous here. Just had a bad memory and not enough time or inspiration to rewrite. []
  5. Before you start quoting Nostra Aetate at me, I’m talking about watered-down Christianity or secular humanism or materialism or other things that Christians might be preaching with their lives. []
  6. Jos 24:15 []
  7. Mt 28:19 []
  8. Mt 5:13-16 []
  9. 1 Cor 12:27 []
  10. Mt 25 []
  11. I actually saw a young man–in sagging jeans and a hoodie–doing this the other day and I almost died of how cute it was. []

How To Evangelize (And How Not To)

If I knew you in high school or early college (or probably later college, God help me), I’m sorry. I’m sorry for judging you and lecturing you. I’m sorry for throwing my faith in your face at every possible opportunity.  I’m sorry for responding to your crisis of faith by buying you Anselm’s On the Incarnation and telling you it would fix everything–an excellent book, but not the compassionate response.

See, when I first came to know Jesus in the eighth grade I felt meaning for the first time. My life had purpose and my suffering had value and suddenly–shockingly–I was happy to get out of bed in the morning.1 And I wanted you to feel that. I wanted you to know him and to experience the joy he’d brought to my life. I wanted you to know how desperately you were loved.

If you dressed like this, you would have been desperate to impress, too.
If you dressed like this, you would have been desperate to impress, too.

But I also wanted to win. I wanted you to know that I was right. I wanted you to see that I was really holy. I was awkward and insecure and I thought that if I brought you to Jesus you’d like me better. I had some good intentions when I beat my Bible at you, but not only good intentions and I’m sorry.

When I was younger, I evangelized like a sledgehammer.2 I went at people like they were battles to win, not souls to love. And I did a lot of damage, some of which seems irreparable except by grace. Oh, I know I did some good too. But I don’t think anybody ever sat me down and told me that it wasn’t my job to save souls. And when you think you’re saving souls–and that truth is all it takes–you go at it with the zeal of a crusader and the finesse of a drunken elephant.

My sister has 8-month-old twins. Elizabeth, the older, reminds me of myself in a lot of ways. From the moment she was born, she’s had a big personality with much wider range of emotion than you see from her sister. Lately, she’s taken to screaming like she’s being eviscerated. Turn down your speakers and take a listen (starting at 0:13):

How could you scream in a face like that?
How could you scream in a face like that?

She loves this noise and she really thinks everybody else should love it too. So she crawls over to her twin, playing innocently on the floor, tackles her, pins her to the ground, and sticks her face in Mary Claire’s face, shrieking gleefully as Mary Claire sobs.

Sometimes I think that’s how we evangelize. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We really think they’re going to love what we’re doing. But we don’t listen to them. We don’t feel for them. We don’t open our eyes to see if they want anything to do with our message. We scream in their face (or on their facebook page) about how we are FILLED with the love of Christ and they’d better be too or they will GO TO HELL!!

Friends, that’s not evangelization. It’s not loving or Christlike or even effective. That’s where we get this reputation of being closed-minded and bigoted–from the few of us who come across as closed-minded and bigoted.

But we have to evangelize–that’s a huge part of being a Christian. Our beautiful Holy Father has been speaking on this need to spread the faith at World Youth Day:

Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and gave us, not a part of himself, but the whole of himself.

So what do we do? How do we evangelize if the simple proselytizing method isn’t going to do it?

1. Pray

Before all else, you have to be in love with Christ. Your prayer life has to be your top priority, although that looks different depending on your state in life, as Haley so brilliantly pointed out. So pray. Go to Mass every week without exception.3 Go to daily Mass as often as you can. Read the Bible! Get to confession–aim at once a month. And seek God in silence. It’s so easy to fill our lives with noise and then let the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours be more noise;4 make time every day to be still before the Lord. Even 5 minutes a day will change your life.

Pray for the people in your life who don’t know God or don’t know Christ or don’t know him in the Eucharist. Before you do anything else, pray for them. You can’t change their hearts and you can’t save their souls. Recognize that God is doing the work and ask, seek, and knock on their behalf.

Pray about evangelizing. Ask the Lord who he wants you to speak to and how he wants you to speak. Ask the Holy Spirit to be the one at work in your conversations. Pray before posting something controversial on Facebook, before commenting or sharing or retweeting. Ask Jesus to stand between you and the people you’re trying to bring him to–and to smack you upside the head and shove you away if you’re doing it wrong.

2. Love

He loved you at your worst. Do the same for his other children.
He loved you at your worst. Do the same for his other children.

There is no more powerful force in this world than love. Your job is to love the people around you–and not just as a strategy for their conversion, either! Sure, hopefully your love is so powerful that others recognize something different in you. But if you’re loving people so that you win, you’re fake and probably not terribly convincing about it. Your purpose in loving is not to change someone. Your purpose is to love as Christ loved.

The semester I studied in Italy,5 almost everyone I was there with hated the Church. Passionately. They would make filthy jokes about priests and spent their weekends experimenting with different combinations of alcohol, weed, and caffeine. I knew there was nothing I could say to change their minds, so I prayed and prayed and kept my mouth shut. And went out with them to make sure they didn’t get too drunk to get back. And sat with them on the balcony while they got drunk and high at the same time to make sure they didn’t fall over the railing. I was miserable and felt useless.

And then, at the end of the semester, one of my friends turned to me (drunk) and told me:

“Until this semester, I didn’t think there was a place for me in the Church. But now I think maybe there is. Because you love me. Thank you.”

We fell out of touch, so I don’t know what ended up happening to him. But that moment changed my life. I’d spent years looking for openings to preach when all I needed to do was let love speak.

So once you’ve prayed, shut your mouth and love until it hurts. Then keep loving.

3. Witness

Once people know that you love them, they begin to look at your life to see why. The witness of your life is a powerful statement, and it’s not just about wearing a cross and sharing Catholic memes. It’s about joy and consistency and openness.

Choose to be joyful. The world doesn’t need more dour Christians. Live with an eternal perspective. As Mother Teresa said, “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen.” If your life is transparently joyful–filled with hope in moments that should occasion despair, not just chipper and shallow–people will wonder why.

Be consistent. If you can’t be Christian Saturday night, don’t ask me to join you Sunday morning. Modern man can spot a fake at a thousand paces and if your Facebook timeline is half quotations from Pope Francis and half drunken selfies, you’re doing far more harm than good. Get your stuff together. People don’t mind sinners who acknowledge that they’re sinners and ask for help to be better. They hate hypocrites.

It doesn't have to look like this. But it can.
It doesn’t have to look like this. But it can.

Don’t be embarrassed about your faith. Mention that you’re going to Mass when you make plans for Sunday brunch. Pray before meals. Have a chant ringtone. Those little things help people to connect your love and joy to your faith.

4. Propose

Finally–finally–after praying and loving and doing your best to be as Christlike as possible, finally you can say something. Maybe it’s as simple as sharing an article on Facebook or retweeting the Pope. Maybe it’s inviting someone to go to Mass with you or to join your Bible study. Maybe it’s sitting down with a friend and asking–gently–why he doesn’t go to Church any more. Maybe it’s talking to your friends about NFP. Maybe it’s just being open to how the Holy Spirit is calling you to evangelize.

I knew a high schooler once–captain of the basketball team, center of the school’s social life–who signed up for a holy hour every Friday evening at 10pm. He’d go out to dinner with his friends, go back to somebody’s house, start watching a movie, and then stand up to leave at quarter to 10. He just said, “I’m going to adoration. Anyone want to come?” The timing and the invitation changed that school. Kids would caravan to adoration on Friday nights. Because one guy had the guts to ask.

But when you’re asking those leading questions or inviting friends on a marriage retreat or explaining the Church’s position, be humble. You don’t have all the answers, even though the Church does. You’re not better than anyone or smarter or kinder or even happier. But I would guess that you’re better and smarter and kinder and happier than you were; that’s what you’re offering.

So often, it’s the little things that open people’s hearts to the Lord. It’s inviting them to go to confession, buying them a rosary, asking that question, sharing that CD. The Holy Spirit will lead you there–if you’re praying. It will mean more if you love them. It will be compelling if you’re living it.

It’s not yelling at people when they’re wrong. It’s not snorting derisively or calling them out in public. It’s not ever trying to be right but trying to seek truth. Truth and goodness and beauty–not smug correction or broken relationships.

I’d love to hear your thoughts–how do you draw the line between evangelizing like a sledgehammer and inviting people to Christ? Do you think it’s enough just to love people if you’re not actively introducing them to doctrine? Do you have any stories of how the Lord was leading people to him through you and you didn’t even know it?

*******************

If you live in the Harrisonburg, VA area, will you do me a huge favor? Will you like my mom’s pumpkin patch on Facebook? And then visit in the fall? Thanks!!

  1. Okay, I’m never happy to get out of bed. But I was happy to be alive and excited to face the day. []
  2. I hope it was only when I was younger–if I’m still doing this, please break it to me gently. And NOT in a comment on this post. []
  3. The Church requires that you go to Mass 57 times a year. That’s 0.65% of your life. Are you really so busy that you can’t give God less than 1% of your life? []
  4. These are great prayers. But if you’re not good at praying them–like me–you definitely need silence too. []
  5. I know, I know. Jesus is particularly fond of me. []

One Year and Counting

Well, friends, it’s been a year. One year of crazy-driving, blogging, speaking, couch-crashing, hobo fun. When I started this ministry a year ago, I figured that I’d live out of my car for a month or two before settling down. But the longer I do this, the more I feel like this might be a long-term thing. The Lord doesn’t seem to like it when I plan, so I have no idea what “long term” means, but…well, a while.

So what have I done this year?

  • Taken up permanent residence in my car
  • Started a Facebook page and a Twitter account
  • Gotten a cell phone
  • Visited 37 states (should be up to at least 44 by the end of the summer–New England, here I come!)
  • Spoken in 14 states
  • Put 30,000 miles on my car
  • Spoken to thousands of people from age 3 to 97
  • Done one-on-one ministry with dozens of people
  • Written 128 blog posts
  • Had 215,000 page views
  • Racked up 500 likes on my Facebook page
  • Done a whole lot of discerning
  • Stayed with dozens of friends and strangers who became friends
  • Taken a break to help my sister with her million babies
  • Ignored trolls
  • Persevered through a lot of boring prayer
  • Walked in both (American) oceans and the Gulf of Mexico
  • Gone from the Redwood forest to the Gulf Sea waters
  • Had more than my fair share of car trouble
  • Been shocked by the generosity of God’s people
  • Learned to accept generosity
  • Given plenty of talks that were so Spirit-led I wanted to stop and ask someone to record them just so I could listen and learn later
  • Fallen flat and remembered that it’s not about me
  • Made people cry
  • Made people angry
  • Begun to realize that whatever I might believe about myself, nobody else thinks I’m needy and self-obsessed
  • Felt absolutely wanted
  • Felt completely disregarded
  • Been terrified but hopeful1
  • Made plans 6 months in advance
  • Given a talk with 10 seconds notice
  • Changed the topic of my talk five minutes in
  • Been recognized by a stranger
  • Been on the radio
  • Been nominated for an award
  • Driven 12-hour-days without batting an eye
  • Experienced Providence at work every single day–in crazy ways
  • Spent January in Virginia, Georgia, Hawaii, and Florida
  • Spent February in Indiana and northern Ohio
  • Seen snow in May
  • Almost passed out from heat exhaustion a week later
  • Gotten 3 new nieces
  • Had so much work to do I’m exhausted
  • Had so little work to do I’m bored out of my mind
  • Tried and tried and tried to trust and let Him lead

Thank you to everyone who’s invited me to speak or shared my blog or commented or liked a post or followed me on Facebook or slipped some money into my hand or thanked me for speaking or shared your heart with me or prayed for me or prayed with me for others or loved and supported me in any way. If I didn’t have y’all supporting me, I couldn’t do anything. God is using you and your openness and kindness and generosity to do (I hope) good work in this world. Thank you.

And now, a little slide show of highlights from this year:

Become a godmother again
Become a godmother again
Been so fun--and sober.
Been so fun–and sober
Had fun with the big kids
And the littles. And Charlotte who I know I have a picture with but I can't find it right now.
And the littles. And Charlotte who I know I have a picture with but I can’t find it right now
Dealt with a lot of snow.
Dealt with a lot of snow
Gotten stuck in the mud.
Gotten stuck in the mud
Been to some very random states
Been to some very random states
Preached on the streets
Preached on the streets
And the beach
And the beach
Met up with former students all over the country
Met up with former students all over the country
Stood inside a redwood
Stood inside a redwood

And a million other things I forgot to take pictures of. Keep on praying for me, friends!

  1. For those who are wondering, John’s out of the ICU and in a neurological rehab facility. His parents are optimistic and there have been plenty of miracles but not (yet) the miracle of a full recovery–or even of speech. Please keep praying. []